More than 770,000 vehicles are stolen every year in the United States, and often, those thefts are crimes of opportunity. Too often, car owners leave doors unlocked or valuables in plain view, making it all too easy for car thieves to target vehicles. But even if you’re not making these obvious mistakes, there are many ways you can deter car thieves.
Of course, if a car thief wants your car, chances are he or she can make off with it eventually, every step you take is another hurdle a thief has to overcome to steal your car — and that may encourage them to move on to the next target that might prove to be easier. Something as simple as parking in your garage or using a valet key can save you from a car theft. Find out about these and many other ways you can take steps to protect your car.
- Never leave valuables in plain view: Car thieves are often looking for easy targets. Namely, your purse, wallet, cell phone, even your spare change. Thieves may peek into car windows to pick and choose which cars they want to break into, and if they see valuables in your car, they’re much more likely to choose it as a target.
- Don’t leave valuables anywhere: It’s best to completely avoid leaving any valuables in your car. If you must store valuables, put them in your trunk or an inconspicuously covered back area. Never open your trunk to store valuables at the same place where you’re parking, as thieves may be watching you as you exit your vehicle and will know that you’ve left something that may be worth stealing behind.
- Park in your garage: When you’re at home, always park in your garage whenever possible. Thieves are not likely to break into your garage just to steal your car.
- Park in your driveway: If you can’t park in your garage, park in your driveway close to your home where thieves might be worried about being spotted if you’re home.
- Don’t leave your keys: Yes, this sounds like silly advice. But people still frequently leave keys inside their cars or even in the ignition. Whether it’s an accident, carelessness, or just a bad habit, shut it down and take your keys with you every time.
- Don’t leave your car running unattended: If you leave your car running and unattended, you’ve practically handed your keys over to a thief. All they have to do is slip into the driver’s seat and go. Always turn off your vehicle when you’re stepping away from it, even for a moment. Avoid warming up your car unattended in the morning. Instead, sit inside your car while you’re waiting.
- Lock your doors: Again, this is a no brainer way to protect your car. Sure, car thieves can quickly get past practically any car door lock. But that takes time, and if you’ve left your car doors unlocked, you’ve just made it easier and faster for a thief to gain access to your car and everything inside of it. Remember to lock your doors while driving as well so that you can deter carjackers.
- Lock up at the gas station: You should lock your doors everywhere, but people often forget at the gas station when you’re right next to your vehicle. But thieves often target cars at gas stations, opening doors to steal valuables while your back is turned. You may even forget you’ve left your car unlocked and walk inside the store with your doors wide open and ready for thieves. Always take your keys and lock your doors, even when you’re right next to it filling up.
- Close your windows: Don’t leave windows cracked, even if it’s hot outside. Remember to close your sunroof as well.
- Use a valet key: If your car has one, hand over a valet key to parking attendants. With a valet key, they can only unlock your car and start it instead of being able to access your glove box, console, and trunk. Don’t think you have a valet key? You might. Check your owner’s manual or tool kit to make sure. If you have one and leave it in your vehicle, you could be handing a key over to a thief who knows where to look for it — and stick it right in the ignition to make off with your car.
- Use a visible anti-theft device: Stealthy anti-theft devices can be helpful, but a visible one sends a clear message to potential thieves that your car is protected and they should just move on to an easier target. Simple visible anti-theft devices include steering wheel clubs, pedal locks, and steel encased engine disablers. An alarm sticker or LED light can send the same message — whether you actually have an alarm or not.
- Get an alarm system: Stealth or not, an alarm system can help you protect your car. A loud alarm can deter theft, alert you that there’s a problem, and with some systems, even allow you to deactivate your car.
- Park in a safe area: You may not always be able to choose where you park, but if you can, park in a known safe area. Park in an area with a high crime rate, and you may be more likely to experience a break-in or theft.
- Park in a highly visible area: When you’re not at home, be sure to park your car in a spot with lots of light and foot traffic where thieves will have to work quickly to avoid being spotted in the act of stealing your car. It’s also smart to avoid parking near lot and garage entrances and exits, as they make for a fast getaway for thieves. Choose monitored lots, even if they’re a little more expensive, and park as close to the attendant or a security camera as you can.
- Keep your spare keys secure: You should never store spare keys in or on your vehicle, no matter how forgetful you are. Choose a designated spot to keep your spare set of keys that is completely separate from your car.
- Keep your car clean and well maintained: You might think that a good looking car will only entice car thieves, but it can actually protect your vehicle from theft. Potential thieves who see a car that’s taken care of may think twice, considering that the car may have an alarm or tracking device, or you will simply notice that it’s gone faster.
- Get your VIN etched on multiple parts of your car: If your car is stolen, it’s often dashed off to a chop shop almost immediately. Discourage them from rapidly dismantling your car by etching your VIN number on multiple parts of your car.
- Invest in Lo-Jack: A tracking service such as Lo-Jack can make it easier to locate your car if it’s been stolen, allowing you to recover it faster.
- Drive a manual transmission vehicle: While some car thieves may know how to drive a manual transmission, many don’t. Driving a manual can deter casual thieves who do not know how to drive them.
- Put on your emergency brake: Make your car harder to tow by engaging the emergency brake every time you park.
- Install a kill switch: Car thieves hate kill switches. They stop your car from being started by disrupting electricity at the battery or disabling the fuel pump. While they can be deactivated, they do take some time to work on, which can deter thieves who want an easier target.
- Remove vehicle paperwork: You should never store your title, insurance, or registration in your glove box. Keep them in your wallet instead. Leaving these items can give car thieves the opportunity to become identity thieves as well.
- Watch out for bump and rob schemes: Carjackers sometimes bump your car and then swoop in to steal it as you exit your vehicle to look at the damage. If you’re in an accident, turn off your ignition, close your door, and lock it before you look at the damage. You should also call the police for assistance if you feel threatened.
- Avoid car models that are often targeted by thieves: Some vehicles are just more popular among car thieves. Typically, they are ubiquitous models with good resale value, and parts are in high demand. Often, Hondas, Toyotas, Acuras, and General Motors vehicles are among makes most often stolen by car thieves.
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