For motorists concerned about car theft, there’s good news. Auto heists have grown increasingly rare, thanks to significant advances in anti-theft technology in recent decades. Thankfully, we have the best 5 tips to keep your car form being stolen.
Car theft “is half the problem it was in 1991,” says Frank Scafidi, director of public affairs at the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB). “Cars have gotten harder to steal.”
Indeed, U.S. car thefts peaked at nearly 1.7 million in 1991. By 2013, the total had dipped below 700,000, according to FBI statistics, even as the number of registered vehicles grew.
If you think the risk of auto theft is as farfetched as the lame plot of “Gone in 60 Seconds,” think again.
The bad old days of slim jims and hot-wiring have are fading into the history books, but today, sophisticated thieves are able to reprogram blank key fobs to steal cars with keyless ignition systems. Hundreds of thousands of vehicles are still lost to theft every year, which is nothing short of a car insurance headache. And 2015, the latest year for which nationwide stats are available, saw a slight increase in auto heists.
How seriously you take the threat of car theft depends on a variety of variables, and your vehicle’s value is probably the most important factor. If your ride is a 1965 Ford Mustang convertible that you’ve lovingly restored and keep buffed to a high gloss, you’d better be insured to the max. If it’s a 1995 Ford Fiesta with rust-pocked side panels, you probably won’t bother to lock the doors.
Your vehicle likely falls somewhere in between. Here are five ways to keep your ride safe:
1. Don’t leave it running while you’re not in it.
This advice is blindingly obvious, but Scafidi says many motorists fail this basic test of common sense. Maybe you’re warming up your car on a sub-freezing day, or cooling it down during a heat wave. Perhaps you don’t take the time to kill the engine while you’re picking up a drink from the convenience store or dropping off the dry cleaning. Even if you’re going to be away from the car for just a few seconds, always kill the ignition, remove the keys and lock the doors, Scafidi says.
2. Don’t park on public streets.
The longer your vehicle is exposed, the higher the risk of theft. For maximum security, shelter your car in your home’s garage at night and in your office building’s secured lot during the day. If that’s not possible, weigh your risks. If you park on the street in a gated community or on a cul-de-sac in a quiet suburb, you’re probably safe. If you leave your vehicle overnight on a public street in a sketchy section of an urban area, your risk rises.
3. Don’t drive a 1997 Honda Accord or a 1998 Honda Civic.
Those models are the most-stolen vehicles by a wide margin, according to the NICB, and about 50,000 of each model have been stolen over the years. After Honda introduced “smart keys” and other anti-theft technology, heists of its popular cars plummeted. However, the older models remain targets for thieves, Scafidi says. A thriving aftermarket for the reliable old cars means the value of the parts exceeds the value of the whole vehicle. Among 2016 cars, the Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima and Toyota Corolla were the models most frequently boosted.
4. Don’t live in Albuquerque, New Mexico; Pueblo, Colorado; or anywhere in California.
OK, you’re probably not going to move based on auto theft statistics. But, according to the NICB, Albuquerque and Pueblo had the nation’s highest rates of car capers in 2016. Upholding the Golden State’s reputation as a hotbed for car thieves, the California cities of Bakersfield, Modesto and Riverside rounded out the top five, and Merced, San Francisco and Fresno figured prominently in the top 10. If you’re in an area where car theft is common, take extra care to lock up and find parking spots in well-lit areas.
5. Upgrade your car’s security system.
Over the past 20 years, car alarms and anti-theft systems have become standard equipment. But if you want to feel extra-safe, consider adding extra deterrents. Scafidi recommends The Club, the old-school bar that locks onto your steering wheel. He acknowledges that it’s not foolproof, but can persuade a bad guy to move on to the next vehicle.
If you want to get fancier, you could install a kill switch or a fuel pump disabler, both of which let you turn off your car’s ability to start. The devices are relatively simple to install, Scafidi says – but he recommends you place the switch in a hard-to-find place inside your vehicle. And if you’re really serious about thwarting thieves, consider investing in a tracking system that will let you – or the cops – find your vehicle after it’s boosted.
Veteran business journalist Jeff Ostrowski is a regular contributor to MoneyGeek.com who has written hundreds of news stories about personal finance, insurance and other real money matters. He’s managed to avoid car thieves (so far).