When car thieves cruise through town looking for targets, certain things get their attention--things like unlocked doors, or vehicles parked on dark, deserted streets.
But you know what really turns their heads? A glimpse of a key or key fob left inside a car.
It's an increasingly common sight these days, and according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, it's responsible for a growing number of auto thefts.
Not your grandfather's key
Once upon a time, leaving keys inside a car seemed like a rarer problem. People needed their keys to turn off their engines, so for most motorists, it became a force of habit to take them when they left their vehicles. (That said, leaving keys in a car wasn't unheard of by any means. More than a few of us had to rely on Slim Jims or coathangers to get back into our rides.)
Today, the situation's a bit different, though. You could blame all of the electronic gadgets in our lives, those buzzing mobile phones and tangled charging cables we have to gather up every time we exit the car. When motorists are face-down in a stream of text messages, it's no surprise that they occasionally leave their keys behind.
But a bigger problem is that many vehicles no longer have a conventional key, relying instead on a fob that can stay in the driver's pocket or purse. If you put that fob in, say, a cupholder or somewhere else while you're buckling up, it's pretty easy to forget about it when you exit the car.
A boon for bad guys (and girls)
Whatever the cause of our absent-mindedness might be, the NICB says that it's been a bonanza for car thieves.
In the U.S. last year, a vehicle was reported stolen every 45 seconds, and every eighth theft involved a car with the key or fob left inside. In raw numbers, that's 57,096 vehicles--a 31 percent increase from 2013, when the number was 43,643.
What's worse: drivers haven't just left their car keys on their key rings. If they've kept their house keys on the same ring, they've given thieves the ability to pilfer their homes, too--and in fact, NICB reports numerous instances of car thieves doing just that.
As the NICB's Joe Wehrle explains, "Complacency can lead to a huge financial loss and inconvenience for the vehicle owner. Leaving a vehicle unlocked or with the key or FOB inside gives a thief the opportunity to take not only the car, but also any possessions inside. It can also provide access to your personal information if the registration is left in the glove compartment."
The NICB says that thieves have had the easiest pickings in California, where 22,580 vehicles with their keys or fobs inside were reported stolen between 2013 and 2015. Texas came in a distant second, at 11,003. In terms of cities, the Las Vegas metro area saw the most such thefts, with 7,815 reported over the same three years.
Interestingly, between 2013 and 2015, one state had NO reported car thefts involving vehicles with keys or fobs left inside. Congrats, Hawaii. You deserve some kind of prize.
Apart from always taking your key or fob, locking your vehicle, and setting the alarm, NICB has a few additional tips to protect you from car thieves:
- Do not leave the garage door opener in the vehicle.
- Take a picture of your registration on your cell phone and do not leave the registration or other papers with personal information in the vehicle.
- Never leave a car unlocked and running to warm it up or while stopping for a quick cup of coffee. It only takes a moment for the opportunistic thief to jump inside and drive off.
You can download the NICB's complete report by clicking here.