July and August are the biggest months for auto theft, according to a news release from the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) and security company LoJack. Much of the problem is that thieves are clever. But, according to the release, some car owners are making things too easy.
The key to theft prevention: don't forget your keys
According to NICB and LoJack, too many vehicle owners sacrifice security for convenience. A 2010 study from the Baltimore Regional Auto Theft Task Force revealed that out of the 400 stolen cars analyzed in the study, 85 percent were stolen simply by using the keys. Meanwhile, about half of the vehicles stolen in Texas in 2008 were stolen with the keys in the ignition, according to the state's Department of Motor Vehicles.
That means that the many car owners are leaving their keys, the first line of defense against theft, somewhere in their vehicles. NICB, the Austin (Texas) Police Department and the Wichita (Kan.) Police Department recommend the following common-sense measures for deterring thieves.
- Never leave your keys in the ignition when your car is unattended, even if you're running into the store for just a few minutes or waiting for it to warm up on a cold day.
- Never hide a spare key inside your glove compartment or a magnetic key box. Thieves know where to find them.
- When you get out of your vehicle, lock your car and roll up all windows.
- Try to park in well-lit areas.
- If you valet park and you have separate keys for the ignition and trunk, give the attendant only the ignition and door key; don't allow access to the glove box or trunk. If a single key works for the trunk, doors and ignition, have the trunk lock changed.
- Keep all valuables (jewelry, sunglasses, important documents, shopping bags and briefcases) out of sight so they don't entice thieves.
- Don't keep your title and registration in the glove box. Instead, store the title in a safe place at home and carry the registration in your wallet.
- If your car is broken down, has flat tires or has expired tags, do not leave it unattended or it will become a target.
- Don't tie your keys to your identification (with a keychain that has your name on it, for example). If you lose them, you want to be sure no one can connect the keys to your car or residence.
The next line of defense
These theft-prevention measures won't deter the most determined thieves. Fortunately, there are a variety of security features you can add to your car -- and some insurance companies may give you an auto insurance premium discount if you install them. The Austin Police Department recommends the following:
- Alarms, especially loud ones that sound when a door, the hood or the trunk is opened.
- Vehicle tracking, if available in your area. This usually involves having a tracking device installed and registering your car with the local police department. That way, if it's stolen, the police can locate it.
- Visible steering wheel lock or armored column around the steering wheel. This won't deter all thieves, but the increased effort involved in stealing your car might encourage them to move on.
- Gear shift locks.
- Floorboard locks, which disable the gas or brake pedal.
- Ignition or fuel kill switch.
According to NICB, 43 percent of the stolen vehicles are never recovered. Even if you have auto insurance that covers theft, keeping the thieves at bay will spare you the claims process and the hassle of finding new wheels.