Every 28 seconds, a vehicle is stolen in the United States. In urban areas, it's an even more pervasive problem. While vehicle theft is difficult to completely prevent, there are several steps drivers can take to deter would-be thieves.
- Never leave a running car unattended. An unlocked, running car with keys in the ignition is an open invitation for thieves. It can be tempting to leave a car running to go in a gas station or while the engine is warming up, but it's inherently risky. If your car needs to warm up or defrost, wait inside it.
- Park safely. There is a descending order of preference for potential parking spots. Safely stored in a locked garage is ideal, but not everyone is afforded that luxury. If you're parked in a driveway, pull as close to the house as possible. When parking on the street, try and find an area that is well lit. If you park between two cars, turn your wheels toward the curb and engage the parking brake. This makes it difficult for a thief to tow your vehicle. If you have to leave your car in a long-term lot, make sure it's one with ample security.
- Leave windows up. In warm weather, drivers often like to leave their windows down or partially cracked. While it's inconvenient to return to a car that has become a virtual sauna, it's better than returning to no car at all. A windshield reflector is a safe alternative, and similarly effective.
- Hide everything. Don't leave anything visually tempting for car thieves. CDs, laptops, cell phones, iPods, luggage, sports equipment, and anything else of significant value are all incentive enough for a thief to steal your car instead of another. If your stereo has a removable faceplate, be vigilant about removing it when you park your car.
- Refrain from hiding a spare key. Unless you've devised an extremely clever hiding spot (and be aware that car thieves are quite clever), it's simply too risky to leave a spare key on the outside of your vehicle. Keep a spare key, but leave it at home.
- Tint windows and lock doors. Tinting your windows makes it more difficult for thieves to see valuables that you may have forgotten to remove. Locked doors are the first—and easiest—line of defense.
- Use a club or car alarm. Many vehicles come with an anti-theft system or car alarm that alerts passersby to possible foul-play. If your vehicle doesn't have one, it's relatively inexpensive to purchase an aftermarket system. The Club and other locking devices make it much more difficult to drive a vehicle away. Expert thieves can generally find a way to disable them, but they are often just enough of a deterrent to convince a thief to look elsewhere.
- Install an ignition or fuel system lock. If you live in a high-risk area, you may want to consider installing a hidden switch or trigger that disables the ignition or fuel system. As long as the switch is properly disguised, a thief won't be able to turn your vehicle on.
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How to Ensure Recovery
Unfortunately, even with all of the aforementioned preventative measures in place, a determined thief might still find a way to steal your vehicle. There are a second set of measures that, while doing very little to prevent the theft of your vehicle, ensure that your vehicle can be easily recovered.
- Prominently display the VIN number. Displaying the designated Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) on as many major parts of a vehicle as possible makes it difficult for thieves to part-out stolen cars. Taking the time to etch the number onto the doors, interior, windshield, and dash can go a long way if you ever have to recover your car.
- Remove the title. Never travel with the title to your vehicle inside it. You're probably required to carry proof of registration in your vehicle, but never the title. As soon as you receive the title to a vehicle, save it in a safe place until you decide to sell it.
- Install a tracking system. Systems like LoJack and OnStar are radio tracking devices that help police find vehicles when they are stolen. With these systems in place, a vehicle is often found within hours of it being reported stolen.
- Comprehensive insurance. Sometimes when a stolen vehicle is found there isn't much left to recover. Stolen cars are often stripped, parted-out, and heavily damaged. Getting back a gutted, un-drivable shell of your former car isn't going to go a long way in getting you back on the road. Comprehensive auto insurance paired with a renters or home insurance policy is the best way to protect yourself from a loss. For more information, read our article about what is covered when a vehicle is broken into.
Over the last four years, vehicle thefts have actually decreased in frequency on the national level. However, the problem is still at near-epidemic levels. The decrease may be attributed to the sophisticated anti-theft systems that now come standard on most new vehicles, or an increased effort from law enforcement to curtail the issue. Either way, there are still plenty of thieves out there. With the help of this guide, hopefully you will never join the ranks of the millions of people who have already fallen victim to car thieves.
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