Car theft is down across the board in America thanks to advancements in engine immobilization and anti-theft deterrents. Citizens have also been taking the offensive by being defensive, and many have found creative ways to make our cars and ourselves less likely targets.
But deterring thieves isn’t on everyone’s mind, especially if they’ve never had their car broken into. Many people feel that just because they’ve never had a problem, there’s no purpose in worrying.
They may have a point. Unnecessarily worrying about your car isn’t going to help matters much. But then again, neither will being unprepared. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “every 45 seconds a motor vehicle is stolen in the United States.” This means that there are over 700,000 reported car thefts annually, with less than half of these resulting in a returned vehicle.
What was once a smash-and-grab situation, where a busted piece of quarter glass granted crooks access to electrical connectors beneath a steering column, has now turned into a far more refined affair. Shattered glass will not only sound alarms but it looks suspicious as hell while driving, and on certain vehicles will even trigger a complete drivetrain lock-down and notify the fuzz. So forget all the hastily hot-wired scenes from action flicks like Lethal Weapon, because today’s tech savvy landscape has sired a fresh breed of automotive thieves, and they aren’t always after your car.
1. Old school equals easy pickings
Older cars are typically easier to break into and steal. Why is that, you ask? Devoid of engine immobilizers, tricky electronic door locks, security systems, and vehicle tracking devices, classic automobiles are an easy target for most car thieves. Add in the fact that parts for certain vintage vehicles are becoming increasingly rare, and the appeal of pinching an old Pontiac starts to skyrocket.
2. Monkey see, monkey want
According to the same study from the NHTSA, 40% to 50% of all vehicle related theft is due to owner error. So leaving your car unlocked, keys in the ignition, or a window too far down is only going to tempt crooks all the more. Removing valuables from plain sight will make a huge difference, seeing as smash-and-grab burglars are only interested in what can be easily stolen.
3. High tech hackers have arrived
Engine immobilizers, on-board vehicle recovery devices, and sophisticated alarm systems have become standard fare in many automobiles in order to reduce the number of car break-ins. Unfortunately, thieves have also become increasingly tech savvy, finding a plethora of fresh ways in which to get into our cars.
Forget brute force. Modern day carjackers arm themselves with laptops and electronic gizmos to access our automobiles. All they have to do is send out a signal to someone’s parked car, and it will search for their keys.
If a connection can be made, the thieves will then funnel a stream of access codes wirelessly to the car’s computer until one of them pops the locks. From there, it’s off to figuring out what code is needed to engage the push-button ignition. To do that, all that’s required is a single preprogrammed blank key fob.
4. An “alarming” security checklist
Since most standard car alarms don’t protect you from every kind of burglary threat out there, it might be a wise decision to look at aftermarket alternatives for added security. Technology specialist Crutchfield lists a few key things when looking for the perfect automotive protection. Here are a few of our favorites:
- Two-way remotes are the way to go. They give you feedback on your car’s condition and respond to remote commands.
- Motion sensor alarms allow you to leave a convertible’s top down or the windows open, and are ideal for protecting cargo areas in vans and trucks.
- Glass-break sensors engage when they “hear” a window getting smashed, unlike stock car alarms, which often rely upon a door being opened.
- Look for a security system with “tilt sensor monitors.” They will detect if a parked car is experiencing being moved, thus thwarting any attempt to jack up or tow it.
- GPS syncing can track a vehicle’s location, and it can send alerts to your phone when it leaves or enters a preprogrammed area. It can also let you know if it’s traveling too fast. This is an invaluable asset to have if you want to recover a stolen car.
5. Park at your own peril
The most likely places for a car to be broken into are typically those where common sense tells you not to park. Unlit side alleys, shady parking garages, and unmonitored inner-city areas are all prime real estate for car thieves. As a precaution, learn to avoid these areas, and always look for well-lit spots that have modern camera monitoring systems.
6. Valuables aren’t just material anymore
There’s a new identity theft crisis taking place, and it has everything to do with your car’s system. Car thieves are finding ways to gain access to infotainment systems in the dashboards of our cars, which once synced to a smartphone becomes a treasure trove full of sensitive information.
Addresses, banking information, contacts, and previous destinations can all be accessed if you forget to turn off the Bluetooth setting on your phone. Thieves now have the ability to hack your car, steal your identity, and slink away without ever being detected, all while you are fast sleep. Even though automakers are doing their best to overcome car hackers, leave it to technology fanatics to find a way around them.
7. Got reinforced window film?
It typically takes less than three seconds for a criminal to smash a window and snag a purse. According to 3M’s website, its Scotchshield Security Series of protective window films makes things a lot tougher for lawbreakers. And its demonstration video does a damn good job of proving this point.
This revolutionary window film utilizes non-metallized, tear-resistant film for superior performance over the standard polyester stuff in both blast and impact situations. Designed to serve as an “enhanced protection of people, property, and possessions,” 3M’s latest security films can be had in clear form or in a variety of different tint shades. As an additional perk, they also come with a limited lifetime warranty.
8. It’s your wheels they want
Sometimes a stolen car or swiping its belongings isn’t what criminals are after. Aftermarket wheels and high performance tires are a hot commodity, so if it only takes a few minutes to jack up a vehicle and remove its rollers, chances are someone is going to make an attempt.
But don’t worry. If you have a set of high dollar aftermarket alloys and some sticky performance tires on your ride, just refer to number four on this list and get an alarm that senses tilt motions. A set of forged, locking lug nuts with a custom key wouldn’t be a bad idea either.
9. Sometimes there is no rhyme or reason
People complain about their cars getting broken into, even when there’s nothing of value to be stolen. It’s important to remember, though, that theft isn’t always the objective.
Sometimes it’s a bunch of kids who are having a blast bashing in windows with bats, other times it’s a drunk who can’t figure out why his keys won’t unlock the wrong car. Whatever the reason, it isn’t always theft that prompts a break-in, but rather a misunderstanding or vandalism instead.
10. Your car may not be what they’re after
In certain situations, a vehicle can serve as a springboard from which the burglar uses to propel themselves into your living room. Gaining access to someone’s home or office gives thieves a world of opportunity that an automobile could never provide. All a thief needs is a spare house key in the glove box, or a key fob in the center console, to have unlimited access to everything you hold dear. And if they’re feeling particularly greedy, in the end, they might go for your car, too. After all, every thief needs a getaway car.