Warning: Summer Is Car Theft Season

Ahhh, summer. There you are, returning to your car after sunning at the beach, enjoying that CGI-tastic blockbuster, or shopping for souvenirs on your road trip. You walk over to where you parked and the space is … empty.

In addition to the horrible thought of your beloved “Joan Jetta” or “Forester Gump” in the hands of some larcenous creep, you suddenly have a serious problem. How will you get yourself to work, home, school, or even the grocery store without your wheels?

Every 44 seconds, a car is stolen somewhere in the U.S. (Tweet this.)

It happens year-round, but especially in July and August because thieves are on the lookout for cars with windows cracked, garages with doors ajar, and relaxed vacationers who aren’t as vigilant as they might normally be. Here’s how to keep from being a victim of car theft.

Don’t make assumptions

You might think luxury cars are most attractive to thieves, and in fact, the Cadillac Escalade was America’s most stolen new car for 9 years running, according to the Highway Data Loss Institute (HDLI). Escalade owners often trick out their vehicles with expensive rims and other accessories that thieves love. But large pickups are popular targets too. This year, the 10 vehicles with the most insurance claims for theft were American-made large pickups or SUVs. The Ford F-250 took the number one slot, while the Escalade dropped down to sixth place.

Does this mean older, smaller, or imported cars are immune to theft? Unfortunately, no. While the HDLI’s list covers the last 3 model years, other most stolen lists (which aren’t limited to new cars) routinely feature Honda and Toyota models from the ‘90s. Older vehicles are attractive because they lack the theft prevention or tracking features found in many newer models. And though an older vehicle may have a low resale value, its parts might still be worth a lot individually — especially since models like Camrys and Accords tend not to change much year to year, so their parts are more interchangeable.

“Wait, what? Parts?” Yep. We hate to be the ones to tell you, but your missing “Silver Sled” may be headed for a chop shop. Thieves have become increasingly sophisticated, and most stolen vehicles are stripped for parts, which are then sold. This is one reason why only 52 percent of stolen vehicles are ever found.

Related: The 10 Most Stolen Cars (and How to Prevent Yours from Being One)

Use common sense

Nearly half of all car thefts are the result of driver mistakes like leaving the doors open or the keys on the seat. So be sure to lock your car, roll up your windows, and take your keys with you. Park in a brightly lit area so thieves can’t work under cover of darkness. Take valuables with you (you don’t want to give thieves a reason to choose your car). And never leave your car running, even if you’re just popping in the house to grab a jacket.

Make your vehicle less appealing

We don’t mean leaving it unwashed, littered with fast-food wrappers, or tuned to the polka station. We’re talking about visual deterrents that let would-be thieves know your car won’t be an easy steal and anti-theft systems that keep them from driving your vehicle away. These include:

  • Locks on your steering wheel, brakes, or wheels. A thief would have to break these superstrong locks to drive off, so just the sight of them is often deterrent enough.
  • Etching your windows with your car’s vehicle identification number (VIN). Some law enforcement agencies offer this service for free.
  • Ignition disablers. Standard equipment in many vehicles, these devices prevent the car from starting during a theft attempt (such as hot-wiring).
  • Smart keys. Also standard in some models, these keys contain special coded chips or radio-frequency transponders. The car won’t start unless it recognizes the key code.
  • Audible alarms. You may hate them when they go off at 3 a.m. (I certainly do), but motion-activated car alarms are an effective deterrent to car theft and burglaries.

Not only will a theft-deterrent system help keep your car from getting boosted, it can also score you discounts on your auto insurance policy.

It seems wrong that the sunny days of summer would bring out shady characters like car thieves. But the best way to protect yourself is to take precautions and make sure you have adequate car insurance coverage.

Weigh in about car theft

Have you ever had your car stolen? What types of precautions do you take? Tell us in the comments below.

Related links

Find out what your VIN means.

Are thieves targeting your motorcycle?

What maintenance does your car need for summer?

Know what to do when your engine overheats with these 5 steps.

