Owners of Mini hardtop cars beware: thieves have been brazenly stealing sets of tires, rims and all, no matter the time of day, from multiple public places around Anchorage. The value and wide use of the sets make them a hot ticket for the vehicle vandals.
Downtown car dealership Mini of Anchorage sent out a press release Friday warning its core demographic of "an alarming number of thefts" involving the cars in the city, specifically the 2013 Mini Cooper model.
Mini Coopers are not a typical Alaska vehicle due to their small size and the state's unpredictable weather. Still, the tiny sports cars are popular enough in the Last Frontier to merit a dealership in Alaska's largest city.
Service manager Ray Sears said the thieves have been "incredibly brazen" with their tactics. In six cases of theft just last week, the Minis were parked in public locations, including one directly across from a police substation, Sears said.
There are two reasons the cars' wheels and tires are being targeted, said Mini of Anchorage general manager David Billman. First, a set is valued around $3,000 to $4,000. Second, the equipment happens to fit all Mini hardtop models manufactured in the last 12 years. Most vehicle manufacturers switch wheel and tire types along with body styles from year to year, Billman said. That's not the case with these cars.
"There's a wide range of years that the wheels are available for," he said. "Someone can take a set off a 2013 model and put them on a 2002."
Billman estimates there could be up to 400 hardtops driving around Alaska.
The dealership learned about the thefts when a customer called last week asking for a ride; he said he'd parked his Mini at the Fifth Avenue Mall parking garage and when he finished his business at the adjacent shopping mall, he discovered the tires on his car were stolen.
An Anchorage Police Department log says the owner reported the 2013 Mini Cooper had been discovered raised with jacks and its tires gone. The theft happened presumably sometime in the afternoon, said police spokesperson Dani Myren.
She said a quick query revealed two such thefts have been reported in less than a month. The search is inconclusive, she added, as there could be more Mini wheel thefts in the department's database. The latest theft called in to police happened on May 6.
The caller reported the wheels on her 2013 Mini were stolen while she'd been parked at the Alaska Native Medical Center. Someone at the hospital noticed the parked car missing its vital components, and the owner was notified, Myren said. She said the lug nuts from the wheels were left on the ground.
Mini of Anchorage said additional thefts have occurred at a driveway in the downtown neighborhood of Bootlegger Cove and a local restaurant. The owner of the latter vehicle was grabbing lunch and returned to find "her car on blocks," the dealership said.
It's also kept an eye on the popular classified listings website Craigslist, but so far, Billman said no posts for the tires have popped up. He believes the wheels are being shipped Outside.
The dealership is encouraging Mini owners to buy wheel locks for each individual wheel to prevent being stranded without transportation. Billman said the dealership bought sets of locks for all vehicles on display in its lot and ordered 50 additional sets priced at $73 each for customers; he bought a set himself for his daughter's car, and at least one employee has purchased a set.
Reach Jerzy Shedlock at email@example.com.
By JERZY SHEDLOCK
Alaska Dispatch Publishing