Perhaps the most expensive crime in the District of Columbia and the United States brings little cry of out-rage from the public.

Insurance premiums reflecting losses continue their upward climb, and the figures keep rising.

The crime is auto theft. From October 1978 to October 1979, there were 3,431 cars reported stolen in the District, amounting to property losses of $4,965,694 (almost an 8 percent increase over the previous year).

Nationally, according to the Justice Department, the total figure for auto theft is pegged at $4 billion a year.

The increase, authorities agree, is due partly to the higher cost of "crash parts" -- front ends, doors, fenders, trunk lids -- and the involvement of organized crime in selling stolen parts.

Ted Johnson of the Coalition to Halt Automotive Theft estimates that a $6,000 car assembled from new parts would cost about $25,000. While legitimate recyclers of used parts offer buyers a way to save on costs and labor, "The illegal chop shops offer even more," says Johnson. "the right model and often the right-color door, stolen to order."

Opportunists or joy riders also get some help from the public: those who leave keys in the ignition or under the seat, or who leave the engine running long enough to dash into a store or post office.

"These are invitations to an auto theif," says D.C. Police Officer Ray Miley of the auto theft squad. "Cars without ignition locks are also more susceptible to theft."

Commercial parking lots also provide prime pickings. Miley estimates that about half of the cars reported stolen in the city are taken from commercial lots.

Information released recently by the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) shows the most frequently stolen cars are sports cars and luxury or specialty models.

Two-door models, says HLDI, "consistently had a higher frequency of theft losses and higher average claim sizes than corresponding four-door models."

The taste of car thieves is obviously for the more exoitic machine. Cars with the "worst rates" (or most often stolen), according to HLDI:

The 2-door Lincoln Continental, Chevrolet Corvette, Lincoln Mark V, Buick Riviera, Lincoln Versailles, Cadillac Eldorado, Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham, Pontiac Firebird, Oldsmobile Toronado and Oldsmobile 98.

Least often stolen: 4-door Plymouth Volare, Subaru DL station wagon, Datsun 310, American Concord, Mazda GLC, Honda Civic, 4-door Mercury Zephyr, Oldsmobile Cutlass station wagon, 4-door Dodge Omni and Datsun B210 station wagon.

Nationally, the 1979 recovery rate for stolen cars was about 55 percent, and in the District about 44.4 percent.

The most likely place for your car to be stolen in the District of Columbia is in the First District, which takes in the F Street business area, museums and other tourist attractions, bus stations, Union Station and Navy Yard.

From October 1978 to October 1979, the First District's stolen car reports -- 703 -- was the highest in the city. (Of those, 589 were actually missing, with others either misplaced by owners, or towed for parking violations.) Of the stolen vehicles, 524 were recovered, many missing parts or wrecked.

A bill that would attempt to stem the sale of stolen parts is now making its way through Congress.

"The Motor Vehicle Theft Prevention Act," (H.R. 4178) introduced by Sen. Charles Percy (D.III.) and Rep. William Green (R-N.Y.), would require that crash parts be marked with a vehicle indentification number which could be traced.