"Car theft is a real crime of opportunity," says AAA traffic safety consultant and former CHP sergeant Kevin Kelly. "When the bad guys see an easy mark, they'll take it." His basic advice: "Protect your car by making the car inconvenient to thieves."
Generally, car thieves are in a hurry and they prefer not to be too obvious; that's also true of those who might break into your car to steal its contents. The most important thing you can do is lock your car and take the keys. Here are some other ways you can discourage car thieves:
When you park, close the windows—including the sunroof.
Don't try to hide a spare key on the vehicle. "The bad guys know where to look," Kelly says. "If you're worried about locking yourself out of your car, carry one of the free plastic credit card keys AAA can make for you instead."
Don't leave the pink slip in the car.
Carry your registration with you rather than leaving it in the glove box. You are required to have it when you drive, but there's no requirement it be left in the car. Make photocopies for other family members to carry.
Your car is safer in your driveway than on the street; it's safer still in a locked garage.
When you park on the street, find a well-lighted, well-traveled place if you can. Turn the wheels sharply toward or away from the curb, and set the brake. If your car has a manual transmission, leave it in first or reverse; otherwise, put it in park. This makes towing the vehicle marginally more difficult.
Don't leave anything in plain sight on the seats—some thieves have a low threshold of temptation.
Don't leave anything that has your name and address in the vehicle. This is especially important if you keep your garage door opener in the car.
Some vehicles get stolen at much higher rates than others. The Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) gathers and publishes statistical information on car theft by make and model. The HLDI Web site, www.carsafety.org, is an excellent source of prepurchase information.
For example, HLDI research shows that thieves like the Chevy Suburban 1500. They really like Mustang convertibles. And they seem besotted by the Range Rover. On the other hand, vehicles such as the Pontiac Grand Am seem not to stir them. And, statistically speaking, they'll take an Olds Silhouette only if they have to.
If your taste in vehicles has an inverse relationship to that of the average thief, you stand a somewhat better chance of keeping your car. On the other hand, Kelly says the belief that owning a tatty car confers theft protection is unfounded. "Car thieves will steal anything," he says. "Having a crummy car is no protection, as thieves will steal a car for its valuable parts."
Burglar alarms and locks, such as The Club, may help. "A lot of people ignore car alarms," Kelly admits. "However, I caught a couple of thefts in progress and what attracted my attention was that I heard the alarm go off momentarily, then suddenly stop when the wires were disconnected. Car thieves don't like noise.
Devices like The Club are fine. I have one for my van. It works better if you install it so the lock faces the dash—that makes it harder to defeat. But they're no substitute for getting all the goodies out of sight, closing the windows, and locking the car."
Reporting a stolen car
The two most important things in reporting a car theft are speed and information," Kelly advises. "Don't wait around to report your car stolen, and stay on the scene to speak with the officers. The vehicle owner must complete and sign a theft report."
The more information you supply, the better. This is easier if you keep the registration paper on your person rather than in the car-and if you have made notes on the back of it.
Ideally, you would be able to supply all the following information:
vehicle license number
vehicle identification number
make, model, year
tire brands and serial numbers
any special equipment
identifying marks—dents, stickers, foxtails on the antenna
This article was first published in May 2000. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.