How to keep your vehicle safe from car thieves

Q: How serious is the problem?

A: Professional car thieves can break into a car and drive it away in less than two minutes. This occurs every 22 seconds somewhere in the United States. Auto theft costs Americans more than $7 billion annually, and one out of 43 registered motorists will be a victim of auto theft in the course of a year.

Preventing vehicle theft is everyone’s responsibility. Police, government officials, insurers, consumer groups, vehicle manufacturers and other citizens are working together in a cooperative effort to prevent auto theft and fraud.

Q: How can I protect my car?

A: Among the ways you can decrease your chances of being targeted by auto thieves:

  • Never leave your car running while unattended. Always turn off the engine and roll up the windows when leaving the vehicle, even for a short period of time.
  • Never leave your keys in your car. Even if a car is locked. a thief will be able to steal it faster if the keys are left inside. Nearly 20 percent of cars stolen still have the key in the ignition.
  • Lock your car and garage. Keeping your car locked at all times, and storing it in a locked garage whenever possible creates more obstacles for thieves. T-shaped lock knobs may be replaced by smooth ones that are more difficult for thieves to pull up.
  • Cover your garage windows. Thieves will not know what kind of cars are inside and will not be able to detect your traveling patterns. This will also help ensure the safety of snow blowers, lawnmowers and other valuables stored in the garage.
  • Park in busy, well-lighted areas. Thieves prefer to work in privacy and under the cover of darkness.
  • Leave only your ignition key when leaving your vehicle with a garage or parking lot attendant. Protect your home and office from being burglarized by keeping your other keys with you.
  • Prevent unlawful towing. Put on your emergency brake and turn your front wheels sharply to one side to deter thieves that prowl the streets with tow trucks. Parking in the middle of the block, rather than at the end of the street near the comer where the car is more exposed, will also make it more difficult for thieves to tow your vehicle.
  • Make your vehicle easy to identify. Etch your car’s vehicle identification number (VIN) onto car windows and underneath the hood and the trunk lid. You can use a dye marker, or an electric etcher-which you can sometimes borrow from your local police department or rent from a hardware store.

The VIN is embossed on a metal plate located between the dashboard and the windshield on the driver’s side. It can also be found on the manufacturer’s certification sticker on the driver’s side front door.

  • Make your vehicle easy to return to you. Slip business cards or home-address labels down window channels. Hide them under floor mats and under the seat.
  • Keep valuables hidden. Purses, wallets, and expensive items left in plain sight of passers-by encourage theft. Place all valuables in trunk.
  • When shopping, place parcels in the trunk as you leave the first location, rather than waiting until you reach your second destination. Otherwise, a loitering thief can watch you load up your trunk with expensive packages and depart the parking area to complete your errands, thus leaving a clear field for the thief.
  • Protect your audio system. Removable or hidden radios, stereos, tape decks, and CD players are a good idea; as is discreet placement of audio system speakers.
  • Keep important documents safe. Never leave your vehicle title or registration in your glove compartment. Thieves can use these documents to sell your car, or to impersonate you if they are stopped by the police.
  • Keep a copy of your vehicle’s VIN number, license plate number, your insurance identification card number and your vehicle registration number with you at all times. If your vehicle is stolen, you will need this information to complete police and insurance company reports.
  • Use alarm systems. Several types of alarm systems are available that will sound an alarm if someone breaks into your car. Active systems must be turned on by the driver, while passive alarms switch on automatically when you remove the ignition key or lock the doors. The louder the alarm is, the more effective in preventing theft.
  • Install anti-theft devices. There are a number of these to choose from, including: ignition cutoff switches, which prevent the car from starting unless the switch is tripped; fuel cutoff devices, which close the fuel line; steering wheel locks, which prevent the wheel from turning; and hood locks, which prevent thieves from hot-wiring the vehicle. Anything that slows a thief down will decrease the chances that your car will be a target.

Many insurers offer a discount, usually ranging from 5 percent to 20 percent, on comprehensive coverage to policyholders whose cars are equipped with alarm systems or anti-theft devices.

  • Certain cars are stolen more frequently than others. Check with your insurer to find out whether or not that new car you’re thinking of buying falls into a high-risk category.

The preceding tips were compiled from information provided by the National Automobile Theft Bureau (NATB), the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and other sources.