Cars get stolen for all sorts of reasons. They might be sold or use with a new, ‘cloned’ identity taken from another, legitimate car. They might be taken by opportunistic joyriders out for a quick thrill. They’re sometimes taken just to be broken up into spares, and sometimes thieves are just as interested in the contents as they are the car itself.
So what can you do to make sure that you, or your car, do not become a victim? The sad reality is that any car can be stolen by a thief with the right knowledge and equipment, but while you can never make any car 100 percent safe, there are two things you can do to improve your odds: remove temptation, and don’t make it easy!
01 Don’t leave it unlocked
Obvious, huh? You’re not going to head in to work or your house and leave your car unlocked all day – but you might if you just need to dive in to pick up your phone, pass on a message or pick up a parcel. It’s the same at gas stations – make sure you lock your car before you go to the booth to pay. It barely takes any time at all for a thief to surreptitiously check the doors while passing, and not much longer to duck in the car, check for valuables and maybe drive it away if they have the right equipment and know-how.
02 Don’t drive around with the doors unlocked
OK, so this one isn’t an everyday essential, but it’s worth mentioning for those times when you’re driving around alone, at night, in an urban environment you don’t know. Carjacking is rare but it happens, and most cars have a central locking system you can enable from inside the car, just by pressing down on a door catch. It’s good to know if you’re ever caught up in a road rage incident, too.
03 Don’t leave the car unattended with the motor running
Surely, no-one does this? Oh, but sure they do. Not out in some public place, no, but outside their own front doors on a frosty morning when the car needs de-icing and you haven’t done the kids’ school lunches yet. Maybe you’ve done this a dozen times and nothing has happened? Maybe all your neighbours are great folk who will watch out for you? But the more times you do it, the more likely some stranger passing by will notice and do something about it – or plan to come back again on the next frosty day.
04 Don’t leave your keys on display
So don’t leave them on the bar when you order a coffee, don’t dump them on your office table all day and don’t leave them in a coat pocket hanging on a hook somewhere. If a thief gets your car keys, they’ve got your car. Don’t leave them on your hall table where they can be seen through the letterbox, either – and where a crafty thief with a long wire can hook them up and sneak them out of your house.
05 Don’t leave any windows or the sunroof open
No-one wants to come back to a baking hot car in the summertime, but that’s got to be better than coming back to no car, right? Any gap instantly makes it much easier for a thief to force entry and either ransack your car for valuables or take the car itself.
06 Don’t leave anything on the seats
So far so obvious, and this extends to leaving items on display inside the car. This can include obvious valuables like phones, bags, tablets, removable satellite navigation systems and, heaven forbid, keyrings. Even a coat thrown on a seat offers a temptation to thieves, because coat pockets often contain keys, phones, wallets and other goodies. It also suggest the owner is a little careless about security. They might find nothing, but your car is suddenly a much more tempting target than the one next to it.
07 Don’t assume you can ‘hide’ things in the glovebox
Hiding items in the glovebox, the boot or ‘hidden’ under-seat compartments won’t stop a thief once they’re in the car. Clearly, you shouldn’t store valuables in your car, but they’re not the only things you need to protect.
● Some folk, we’re told, actually keep spare car keys in their car – and that’s just a gift to a car thief
● Don’t keep any vehicle documents in the car – the more supporting paperwork the thief can find, the easier it is for them to order new keys, re-sell the car or even secure a loan using your identity
● Don’t keep any utility bills or anything else in the car that has your name and address. If your car isn’t outside your house, a burglar knows you’re not at home
08 Don’t assume your key can’t be cloned
Sadly, they can. There are kits on the Internet that can program blank keys using the car’s own electronic interface, once access has been gained. Keyless entry systems can be foiled too, using a variety of scams and electronic scanning gear.
09 Don’t imagine your car can’t be towed
Always. You can make it difficult by turning your wheels to the curb when you park, so that if the rear of the car is lifted (which makes the parking brake ineffective), the front wheels will steer the car sharply. Or you can park between two other cars to restrict front and rear access. But thieves with a flatbed truck can lift your car directly out of any space if they have a crane, or use wheeled trolleys under the wheels to maneuver it more easily. If the truck has drop-down ramps at the rear, its inbuilt winch will be able to pull the car up on to the flatbed, even if the rear wheels are locked. It’s another situation where all you can do is make things more difficult. Ultimately, a thief may simply be able to break a window to get into the car and release the parking brake and steering lock.
10 Do get an alarm
Modern cars come with a factory-fitted alarm, but they vary in sophistication and after-market alarms have an added advantage – they will often come with a sticker that alerts thieves to your security precautions. It might not pose an insuperable obstacle, but it might be enough of a deterrent to make the thief move on and look for an easier target.
11 Do consider a hidden immobiliser
These are additional to the immobilisation system offered by the car maker, which thieves may already be familiar with. A hidden immobiliser may not stay hidden forever, but finding it will take time a thief may not want to risk.
12 Do get a wheel/steering wheel clamp
These are highly-visible ‘brute force’ deterrents. They’re not pretty and they are time-consuming to set up, but they do let any thieves know straight away that you mean business. Besides, if you’ve gone to the trouble of fitting a steering wheel clamp, what other security measures have you used?
13 Do get your windows etched
You can use the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number), for example. If a thief wants to ‘clone’ your car, it suddenly becomes a lot less attractive if they can see they’ll have to replace all the windows.
14 Do fit theft-resistant license plates
Another simple trick to make car cloning more difficult. You can get inexpensive kits that make your license plate harder to remove, and while this won’t prevent your car from being stolen, it is a small but useful deterrent.
15 Do consider a tracking device
A tracking device may enable a stolen vehicle to be tracked down, and even followed by the police as it’s being taken away. Until recently this has been a more expensive option likely to appeal mainly to owners of luxury, prestige and performance cars, but it’s now possible to get cheap GPS tracking systems like the XCSOURCE GPS Car Tracker, which rates well with Amazon buyers, though we haven’t tried it.