Confessions of a Car Thief


Part 4

How To Protect Your Car From Thieves

The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) recommends a "layered approach" to protecting your car. The more layers you have, the better protected your car will be.

Layer #1: Common Sense — These are no-brainer tips that you might expect everyone to do, but car thieves make a good business out of people's carelessness — or laziness. Always do the following, even if parking for a brief period:

  • Remove your keys from the ignition.
  • Lock your doors/close your windows.
  • Park in a well-lit area whenever possible.

Layer #2: Alarm or Warning Device — These visible or audible devices and markers alert thieves that your vehicle is protected. Even if they don't always prevent theft, their presence often deters it.

  • Audible car alarms
  • Brake pedal locks
  • Identification markers in or on vehicle
  • Micro dot marking
  • Steering column collars
  • Steering wheel locks
  • Theft-deterrent decals
  • Tire locks/tire deflators
  • Wheel locks
  • Window etching

Layer #3: Immobilizing Devices — These devices prevent thieves from bypassing your ignition and hot-wiring the vehicle. Some electronic devices work with computer chips in the ignition key. Other devices inhibit the flow of electricity or fuel to the engine until a hidden switch or button is activated. Popular third-layer devices include:

  • Fuse cut-offs
  • Kill switches
  • Smart keys
  • Starter, ignition and fuel disablers
  • Wireless ignition authentication

Layer # 4: Tracking Devices — The final layer of protection is a tracking device that can emit a location signal to a monitoring station or police after the vehicle is reported stolen. Vehicles recovered this way are often found more quickly and with less damage. Some systems combine GPS and wireless technologies to allow remote vehicle monitoring: If the vehicle is moved, the system will alert the owner and the vehicle can be tracked via computer. (For more details on tracking devices, see "Evaluating Stolen Vehicle Recovery Systems."

Former professional car thief Gary Sousa agrees that these tracking devices are the best form of protection money can buy. LoJack, for example, has an industry-leading recovery rate of 90 percent.

"If your car has LoJack installed, the cops will catch the thief like that. You can't get away. Thieves might stay away from really nice cars, because they might have LoJack on them. It's the most expensive but the best way to protect your car. Some GPS systems can help, too: All you have to do is call a company and then they'll try to track the car."

While most of these devices will cost more than a few dollars, most car insurance companies offer discounts for vehicles equipped with certain theft deterrents or vehicle tracking systems; check with them before installing one. As Gary told us, though, there's no substitute for vigilance. There are a lot of guys like Gary out there, just watching and waiting for you to slip.

Related articles:

Top 10 Ways To Steal a Car (and how to defend against them)
Avoiding Auto Theft and Insurance Problems
Evaluating Stolen Vehicle Recovery Systems
In Under Two Minutes: Catalytic Converter Theft

Read more articles in the Edmunds Confessions Series.

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