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. 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.
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.