Car theft has been a problem in the United States since cars were invented. A car or other vehicle is stolen in the United States every 28.8 seconds according to 2008 data from the FBI. The chances of your car being stolen in the U.S. are 1 in 210 according to data from federal agencies and the Insurance Information Institute. The odds vary geographically. The Northeast has the lowest incidence of vehicle thefts, about 9.8 percent, and the Midwest 18.2 percent. The South and West have the highest percentage of vehicle thefts, about 36 percent each. Your chances of having your car stolen are highest in urban areas.
Although vehicle theft has been decreasing every year since 2006, only 59% of stolen vehicles were recovered last year, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau. Car theft is a major problem that can leave you without transportation while you deal with a time-consuming insurance claim. Here are some ways to reduce your chances of becoming a car thief’s next victim.
* Lock your vehicle and don’t leave it running. Your car’s door locks are the cheapest, easiest deterrent against car thieves. Don’t leave sunroofs or windows open, even on the hottest days. Leaving your car running while you’re not around is an open invitation for theft. Law enforcement officials stress that many cars are stolen on a whim for joyriding purposes because the owner made it easy for the thief.
* Be careful where you park. When you park at home, a locked garage is best, but the driveway is still safer than the street. Choose well-traveled, well-lit areas when parking away from home, for your own safety as well as to avoid vehicle theft.
* Don’t make thieves’ job easier. Crime experts warn against leaving a spare key hidden in or on the vehicle, because car thieves know all the good hiding spots for a spare key. Keep your vehicle papers with you and make a set for each driver in the family, instead of leaving them in the glove box. Keep the inside of your car clean and empty. Take your cell phone, music player, and other electronic devices with you when you leave the car, and never leave a purse, briefcase, or closed bag in plain sight while you’re gone.
* Consider buying a car alarm or other vehicle protection device to save yourself the time and expense of dealing with the theft of your vehicle.
Car security comes in many types and price ranges. At the most basic level, a simple steering wheel lock or brake pedal lock is an inexpensive way to secure your vehicle and is visible to thieves who might be sizing your vehicle up.
A car alarm is a highly effective way to chase thieves away from your car and alert law enforcement in the area. An alarm system is simply a sensing device attached to noisemakers like sirens and horns. Sophisticated alarm systems go beyond the basic door trigger switch found in low-end systems and use motion detectors, sound sensors that pick up the pitch of glass breaking, air pressure detectors that know when a car door is open, and even sensors that know when your vehicle is being driven up a ramp onto a thief’s flatbed trailer.
Some vehicle security systems work by locking out the ignition, fuel, or electrical systems until you touch a hidden switch or insert an electronically coded ignition key. Although a car thief may still steal components or tow your vehicle away, these systems deter the most common scenario of breaking in and hot wiring.
New tracking technologies have become standard equipment on high-end vehicles. Global positioning systems (GPS) can help law enforcement find your vehicle after a theft. Police can also track a vehicle using a tracking systems with a hidden transmitter to allow police to track the vehicle. An example of this type of system is the LoJack, which operates over half of the states in the U.S. Law enforcement likes these systems because they frequently lead to chop shops and other illegal theft operations and the arrest of criminals.
Certain vehicles are frequent targets for car thieves, especially high-end sport utility vehicles. The Cadillac Escalade and the Hummer were featured last year in an ABC News article on the most stolen cars in the U.S. Models among the least likely to be stolen are the Mercedes E Class, Buick Rainier and Subaru Forester.