Car theft is a big problem in the U.S. and it isn’t going away. Preliminary 2016 statistics from the FBI indicate that vehicle thefts increased 6.6 percent, while all other crime statistics dropped. Thieves stole 785,793 vehicles last year—one every 40 seconds. Considering enforcement agencies submit this data voluntarily, this number might actually be much higher.
Most thieves aren’t professionals and they aren’t up on the latest tricks and technology. For the most part, thieves look for opportunities, but they can still be cunning and resourceful.
Luckily, almost half of vehicle thefts can be avoided by using reasonable precautions. Follow these tips to minimize risk and avoid the inconvenience and costs of having your vehicle stolen.
Lock It Up
This might seem obvious, but many people don’t do it. Maybe you leave your car unlocked while it’s sitting in the driveway or when you run into a store or gas station (it's just for a moment, you tell yourself). You might also leave the windows down a crack or the sunroof open when it’s hot outside.
Unfortunately, a thief may only need a few seconds to get into your car and speed away, leaving you standing by the curb.
Don’t Tempt Thieves
When thieves want to steal a vehicle, they look for easy cars that will get them quick money. Often, they are more interested in what you leave inside your car and more likely to break in if they see tempting items.
Keeping valuable items such as your wallet, purse, electronics, or change in the console offers fast cash for criminals. The more resourceful ones might even go so far as to compromise your credit and identity, too.
Track Your Keys
Many people make a copy of their car keys and stash them. Unfortunately, thieves know that people do this and look for them around your home and car.
Don’t hide your keys outside your house, under a floor mat, or tucked in a sun visor. Don’t leave car keys in plain sight in your house either, like on a table or key hook near the door.
If you want to mark your keys, use your license number, not your name or address. If you give spare keys to other people when you’re vacationing, ask for them back when you return.
Don’t Leave a Running Vehicle Unattended
The FBI reports that a third of drivers surveyed admit they’ve left their vehicle unattended while it’s running. Leaving a vehicle running with the keys in the ignition makes it almost irresistible to thieves. Besides, some localities will issue citations if you do so.
Install a Passive Anti-Theft Device
When most people think of anti-theft devices, they think of active ones like car alarms, steering wheel locks, and door locks. According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, about a quarter of Americans have these devices on their vehicles, but up to 25% don’t use them all the time.
These vehicle owners could benefit from passive anti-theft devices that work automatically. They may protect their cars with, for example, vehicle immobilizers such as ignition cutoffs or starter and fuel system disablers. They’re very effective and many insurance companies offer substantial discounts on your insurance premiums if you install one.
Install a GPS Device
The National Insurance Crime Bureau and the Insurance Information Institute recommend installing a Global Positioning System (GPS) in your vehicle. A GPS might not prevent a thief from taking your car, but it will help the law track down your stolen vehicle for recovery.
Always try to park your vehicle in a well-lit location or near an entrance or security camera. If this isn’t possible, choose an area with heavy pedestrian traffic or a parking attendant.
Always lock the steering wheel when you park and consider using a steering wheel lock even when parking in your garage. Lock your garage door every time, too. According to the Insurance Information Institute, thieves steal over 75,000 air bags annually. Replacing them requires a skilled technician and the airbag and installation could easily cost over $1,000.
VIN Etching and Anti-Theft Labels
If you install anti-theft security devices on your car and they supply a label, use it. Thieves look for easy marks, so anything you can do to discourage them is wise.
Thieves often steal cars and switch the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). VIN etching engraves the number on the windows to deter thieves. Always check the VIN on the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s website before you buy a car to make sure it isn't stolen.
Stash Your Registration
Experts suggest taking the registration out of your car. However, this might not be very sensible if multiple drivers use it. At the very least, take it out of the glove box and stash it somewhere else. If the police pull over the thief, they won’t dismiss them easily when they can’t find the papers.
Follow these tips to avoid the aggravation, inconvenience, and costs associated with car theft. Police only closed 13.1 percent of vehicle theft cases in 2015 and recovered less than half the vehicles. And even if you do get your car back, it probably won’t be in pristine condition. The thieves might strip it down for parts, damage it on a joy ride, crash it, or ditch it if they’re pursued. It’s simply not worth the risk.