Safety First: Your Roadside Emergency Kit Must-Haves

Ever since the first Model T rolled off the assembly line, cars have allowed us to not only make quick trips to the corner store, but also embark on impromptu cross-country adventures. With so much freedom at your fingertips, it’s important to be prepared for anything by keeping a well-stocked emergency kit on board at all times. That way, if you ever find yourself stranded across town or fixing a flat on Highway 101, you’ll have all the supplies you need to get you through.

Emergency kit staples

Opinions on the must-have emergency items for year-round driving vary. If you’re a car buff who can change oil with your eyes closed, you might benefit from storing an extra quart in your car. But if you rely on the experts for your maintenance, keeping oil, fuses, and a plethora of tools in your trunk might not do you much good.

That being said, here are the essentials everyone needs for a roadside emergency kit:

  • Cell phone and charger
  • First aid kit (bandages, gauze, adhesive tape, antiseptic cream, instant ice and heat compresses, scissors, and aspirin)
  • Spare tire or tire repair kit
  • Jack (if your car doesn’t come with one)
  • Flares
  • Tire pressure gauge
  • A little extra cash
  • Jumper cables
  • Extra wiper fluid
  • Flashlight
  • Blanket
  • AM/FM radio
  • Bottled water and nonperishable snacks
  • Pen and paper

Summer saviors

With its carefree nature and sunny skies, summer has a way of making worries melt away. But before you hop in the car to go camping in the Grand Canyon, be sure to take inventory of your emergency kit and add these extra items to your stash:

  • An additional gallon of water (can be used to help cool an overheated engine)
  • Sunscreen
  • Fire extinguisher (in case your car really overheats)
  • Reflective sunshade (to keep the interior at a comfortable temperature)
  • A rain jacket

Winter additions

We’ve given you our opinion on how to be prepared for winter weather previously, but just to keep it fresh in your head, here’s what to add to your emergency kit to round it out during the colder months:

  • Non-clumping kitty litter (might seem strange, but if you ever get stuck in a snow bank, you’ll thank us)
  • Shovel
  • Gloves
  • Ice scraper
  • Extra warm clothes
  • Chains

Safety for all seasons

It’s also important to remember that keeping up on routine car maintenance can help you squash surprises on the road. So whether it’s a 5-minute trip for takeout, or a 2-week excursion to SoCal, be sure to keep your oil fresh and your safety kit stocked for any situation.

What’s in your emergency kit?

Did we miss any of your emergency must-haves? Have you ever found yourself stranded and wished you’d packed ______? Let us know in the comments below!

Related Links

The Perfect Emergency Road Kit
What to Do If Your Car Overheats: 5 Must-Know Steps

Distracted Driving: It’s Worse Than You Thought

Distracted driving seems to be in the headlines every other day — and it can feel like we’ve heard it all 100 times before. Yes, texting and talking on your mobile while driving is bad. We get it. We even went out and bought hands-free devices. Isn’t that enough? We do live in a multi-tasking world, after all.

But the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) and other safety groups aren’t going to let us off that easy — not when 1 out of 10 fatal traffic accidents are caused by inattention behind the wheel. New studies are constantly being conducted, with some surprising results. So if the words “distracted driving” make you tune out like a, well, distracted driver, here are some recent findings you might want to know about.

Texting isn’t as bad as you thought — it’s worse

Texting while driving raises your crash risk by 23 times. The 3 main types of distractions are manual, visual, and cognitive, and texting involves the whole trifecta. You may think the act of texting is too quick to matter, but even if u r using shorthand, sending or reading the average text takes 4.6 seconds. In that time, if you were going 55 mph, you’d travel 100 yards (the length of a football field) and you’d essentially be doing it with your eyes closed. Not a good idea.

Hands-free doesn’t really help you

If your phone rings while you’re behind the wheel, do you answer it? Nearly half of the drivers recently surveyed by the NHTSA said they would. And 24 percent said they would place a call while driving, despite the obvious dangers of looking down to dial or controlling your car with one hand while talking.

