The "BMW bandits," a ring of professional thieves who have stolen air bags and headlights from luxury cars across the Westside and Mid-Wilshire areas, may now be targeting vehicles in the San Fernando Valley, authorities say.
The headlights and air bags -- worth thousands of dollars as black market replacement parts -- have been pried from 54 BMWs in the original neighborhoods in recent months, police say.
Now, BMW owners and Los Angeles Police Department officials say the thefts have spread to the Valley, although officials say the number of cars hit there is smaller.
"It goes in waves. Usually they move from brand to brand of vehicle," said Capt. Bill Eaton of the Van Nuys Division. "They are usually fulfilling orders."
Eaton said he is aware of about 10 cars that were burglarized in the Valley, and they were not all BMWs.
Sherman Oaks resident Darin Nathan said his BMW 5 Series had its air bag and headlights stolen last week. The BMW was on the street in front of his house and in plain view at the time of the burglary, Nathan said.
He said the replacement cost was about $6,000, although it could have been worse. While getting his car fixed, Nathan said he saw a BMW 3 Series that was heavily damaged by the burglars.
Studio City resident Brian Baker said his BMW X3 was also parked in front of his home when its air bags were stolen earlier this month. He said LAPD evidence technicians "fingerprinted" his car as part of the investigation.
Air bags have replaced radios, rims and other fittings as auto thieves' item of choice. More than 10% of all automobile thefts involve air bags, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a nonprofit research group funded by insurance companies.