In three out of the four recent reports of steering wheel thefts in Royal Oak, the suspect smashed the front driver’s side window of the car to access the inside.

In three out of the four recent reports of steering wheel thefts in Royal Oak, the suspect smashed the front driver’s side window of the car to access the inside.

Photo provided by Royal Oak Police Department

Royal Oak police investigating string of steering wheel thefts

By: Taylor Christensen | Royal Oak Review | Published April 2, 2024


ROYAL OAK — Steering wheels are often stolen for the airbags inside of them, and this phenomenon happened four times during the week of March 14-21.

“Sometimes it picks up and sometimes we might not have one for six months,” Lt. Rich Millard, of the Royal Oak Police Department, said.

The Royal Oak Police Department has no leads or evidence at the moment tying a suspect or suspects to these crimes, but he said it is generally impossible to find any evidence at all.

“Much like the catalytic converter thefts, there is little to no possibility of any evidence being left behind,” he said. “The only thing the thief touches (the steering wheel) is taken with them.”

The four thefts happened in different areas of Royal Oak: on Woodward Avenue, Tiffany Lane, Tonawanda Avenue and Allenhurst Avenue.

The cars were all Chevy Malibus. Three out of the four steering wheels were accessed by the suspect smashing the driver’s side window.

Around 2021, Chevy Malibu steering wheels became popular among thieves, according to Millard. It is assumed they are stolen to be sold on the black market.

Chevy Malibu steering wheels are sought-after likely because of the easy access for criminals.

“We speculate it is because it is easy to get the steering wheel off,” Millard said. “The Malibu wheels come off fairly easily.”

Millard said that these types of thefts mostly happen at night and are quick, making it difficult for the Royal Oak Police Department to find and apprehend those conducting them.

“Our officers are always looking for suspicious activity, car break-ins or car theft, but my understanding is this takes less than two minutes and sometimes faster to accomplish,” he said. “The chances of an officer driving by a particular house or apartment complex during that two minutes are pretty slim.”

For residents of Royal Oak to avoid this happening to them, Millard suggests parking your car in the garage if you have one, and if you leave your car out at night, it is important to listen to what is going on outside.

“They typically have to break a window and make some noise, but it goes without saying if you hear breaking glass in your driveway at night, you should call the police,” he said.

The Royal Oak Police Department has no leads at the moment, but Millard said that it could be a group of criminals working together.

“Whoever was out last week when we had four of them in the same night was one crew, or, you know, a duo or trio, or even a single guy, who knows,” he said. “But they (the thefts) are all tied together.”

Millard believes that the thefts that have happened during the last month have all been controlled by one “entity.”

“I doubt there are three separate entities out there working steering wheels in Royal Oak at night,” he said. “When there are organized car break-ins and stuff like that, usually it is one or two people.”

Video surveillance and possible evidence left behind are the two best pieces of evidence in these types of cases. According to Millard, any items left behind by the perpetrator could be evaluated for latent prints.

Royal Oak police are still investigating these thefts, and keeping their eyes out for more during their night patrols, according to Millard.

Clawson Chief of Police Kellie Bauss said that they have not experienced any thefts of this nature in Clawson.

“We haven’t had a single one,” she said. “I consulted with our detectives and we haven’t had one like that.”