Because of these risks, 11 states have now made it illegal for all drivers to use handheld cell phones. A headset sounds like the obvious solution, but it turns out that using a cell phone with a headset is not actually much safer than holding it in your hand. Granted, the headset leaves both hands free, but that doesn’t seem to be the issue it’s the conversation itself that causes the distraction. A recent Toronto study tested this theory using an MRI machine fitted with a driving simulator. During a phone call (hands-free or not), blood flow decreased to the areas of the brain that control alertness and vision processing and was redirected to the area that handles conversation.

The statistics for hands-free texting are even more alarming, according to new research published by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. On a distraction scale of 1 to 5, where 1 equals doing nothing but driving and 5 equals driving while doing a set of mental math-and-memory problems, hands-free texting ranked 3.06 (talking on a hands-free phone came in at 2.27). Once again, even if your eyes are on the road and your hands are on the wheel, your mind is likely to be elsewhere.

Listening to music isn’t distracting, but touch-free radio controls are

Not all the news is bad. A new Dutch study suggests that listening to music while driving doesn’t impair reaction times. Because music is not as mentally engaging as texting or talking, drivers are able to block it out when they need to concentrate. And, in some situations, music may even improve focus by helping drivers stay alert.

So go ahead and play those tunes, especially if you have an old-school radio knob rather than a touch screen. According to consumer reviews, many drivers find touch-screen radio controls distracting since you need to look at the screen to make adjustments, rather than using touch and muscle memory. In fact, drivers feel so strongly about this that Ford is abandoning their touch-screen system and going back to using traditional dials and buttons on their high-tech dashboards.

Is tech the enemy?

Drivers have a lot to thank technology for. From adaptable headlights to automatic brakes and GPS, technological innovations have made (and continue to make) driving safer and more enjoyable. But when it comes to mobile phones and touch screens, it seems driving and tech don’t always mix. Until self-driving cars are a reality, maybe it’s best to keep the cell phone on sleep mode.

Related links:
Distracted driving facts and solutions
The 3 types of distracted driving
Does music make you an unsafe driver?

4 Visionaries Who Changed Transportation Forever

July 24 is Pioneer Day, a day to remember those who broke new ground, reached new heights, and saw opportunity where others saw certain failure.

At Esurance, we’re big fans of innovation, particularly when it comes to the automotive world. So we thought we’d pay homage to some of the men and women who made transportation what it is today.

The first real road trip

As you may know, Karl Benz of Germany is considered the inventor of the first true automobile. But his creation might have flopped if it wasn’t for his wife, Bertha. In 1888, no one wanted to buy Benz’s mysterious horseless carriages, believing they were unreliable. Bertha decided to prove them wrong and, without her husband’s knowledge, set out with her 2 teenage sons on a 65-mile journey from Mannheim to Pforzheim and back. Before this time, automobiles had only been driven short distances.

Despite a few mishaps (they ran out of fuel at one point and Bertha had to clear a blocked fuel line with her hairpin later on), the trio made it safely to Pforzheim that same evening. News of their amazing journey quickly spread, putting an end to concerns about reliability and proving that the automobile could be useful in everyday life.

The first drive-thru

Next time you pick up a quick lunch at the drive-thru, who should you thank? Ray Kroc of McDonald’s? Harry and Esther Snyder of In-N-Out Burger? No, you should raise your 21 oz. soda to R. Crosby Kemper, the Kansas City banker who installed a drive-up teller window in City Center Bank in 1928. It’s believed to be the country’s first drive-thru — fast-food restaurants didn’t pick up the trend until the late 1940s.

Cruise control

Have you ever been a passenger in a car and wished there was a way you could instantly improve the skill of your driver? (Who hasn’t?) That’s what happened to the creator of cruise control, Ralph Teetor. Blinded in an accident at the age of 5, Teetor grew up to be a prolific inventor — his heightened senses of touch and hearing gave him an exceptional ability to solve mechanical problems. Though many of his inventions were for cars, he never drove one himself. The inspiration for cruise control came after a particularly jerky ride with his patent attorney, who had trouble maintaining a consistent speed behind the wheel. Teetor patented his invention in 1953 under the name Speedostat, and it was first featured on Chrysler models in 1958.

