Tips to Avoid Car Theft
In the U.S., a motor vehicle theft occurs every 44 seconds, according to FBI statistics.
In broader terms, that equates to about 700,000 stolen cars a year.
Although those numbers tend to spike in July and August, vehicle thefts are common around the holidays, too, when people are either shopping or leaving their cars unattended while warming them up in cold weather.
Unfortunately, many drivers aren’t proactive until after their car is stolen, says Mohamed Almasri, owner of highly rated Houston Car Stereo in Houston.
“We sell quite a bit of car alarms after someone breaks into them and steals their belongings,” he says. “Of course, we recommend doing so before something happens.”
Lock doors, windows to prevent car theft
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 40 to 50 percent of all vehicle thefts are related to driver error.
The easier you make it for a potential thief to steal your car, the likelihood of becoming a victim increases.
“Try to park in well-lit areas,” Almasri says. “Make sure all of your doors are locked, and put an alarm on your car. Also, don’t leave your phones or sunglasses out. That makes it easier for the thieves.”
A couple of other basic tips to think about, include:
• Lock and close all doors and windows. Thieves often have the equipment and know-how to find their way inside, even through small openings.
• Don’t leave your keys in the car (yeah, a no-brainer, but it happens more often than you think, experts say).
Gary Woodward, owner of highly rated Hurley’s Auto Audio in McLean, Virginia, says many cars are stolen so thieves can collect and profit from valuable body metal and engine parts.
“You can get national theft numbers by car brand and model from the Insurance Institute [For Highway Safety],” he says.
Car alarms, VIN etching as anti-theft options
One of the best preventive measures is buying a car alarm from a reputable alarm company. Get references or check Angie’s List for reviews on companies in your area.
Some insurance companies offer discounts for car alarms or other anti-theft devices.
On average, car alarms range in cost from about $150 for a basic audible alarm, up to $900 for an alarm equipped with a GPS tracker and keyless entry. Woodward says alarms can potentially reduce your loss.
“A car alarm does reduce the time a thief has to paw through the car due to the attention drawn to it,” Woodward says.
But don’t just buy an alarm from anyone, Woodward warns. An improperly installed alarm can lead to problems.
“Try not to purchase a car alarm on price only,” he adds “[Some installers] tend to be production mills and don’t spend the time for a proper installation. This leads to false alarms and lower confidence and use of the alarm.”
Another option is VIN etching, which is the process of etching your car’s 17-digit Vehicle Identification Number on all of its windows.
VINs offer important information about a car, including the car’s owner, year, make and model. For this reason, cars with VIN etching are a less-popular target for thieves, police say.
VIN etching kits are available online and some police departments even offer the service for free.
Where you park is important
Be careful how and where you park.
According to statistics from the Metro Nashville Police Department, potential thieves are five times more likely to steal a car from an unattended lot as they are from an attended lot or a street.
Police recommend parking in well-lit areas and in parking lots and garages where other cars are located.
“Always try to park your car near a streetlight,” Woodward says.
Although many mechanics recommend letting your car run for 10 to 15 minutes before driving in cold weather, never leave your car unattended or unlocked. This is a popular way for thieves to steal vehicles.
It’s also illegal in many cities and municipalities to leave your car idling by itself.
One option to having a warm car ready when you are is buying a remote car starter. The device allows you to start your car with the push of a button, but the car stays locked.