Anyone who has returned to where they know they parked their car only to find it’s been stolen knows the sinking feeling. “If only I’d followed my instincts and parked closer to the store, under a light, not been gone so long…”
After the fact, there’s not much you can do but call the police and your auto insurance company – and hope you get your car back. The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) says that a vehicle is stolen every 40 seconds in the U.S. and cites FBI statistics that only 52.7 percent of stolen vehicles are recovered.
Why not be proactive? Here are some proven methods to protect your car from thieves – or at least, make it harder for them to whisk away your wheels.
Follow the basics. It’s really a no-brainer, but bears repeating. Close all windows. Lock your car and take your keys with you. There’s no excuse for leaving the keys in the ignition, with the car running or not, just because you’re double-parked or only running into the cleaners to pick up your dry-cleaning. No parking spot nearby? Too bad. It’s not worth the risk of having your car stolen – and nothing says “Steal me” more than a car with the keys left in it – just to save a few steps or minutes. Besides, the exercise is probably good for you. Better yet, time your errands so you’ll have a buffer to be able to accommodate looking for a parking spot and getting to/from where you need to go. Also, don’t ever be tempted to leave a spare set of keys somewhere in the car. If you don’t think thieves look around for them, you’re kidding yourself.
Park in a well-lit place. Maybe that super-shady spot looks enticing in the heat of the summer day, but if you’re going to be returning to your vehicle at night and there’s no street or other bright light directly overhead or within a few feet, you’ve parked in the wrong place. The rule of thumb is to do everything you can to deter car thieves. That includes parking in a well-lit place. Thieves aren’t as likely to go after cars that can easily be seen by passersby. They go for the low-lying fruit: cars that are parked way out in back, in dimly lit areas with low traffic and few pedestrians. What’s that say about you trying to wedge your car into a non-designated parking spot in the lot of a mall or movie theater when all other spaces are full? Maybe you should table the trip for another time when you can park up close – and under a bright light.
Leave nothing inside your car that doesn’t belong there. This simple, yet often disregarded, piece of advice is easy to do and proves very effective in thwarting would-be car thieves. If you remove valuable items and lock them in the trunk or take them with you, there’s nothing left that will attract thieves to smash your car windows or use high- or low-tech devices to get inside your car to steal your valuables. Even if a box, bag, or container is empty, the thieves don’t know that. They’ll be in your car in seconds and may trash it just because what you left there (the empty bag, box, container) didn’t have any stuff they could sell for cash.
Speaking of taking things with you, if your car has a GPS unit on the dash or windshield, take it with you when you leave the car. If it’s affixed to the glass via suction cup, use an alcohol-based wipe to remove the tape or residue left behind. The idea is not to give thieves a clue that you have such a device – which you may have just slipped under the seat. They’ll look for it all over your car. Why? They’re looking for anything that has your home address – like your GPS unit. Also use the password-protection that comes with the GPS system for an additional measure of protection.