GPS

Where would we be without GPS? Probably making a frantic U-turn in a strange town, squinting at a paper map (remember those?) and muttering unprintable words. Instead, as we follow the soothing voice or serene blue dot to our destination, we can give a nod to pioneering physicist Roger Easton. His TIMATION program, a 3-D navigation system using earth-orbiting satellites with super precise clocks, was the essential basis for the U.S. Global Positioning System. Though originally developed in the ‘60s for military use, GPS is now available to civilians with important missions like not getting profoundly lost on the way to a job interview.

Esurance as automotive pioneer

As one of the first online car insurance companies, we’ve always been out in front with innovative tools and services that help make insurance hassle-free. Our interactive What If® Calculator, for example, lets you find out how certain hypothetical incidents (like a ticket or moving to a new ZIP Code) can affect your rates. And our new photo claims feature helps you get an appraisal right from your smartphone if you have a minor car accident. After filing your claim, you simply send photos of the damage to Esurance through our mobile app. Within one business day, our claims department will get in touch to discuss your options. It’s that simple.

These are just 2 of our latest tools. We’re working on a bunch of exciting new ones as we speak, so stay tuned.

What are some innovations you’d like to see? Is there a pioneer (automotive or otherwise) you admire? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Related posts

2 African-American Inventors Who Changed the World
5 Female Automotive Trailblazers

Esurance Is Now In Massachusetts: Brainiacs, Basketball, and Baked Beans

Esurance is now available in Massachusetts! The sixth state to join the Union will be the thirty-eighth state where we offer our reliable, affordable car insurance coverage, and we’re wicked excited to be there.

To many non-Bay-Staters, Massachusetts is best known for its role in the American Revolution and its sports teams. But there’s a lot more to the commonwealth than patriots and the Patriots.

First of all…

Massachusetts was one of the first American colonies, so you would expect it to be the site of a lot of firsts. But the list is impressive nonetheless. Massachusetts boasts America’s first public park (Boston Common, established in 1634), first public beach (Revere Beach, 1896), first post office (1639), first public library (1653), and first regularly circulated newspaper (The Boston News-Letter, 1704).

In terms of education alone, Massachusetts was way out in front, with America’s first public high school (Boston Latin School), first university (Harvard, of course!), and first public elementary school (the Mather School), all dating back to the 1630s. And Massachusetts also paved the way for public transportation with America’s first railroad and subway systems.

Mother of invention

Maybe it’s the brisk New England air, but Massachusetts has always been an inspiring place for inventors. Homegrown innovations include the telephone, the typewriter, the transformer, and the sewing machine. And though “Duryea” is not quite the household name that “Ford” is, America’s first gasoline-powered car was actually built by Springfield natives Charles and J. Frank Duryea in 1892 (they also formed the first American auto manufacturing company).

So we at Esurance are very grateful to those Bay State geniuses. Being a modern, innovative car insurance company that offers 24/7 customer service and a sweet mobile app would be difficult without phones, electric power, or cars. Having a keyboard to type on certainly makes things easier for this writer. And if I had to come to the office in hand-sewn clothing, let’s just say I’d work from home a lot.

Sports and more sports

Even the most casual sports fans know that Massachusetts is a sports mecca, home to some of America’s most iconic professional teams (the Red Sox, the Bruins, the Patriots, and the Celtics). But did you know that basketball and volleyball both got their start in Massachusetts? Remember to thank those ever-inventive Massachusettsans next time you shoot hoops or spike that ball.

Other Massachusetts tidbits

Though “the Bay State” is its most common nickname, Massachusetts is sometimes called “the Baked Bean State.” And in addition to its state song (“All Hail to Massachusetts”), the commonwealth also has a state polka (“Say Hello to Someone in Massachusetts”), a state folk song (“Massachusetts”),and is considering a state rock song (possibly by local heroes Aerosmith).

Now you can toss out these fun Massachusetts facts next time you’re at a party and sound wicked smart.

And for you Bay Staters (who probably knew all this already), here are some Massachusetts insurance facts.