Every 46 seconds.
There probably isn’t a more heart-sinking feeling than leaving a store, event or activity and walking into a parking lot only to find that your valuables have gone missing from your vehicle, or worse, your entire vehicle has disappeared on you. Cars are usually stolen to commit another crime, for temporary transport, to take valuable parts from the vehicle and resell them, or to re-sell the car. According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report, in 2014, a motor vehicle is stolen every 46 seconds in the United States, and if your vehicle isn’t at risk itself, your personal belongings within it may be. Both personal and vehicle theft are extremely stressful, but with proper planning and foresight, they are preventable. Motor vehicle theft is similar to home or business burglaries in the fact that these crimes are often “crimes of opportunity.” Thieves see an opening and they take advantage. These openings are usually simple things, like leaving a door unlocked, a window or sunroof down, or leaving your valuables out in plain sight.
How do you prevent auto-related theft?
How to avoid having a vehicle stolen:
- Never leave keys inside your vehicle.
- Don’t leave the garage door opener in plain view (this can be mitigated by not putting a garage door opener in vehicles that will be parked outside).
- Don’t leave your car running. If it is necessary due to severe weather, sit with the car. Do not leave it unattended. You can also lock the vehicle and use a duplicate key to enter it after warming.
- Install kill switches for steering wheels and column lock to deter theft.
- Don't hide a key in a magnetic key box. If you can find it, so can a burglar. Many online resources tell car owners where magnetic keys for a specific vehicle are located.
- Don’t put any personal information on your car keys. If they are stolen, you will lose vital personal information.
Reminder: Don’t warm a vehicle inside of a garage or enclosed space, so you won’t fall victim to carbon monoxide poisoning.
How to avoid theft of items inside the vehicle:
- Don’t leave valuables with personal information out.
- Don’t move valuables to the trunk or other areas of the car while you’re in public, so would-be burglars don’t see what you have. Move items before you leave the house, or lock itmes in the glove compartment..
- Get a car alarm. This is a sure fire way to attract attention towards anyone who is trying to break into your vehicle.
- Put your vehicle in the garage if possible, but still lock doors and other points of entry.
- If you’re out and about, always park in a well lighted and high traffic area and be aware of your surroundings.
- Don’t risk hiding items in an SUV. They can be easier to break into because there is no trunk. This means that the driver generally just hides things out of sight and burglars know the common places to look.
- Don’t leave belongings in the car overnight. A lot of burglaries occur at night when the vehicle is parked outside of the home, or when a vehicle is parked in a parking lot and unattended for long periods of time.
- Keep the car clean, because even items that aren't valuable can be mistaken as valuable (like an empty shopping bag, boxes, et cetera).
Going, going, gone.
So, you’ve walked out to the parking lot or your neighborhood and realized your vehicle is gone. Before all panic ensues, take a deep breath, and make sure that your vehicle wasn’t simply towed. Check signs in the area for towing companies or parking laws. Towing is never fun, but it’s much better than a stolen vehicle. If you’ve checked the neighborhood signs and reached out to local towing companies to no avail, it’s time to deal with the reality of a stolen vehicle.
Quick Fact: The first suspect after a car theft is actually the vehicle owner. Many owners will stage a stolen vehicle incident so that they can collect insurance money, sometimes alongside a sale of the item on the black market. Don’t be alarmed when you have to clear yourself as a suspect to law enforcement and your insurance company.
What to do if your vehicle was stolen:
- If your vehicle has a service like Onstar or Lojack, call these companies to see where your car is and where it may be headed.
- If you’ve been away from your car for a day or more before realizing it’s missing, look online to see if it was sold to used car lots.
- See if anyone saw anything suspicious by asking bystanders, local businesses, or any possible security footage in the area.
- Report the theft to law enforcement and the establishment that the burglary happened at. The establishment may have surveillance footage of the incident and be able to catch a suspect or criminal.
- Report anyone that you see loitering in a parking lot or messing with vehicles.
- If the entire car is stolen, call the police immediately to file a report. Make sure to provide your vehicle identification number, and if you don't have that then contact your insurance company or financial lender for the information. The VIN will help you locate the vehicle.
- Report the theft to your insurance provider. Even if the loss is not covered, reporting the incident will protect you in case the vehicle causes harm to others after it was stolen. If you can, have the vehicle's title, the location of all keys before the theft, a thorough description of the vehicle and any personal belongings that were stolen from the vehicle.
Who’s on the list?
An NCIB Hot Wheels report found the following to be the top ten stolen automobiles in 2014.
- Ford Pick-Up, Full Size
- Chevrolet Pick-Up, Full Size
- Dodge Pick-Up, Full Size
- Honda Civic
- Honda Accord
- GMC Pick-Up, Full Size
- Chevrolet Tahoe
- Chevrolet Impala
- Toyota Camry
- Chevrolet Pick-Up, Small Size
This of course does not mean that if you have one of these vehicles you are in more danger, or that if you don’t have one of these vehicles you don’t need to worry. The proper safety precautions need to be taken regardless of what kind of automobile you own.