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Car Care 101: How To Avoid Getting Your Ride Stolen

Posted in Car Care, General, How To, Police by Kurt Ernst | April 14th, 2010 | 4 Responses |

This week’s piece on BMW got me thinking: we’ve previously told you how to break into a car (bad idea, if you ask me), but we’ve never covered how to keep your car from getting broken into and / or stolen. There’s good news and bad news on this topic. First the bad news: if a professional wants your car, there probably isn’t a damn thing you can do about it. Now the good news: unless you drive something really expensive or in high demand, car theft is generally a crime of opportunity. Make it difficult for the thief, and chances are they’ll look elsewhere.

Want to avoid coming out to an empty parking space or a seat full of shattered glass? Here are a few pointers that should help.


Know what thieves steal in your area.

Nice ride, just don't park it in the NYC metro area.

BMWs are a dime a dozen in California, and the theft rate for BMWs isn’t particularly high there. In the NYC area, you’d be hard pressed to find a two year old BMW that hasn’t been broken into. Why? Years ago, some NYC area BMW dealers used to leave valet keys in the owners kit. Thieves quickly learned that BMWs are easy to break into and even easier to steal if you have a key. Want piece of mind? Ask your insurance agent or a cop friend what cars have the highest break in or theft rates in your area.

Don’t leave ANYTHING visible in your car.

An empty GPS mount still says 'break in, it's in the glove box'.

Know what that GPS system on your windshield looks like to a tweaker? A fifty dollar bill and more meth. Know what that empty GPS or radar detector mount tells him? You probably left it in the glove box or under the seat. Either way, your window is getting smashed and your electronics are gone, sold to the nearest pawn shop.

This is so obvious, I don’t even know why I have to say it. Don’t leave ANYTHING visible in your car. Use a GPS on a windshield mount? Make sure to clean the suction cup circles from the inside of your windshield, because they broadcast “look in the glove box” to a thief. Use a radar detector? Don’t leave the power cord visible when you leave the car. In fact, make sure you snap the 12v accessory cover over the outlet when you leave the car. Nothing to see here. move along is the message you want to convey.

Don’t give a car thief concealment.

Don't park next to anything that obscures the view of your car.

Never park between two trucks, because they give a car thief plenty of cover to work on your locks. Don’t assume that parking under a light will help either, if the light is next to foliage or a dumpster. Car thieves don’t like to work in the open; the better line of sight you have to your car, the less attractive it is to car thieves. Ditto for crowded areas; the more people walking by your car, the less likely it is that a thief will target it.

Use a secondary locking device, especially in high theft areas.

This won't stop a thief, but it'll slow him down. Photo: Michael McCauslin

Let’s face it: steering wheel locks (like The Club) are a pain in the ass to use and can be defeated in under a minute. As an anti-theft device, it’s not much good on its own. As part of a layered defense, on the other hand, it makes your car less attractive than the similar one without the steering wheel lock. A car thief isn’t going to do more work than he has to.

Always lock your car and keep your windows rolled up.

Extreme, but functional.

Again, this should be obvious. So why do I see so many cars with unlocked doors and partially opened windows? Unless you’ve got a 130 pound Rottweiler in the back seat, it’s a bad idea to keep your windows down. On the other hand, if you do have a 130 pound Rottweiler in the back seat, leaving your car unlocked may cut down on your food bill.

Don’t make it easy for a carjacker.

Don't be the guy behind the wheel.

Always make sure your doors are locked when you’re driving. At an intersection, leave enough room between you and the car in front to allow an emergency exit. Above all, have situational awareness: see that dude in the hoodie (hood up, of course), rocking back and forth on his heels, with his hands in the front pocket? The one trying real hard to make it look like he’s not eyeing you? I always notice things like this, but most people don’t. The most dangerous place you’re likely to be? A shopping mall or discount store parking lot. Ask any cop to recite crime statistics for his area, and I guarantee these places will make the top 10

This isn’t a piece on defensive tactics (although I’d be happy to teach you that as well), so I’ll keep it simple: if something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Do whatever you have to do to get yourself out of the situation.

Don’t keep your insurance and registration in the vehicle.

If they have your registration, they have your address. Sleep well, OK?

Yeah we all do this, myself included, but it’s a bad idea. If someone breaks into your car, now they have your address as well. If they’ve stolen a garage door opener, chances are they have your address and an easy way into your house. Even if you have a house alarm, how much stuff can you lose in the two minutes a smash and grab guy is in your house? Think you have a hiding spot he hasn’t already seen?

If your car has a Homelink transmitter and you keep it parked in the driveway, don’t program it to open your garage. If a thief snatches your GPS in the driveway, do you really want to give him free access to your garage as well?

Wheel locks aren’t foolproof.

How much would this suck?

How do you think the garage gets your wheels off when you forget to give them the key to your locking lug nuts? They have a universal key, one that works on nearly every wheel lock made. Guess what? So do car thieves.

Nice wheels and tires are serious money and can easily be sold on the street. Want to minimize the chances of getting yours stolen? Use multiple wheel locks on each wheel (preferably from different manufacturers) and don’t keep the keys in your car’s tool kit like everyone else.

Car alarms won’t deter a serious thief.

So you just spent good money on a top-shelf car alarm. It’s got a motion sensor, a glass breakage detector, an ignition interlock and shifting codes. It’s powered by a bigger CPU than we used to put a man on the moon. And it won’t even slow a determined car thief down, because he’ll just tow or flatbed your car with the alarm going off.

Think about it – when was the last time you paid any attention to a car alarm? Think the police pay attention to them, with false alarms caused by everything from open-piped Harleys to a poorly tossed Frisbee? Alarms are for your piece of mind – if you need one, great; just don’t expect it to stop a car thief.

Beware of high theft areas.

Airport and mall parking lots are good shopping for car thieves.

Airports, sporting events, shopping mall parking lots, concerts and university parking lots are all great places to get your car broken into or stolen. If you regularly park in any of them, think about what you’re buying: sure, an M5 is cool, but it’ll be snatched in no time if you take it to the airport every week. Store manager at a shopping mall? That new Mustang GT will net someone good money when the thief unloads it.

LoJack and OnStar work.

Too bad OnStar can't electrocute a car thief.

You can’t stop someone from stealing your car, but you can help in locating it after it’s been stolen. Services like LoJack and OnStar cost money, but they can seriously increase the odds of getting a stolen car back before it’s parted out or containerized for overseas shipment. They’re a better investment, in my opinion, than even a good vehicle alarm system.

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4 Responses

  1. Daniel says:

    Good one on the suction cup circle from a GPS mount. I would never have tough of that!!!

  2. Kurt says:

    Thanks Daniel. There’s a fine line between paranoid and completely aware…

  3. Karl says:

    universal wheel keys –

    really wasn’t aware of that one.
    not eve gator grips have worked on ours.

  4. pav777 says:

    Good article, and not the same advice you usually hear. I think The Club is a great deterrent if used properly. I use mine with a metal steering wheel cover called The Cap, then I face the lock on the Club towards the dash to make it harder to defeat. Never had a car stolen yet.