Thieves are constantly devising new and sophisticated means of stealing cars. According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), law enforcement received 932,329 stolen vehicle reports in 2021. This represents a 6% increase over 2020, says the NICB, and a 17% increase over 2019.
What steps can you take to avoid becoming part of these statistics? Here are seven simple actions that can save you the stress and expense of a car theft.
1. Keep your doors locked, even when driving
Locked doors are the easiest way to prevent car theft. Commit to keeping your doors locked everywhere, even places that appear relatively safe. For example, parking your car at home might feel safe. You might feel the same comfort at the neighborhood grocery store. However, it’s this comfort that thieves prey on to steal your car. They’re more likely to gain access to your car if you let down your guard. Locking your doors is a simple action that can deter thieves.
2. Keep your windows rolled up
When the weather is nice, it's tempting to leave your car windows down. You may think just a crack is harmless. The reality is it takes only a crack for car thieves to gain access to your vehicle. They can use that crack to unlock and quickly steal your car. Keep your windows rolled up to deter thieves from spotting your car as an easy target.
3. Install an anti-theft system in your vehicle
Anti-theft systems make stealing your car difficult. There are a number of options on the market:
- Steering wheel locks attach to your steering wheel and immediately deter any thief who looks in your window.
- Ignition cutoff systems, or “kill switches,” are another effective way to prevent thieves from starting your car if they get in.
- Electronic tracking systems use GPS to locate stolen vehicles. Popular models like Lojack have successful recovery rates.
Additionally, if you own a new car it may have a passive alarm that activates the moment the vehicle is turned off. Some systems even emit a signal that police can track if your car is stolen.
4. Select parking spots carefully
Be aware of your surroundings, especially in parking garages where thieves can work under the cover of darkness. A location where people can’t view or hear activity around your car, such as windows breaking, is a high-risk area for parking. Instead, select high-traffic areas. For example, park close to elevators and pathways where visibility would deter thieves from targeting your vehicle.
5. Etch the VIN in your car windows
Vehicle identification number (VIN) etching is the permanent engraving of your car’s VIN on its windshield and windows. It is difficult for a thief to sell a car with VIN-etched windows.
6. Never leave your car on and unattended
You may live in a neighborhood that feels safe. Kids play outside, you know the neighbors and crime doesn’t happen frequently. But just because a neighborhood feels safe doesn’t mean thieves won’t target your vehicle. Avoid leaving keys in the ignition or the vehicle running, even if just for a moment. It takes only minutes to steal a car, and even less time when the vehicle is running.
7. Avoid keeping important papers or spare keys in your car
Do you keep your vehicle title inside your car? This makes black market sales easier. Also avoid hiding keys anywhere on the car. For instance, hikers might place a single key above the tire to lighten their load, especially while trail jogging. But thieves know about this practice, and it enables them to quickly steal vehicles.
No matter how old your car is, never rule out the possibility of it being stolen. In fact, older models can be easier than newer models to break into, and they are frequently stolen for parts.