Loopholes Insure Market for Stolen T-tops

Ed Schurig and Tom Brigi-otta, who work in the same department at Texas Instruments, used to crow about their prized possessions-sleek, smooth-running Chevrolet Corvettes. Brigiotta had a white 1980 model. Schurig’s was a Corvette Collectors” Edition, a champagne-colored 1982. But lately, the two engineers have had something else in common. Thieves have stripped their cars of their T-tops. the removable sliding glass and metal panel that serves as a sunroof. And the saddened owners have plenty of company. Dr. Jean Manning, an ophthalmologist, had the tops stolen off her Camaro Z-28 while it was parked at Val-ley View Mall. One man had his T-tops stolen several times and finally etched his social security number in the rubber around the glass. When the marked tops were stolen again, he went to a Chevrolet dealership to have them replaced and was offered his own T-tops, marked with his own numbers.

So goes the vicious cycle, a problem perpetuated by insurance companies that reimburse claimants only for the price of secondhand parts. Investigator R.C Martin of the automobile theft division of the Dallas Police Department says that thieves sell to used parts dealers or wrecking yards, who then sell to dealerships or victims of previous thefts. This year, Dallas has averaged more than 200 reported T-top thefts each month. A mechanic who works in the body shop at Friendly Chevrolet says he often has twenty-five to thirty cars in line for replacement tops. He has to take it on faith that the tops his company buys from glass shops aren’t stolen-and even if they are, he says, “they’ve been washed [resold] three or four times by the time they get to us.”

Insurance companies have good reasons for replacing stolen parts with used parts. A set of used T-tops costs about $550, while a new set lists at about $1,400. Current insurance policies require that stolen parts be replaced with “like kind and quality,” but a claims supervisor at State Farm Insurance, who asked that his name not be used, said his company would like to go to strictly new T-tops because of the theft problem.

Tommy (“that’s as good a name as I*m gonna give you”) at Affiliated Auto Salvage says that he doesn’t really think sales of hot T-tops are a problem. “I can’t fill all the orders I have, but I’ll tell you I’ve turned down some guys who wanted to sell them. I can tell a man that don’t drive no Corvette.’” Tommy says the T-tops he sells come off totaled Corvettes and from legitimate owners. “So maybe some guy’s out for a drive some Sunday and he leaves his tops at home,” Tommy speculates. “Then, while he’s out. he wrecks his car. There he is with some tops to sell. Or maybe he has his tops inside his house and his car gets stolen.” To Tommy’s theory, investigator Martin says. “Baloney. They get the tops from the people who thieves.”

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