Protecting Your Vehicle from Theft

When I was eighteen years old, my father helped me buy a 1982 GMC Sierra. It was my first vehicle, and I was so excited that I drove it for hours, not caring about the price of gas. Seven days after I drove the car off the lot, it was stolen from the parking lot of a Bennigan’s restaurant.

No feeling compares to the one you receive when you leave a business, expecting to see your car in its parking space, but instead finding empty concrete. My truck was never found, and the responding police officer told me that my specific model of truck could have been stolen in less than fifteen seconds by an experienced thief.

Unfortunately, this happens to thousands of Americans every year; they work hard to buy a vehicle only to have it stolen in a place where they thought it was safe. The reality is that cars aren’t only stolen from seedy neighborhoods and dark alleys; thieves work in up-scale neighborhoods and in broad daylight just as easily.

There are three facts that consumers should know about their cars and the people who might potentially steal them:

1. Thieves aren’t usually looking for $60,000 machines; for the most part, they want older, easier-to-steal models that can be sold for parts at chop shops;
2. An alarm isn’t enough to deter a burglar; and
3. Most cars can be stolen in less than twenty seconds.

This might seem impossible to you, but even a ten-year-old car with an alarm system, parked in a high-class neighborhood isn’t safe from thieves. With that in mind, take some of these suggestions for keeping your vehicle safe from theft.

1. Park in the front of the lot.

This might seem like a simple exercise, but it might be just enough to deter a thief. Most people looking to steal cars head to the back of the lot, where the liklihood of being seen drops drastically. While you shouldn’t risk a ticket and park in a handicap space, you should try and park in the first five or six rows of cars. This ensures that numerous people will be milling around your vehicle, which will keep thieves away.

2. Keep your car in the garage.

If your family is anything like mine, the garage is more of a storage heap than a place to house a vehicle. But cars sitting on driveways or in the street are far more likely to be targeted for theft than one in a garage. Pick a weekend and do a little spring cleaning – clear out old boxes, tools, unused lumber, and whatever else might be taking up space in your garage. If you have more than one car, house the more valuable of the group in the garage.

3. Lock doors and roll up windows.

Three years ago, I parked my Ford Explorer on the street in front of a friend’s house. I went inside for five minutes without rolling up my window, came back out, and my stereo was gone. Car thieves and burglars work quickly and quietly, and your possessions can be gone before you know it. Even if you’re just running inside the pharmacy to pick up a prescription or dashing inside a friend’s house to pick up a baking pan, lock your doors. You never know what might happen in the few minutes you’re gone.

4. Purchase an alarm decal.

Sometimes, an alarm system on your vehicle is insufficient to deter a burglar because they won’t know it’s armed until they’ve breached your door. To make it clear that your car is equipped with an alarm, purchase an alarm decal for your window. Alarm decals can be purchased from dealerships or from manufacturers of alarms. They are inexpensive – usually two or three dollars – and might be enough to deter a thief. For more information, visit eCarSecurity.com

5. Etch your VIN number on your windows.

Your vehicle’s VIN number is an identifying mark – much like human finger prints – and when a car is stolen, the thief or thieves do not want the VIN number visible on the car. This makes selling it for parts and keeping it hidden from authorities much more difficult. Thieves can remove license plates, paint the body, and remove obvious dents and scratches, and even remove the original VIN number from your car. But if you get the VIN number etched on your windows, the thief will have second thoughts about their ability to effectively market the car for parts.

Most police agencies offer VIN etching for free, so call around and find a place that will do it. This will significantly lower the possibility of your car being stolen. If you’d prefer to do it yourself, visit VINetcher.com.

6. Buy a steering wheel lock.

You can find streering wheel locks at your local auto parts store for less than $100, which is an expense well worth the benefits. A steering wheel lock attatches to both sides of the wheel, keeping it from turning. While a professional thief can remove the lock, it will take much more time, and might be enough to deter them. You can find steering wheel locks online at AutoSportCatalog.com.

7. Install a killswitch.

A killswitch is a small button that can be installed anywhere on your car – under the dash, in the glove compartment, behind the fender – that, when depressed, halts the flow of electricity to your ignition. When engaged, a thief cannot start your car when the killswitch is on, and he will have to spend extra time trying to find it. Again, thieves know that killswitches exist, but it will take extra time while he searches for it. For more information visit BlueTraxx.com.

8. Apply for membership with H.E.A.T.

H.E.A.T. (Help End Auto Theft) is a program that allows consumers to post a sticker on the back windshield of their car. When a H.E.A.T. sticker is in place, it gives police officers the right to stop the car – regardless of illegal activity – between the hours of 12am and 5am. This way, if the thief is driving your car during these hours and an officer sees them, he can stop the car to make sure you are driving it. H.E.A.T. membership will also allow police officers to begin working quickly when your car is reported stolen.

H.E.A.T. only serves Oklahoma and Texas, but there are similar programs in almost every state. Contact your local police department to inquire about membership.

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