The holidays, as we all know, are for sharing. But what we might not have picked up from all those Christmas specials on TV is that the holidays are also for stealing -- specifically, stealing cars. And yet, the National Insurance Crime Bureau says it's true.
The NICB ranked 11 U.S. holidays according to the number of vehicles stolen in 2010. At the very bottom, we find Christmas Day, with 1,361 thefts. Much further up the ladder, at number six, we find Christmas Eve (1,928) -- probably because (a) thieves like working under cover of night, and (b) all those cars with big red bows look awfully tempting.
At number five, there's New Year's Day, when 1,986 vehicles were stolen last year. (Apparently, car thieves didn't spend the day nursing hangovers and scarfing down cabbage like the rest of us.) And at the pinnacle, we find New Year's Eve, which had the dubious distinction of seeing 2,347 vehicles stolen in 2010.
The NICB doesn't offer any reasons why New Year's might be such a popular time for car theft, but we have a few theories of our own. For starters, New Year's celebrations generally involve (a) leaving the house, and (b) drinking booze. That may mean that people find themselves too tipsy to drive home after a night of carousing, so they leave their vehicles in lots, on streets, or in other public places. That's a sensible thing to do, of course, but it means that those vehicles are more visible and available to potential thieves.
The good news is that car thefts for 2010 were down on the whole: while 22,991 vehicles went missing on holidays in 2009, only 20,995 did so last year. That's a fairly significant drop. Even better: it's the seventh consecutive year-over-year decline for car theft. Perhaps all those alarm systems kill-switches are paying off.
While we can't offer 100% protection for your vehicle this holiday season, here are a few tips to help minimize the chances that you'll be a victim of car theft:
1. Lock your car. This may seem like a no-brainer, but if you're distracted (or if you've had some eggnog before hitting the road) you may forget to hit the lock button. And unlocked vehicles are the easiest targets for thieves.
2. Take your keys. This, too, may seem pretty obvious, but we've all left keys in our vehicles -- intentionally or not. Letting baddies see your keys is like dangling chicken-fried steak in front of Paula Deen: too much temptation.
3. Roll up your windows. Baby, it may be cold outside, but that doesn't mean your windows won't roll down. Even in the dead of winter passengers crack windows for to get fresh air, to take photos of holiday lights, to ash cigarettes, and so on. Just make sure those windows roll all the way back up before exiting the vehicle.
4. Park in a lot or garage, if possible. Thieves are more likely to snag a car from a spot on the street than from a parking facility -- especially if they've got to pay on the way out of the garage.
5. Treat yourself to a car alarm. It's holiday time, so why not treat yourself to an alarm system? There are a number of reasonably priced models on the market -- just make sure that yours comes with a flashing light or other warning sign to let criminals know that your car is protected. If you don't have a light on your current alarm, you can get a fake one for as little as $5. Even the smallest deterrent can encourage baddies to move to the next car.
6. Leave the car at home and take a cab. Why not relax and really enjoy the night? Let a friendly taxi driver worry about road blocks and icy streets. You can toss back a couple more glasses of Andre, knowing that you'll still be able to collapse in your own bed -- just be sure to tip well.
Also, we'd suggest taking a look at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's recent list of most-stolen vehicles. No car is ever entirely safe from thieves, but if yours sits near the top of the NHTSA's list, you might consider taking extra precautions.
For a different take on the NICB story, head over to Family Car Guide.