CENTENNIAL, Colo (CBS4) – Thieves are targeting the spare tires that are on the backs of SUVs and under pickup trucks. The wheels are easy to steal because it takes only seconds to get them off a car, and the thieves can sell them fairly easily.

Laura Whipp found out first-hand about this problem.

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“When I got to work I realized my spare tire was missing,” Whipp told CBS4.

She had her Jeep Liberty parked at an apartment complex in Arapahoe County. Overnight some took the wheel off the back, and she says she wasn’t the only one hit.

“When I was leaving that day to go to work, two other tires at the apartment complex where I was at were also missing,” Whipp remembered.

The Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Department told CBS4 it gets complaints every month about spare tires being stolen.

“We did, towards the beginning of the year and at the end of 2012, have a significant spike in spare tire theft,” said Chief Vince Line, Public Safety Bureau of the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Department.

Police believe the thieves are reselling the wheels, using sites like Craigslist. Tires don’t come with serial numbers, so it’s nearly impossible to find a spare tire once it’s been taken.

“There’s very little things that can be done to track, if you will, spare tires, so they are difficult. We’re working currently with a number of our partners in the Denver metro area that have similar cases,” Line added.

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The Centennial Chrysler Jeep dealership has no shortage of spare tires on the backs of its vehicles. Over the years, the dealership has experienced occasional thefts.

“The speculation is probably four or five people come in and spend 5 or 10 minutes and get 20 wheels,” said Gary McCrary, the Parts Director at Centennial Chrysler Jeep.

McCrary now puts locking lug nuts on all his incoming Jeeps, which has cut down on thefts dramatically.

“It’s basically a $60 fix. It’s a deterrent, it’s not theft proof,” McCrary explained.

Locking Lug Nut (credit: CBS)

Locking Lug Nut (credit: CBS)

A locking lug nut replaces one of the regular lug nuts on a wheel. It’s smooth with a pattern etched into the end. A regular lug wrench won’t be able to take the locking lug nut off unless the key with the matching pattern is used.

“The police said that I could have prevented it if I had locking lug nuts. I didn’t know about it, so I never got them,” said Whipp.

Now Whipp faces paying hundreds of dollars to replace her stolen spare tire.

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– Written for the Web by Special Projects Producer Libby Smith