When it comes to car theft and auto burglaries, college towns generally have a higher incidence of both. If you take a step back, it’s easy to see why: targets of opportunity are everywhere, and student union bulletin boards are a great place to sell stuff without any questions. Assigned campus parking is a great place for a thief to go browsing for electronics, and it’s easy for them to spot who drives their car on a regular basis and who doesn’t.
If you want to keep your car and your stuff totally safe, my best advice is “don’t take it to college”. Since that’s not a realistic proposition for most students, here are five suggestions to keep your car, and your stuff, from getting stolen.
Clean out your car before you park it.
Take your GPS with you, don’t leave your laptop or camera in the trunk and don’t leave your radar detector hanging on a sun visor. I suggest you go a few steps beyond, too: if you use a suction cup mount on your windshield for a GPS or radar detector, use some glass cleaner to erase the rings. Make sure that any power supply cords are well hidden or placed in your glove box. Erase any evidence that you car might have once contained electronic devices, and you make it less appealing to a smash and grab burglar.
If you drive a nice car, think about Lojack.
My best advice would actually be, “buy a beater car to go to college with”, but again, that’s not always an option. If you drive a newer car with OnStar, make sure that the OnStar bill stays paid. If your car doesn’t have OnStar or a similar system, think about adding Lojack. If your car does get stolen, Lojack greatly increases the likelihood that it’ll be found before it’s stripped for parts.
Don’t waste money on car alarms.
Seriously, when was the last time anyone paid attention to a car alarm going off? If they’re sensitive enough to detect motion and shock, they’ll trip every time a loud car or bike goes by, or even in a thunderstorm. You’d be better off spending $20 on a do-it-yourself window etching kit to record your car’s VIN (which makes it less attractive to part out), and the old trick of dropping business cards into the door and under the seats doesn’t cost a thing. This won’t keep your car from getting stolen, but it may help police track you down when it’s recovered.
Don’t sink money into nice wheels and tires.
If you have a decent set of aftermarket wheels on your car already, think about going back to the stock ones for school. If you sold those as soon as you put on your new hoops, start thinking about another set of stock wheels from eBay. And don’t think that wheel locks are anything more than a minor inconvenience to a thief; every garage in America (and damn near every thief) has a set of master keys for any wheel lock made.
The more inconvenient your car is to steal, the more likely they’ll grab another.
Park in well lighted areas, or better yet well lighted areas with functional security cameras. Use an anti-theft device like a steering wheel lock (bonus points if it covers your airbag), and think about using a battery disconnect knob if you park your car for extended periods of time. It’s called “layered security”, and the more of it you use, the safer your car will be. Car thieves are just like the rest of us, who favor the path of least resistance. If your car isn’t it, they’ll move on to find another that is.
Finally, consider full coverage auto insurance if you currently carry liability only. Yes, this will cost you quite a bit more money, but it also covers you if your car does get stolen. Some policies include coverage for the contents of a vehicle, while others don’t. If you have questions, give your insurance agent a call.