U.S. Car Theft Prevention Guide

Car Theft in progressI was a victim of car theft. I was running late. I’d spilled coffee on myself at least once, skipped breakfast, and was running toward my car just so I could get to work on time. I reached to open the car door and something seemed amiss. The interior of the car was messier than I remembered. I opened the door and realized that I had not unlocked it. My car had been broken into.

If you’ve only had items stolen, and not your car, you’re lucky. Car theft happens to hundreds of thousands of drivers throughout the U.S.  each year (about 720,000 according to the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association). Whether it’s your car or your personal items that have been stolen, being victimized is a terrible thing.  It can happen to anyone and you can’t control all of the risk factors, but we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about car theft and how to prevent it.

Auto Theft: What to Do if You’ve Been Robbed

What should you do if you’re the victim of auto theft? Follow these steps to make sure that nothing is left out and that you do all you can do to recover your items, your car, or get your auto insurance claim filed properly.

  • Call the police. Don’t wait if you can help it. You need to file a police report A.S.A.P.
  • Determine what’s been stolen. The responding officer will need to know for their police report.
  • Repair any damage. If a window was broken, tape a plastic sheet or trash bag over it to keep the elements out. Also look for damage around the edge of the glass and weather stripping as some thieves use that area as a point of entry. Damage to this can allow water to enter your car.
  • Call Your Insurance. Do this after you’ve got your police report in hand.

If you’ve had your license or car documents stolen: call your DMV immediately. You’re going to need your police report of the incident and some of your basic DMV info such as your name, social security number, and if you happen to remember it, your driver’s license number. Theft of these items can lead to identity fraud which can really mess up everything from your bank account to your credit history.

If you’ve had your credit cards or bank cards stolen: call your bank or credit company. In most cases, they can cancel the card and send you a new one. Many banks also offer to reimburse you for fraudulent charges. Check the terms and conditions of either your bank or credit card to make sure that you are covered for this type of loss.

Auto Theft Prevention

Report vehicle theft to policeThe thieves didn’t get much from my car. A pair of sunglasses and my emergency tool kit that was in the trunk was the best of their haul. Why didn’t they make off with more? I knew I was a target. I was aware that the make and model of my vehicle was popular among thieves looking to steal both its contents and the car itself. For that reason, I took every precaution I could. Here’s what you can do to minimize your risk of auto theft.

  • Be aware of what’s being targeted. A simple Google search will tell you what makes and models of cars are most stolen or broken into. Be sure to pay attention to the publication date of the data you read, as the list changes slightly from year to year.
  • Don’t leave anything in the car worth stealing. If you have a removable stereo face, take it with you. Don’t leave power cords or docking stations in plain sight. Avoid leaving mail in your car, especially where it can be seen from the outside. In generally, leave nothing of value in your car—not even change in the cup holder.
  • Don’t leave spare keys in your car. Whether it’s your house keys or your spare car keys, you’ll be a lot safer if you take them with you. Never leave keys in your car.
  • Don’t leave your car running when your not around. If you have to run into a store or run back in the house to grab something, don’t leave the keys in the car. This is one of the prime ways that thieves make off with vehicles. It makes theft incredibly simple.
  • Pay attention to where you park. If you can, park in a well-lit area. Areas that get a lot of foot traffic are also a good bet. Avoid parking close to bushes, hedges, or trees that overhang or overshadow your car. If you have access to a garage, especially one you can lock, that is your best bet.
  • Get periodic police data. There’re several websites that will allow you to see on a map where crimes are happening in your neighborhood. If it looks like there’s a spike in activity near you, be aware and take extra precautions. Don’t be afraid to report suspicious people in your neighborhood.
  • Get an antitheft device. If you live in a high crime area, it might be worth the money to get a car alarm or anti-theft device. Seeing that blinking light typically tells thieves that this vehicle is going to be more work than other cars. They have to really want your car or what’s in it to even attempt it. That’s not to say they won’t try, but they’ll be less likely to. Read more below for a comparison of different car alarms and anti-theft devices.

Does Car Insurance Cover Theft?

If your car is stolen or broken into, odds are you’re going to be placing a call to your insurance company. If your auto insurance policy includes theft coverage, odds are you’re in good hands. If it doesn’t, there are a number of hidden costs, particularly in the case of auto theft, that you’ll need to be aware of.

First, if your car is found by police, chances are it won’t be in good condition. Most stolen cars are stripped for parts such as glass, body panels, interiors, and whatever else can be sold in pieces. The shell of your former car is often what is recovered. If you aren’t insured against theft, expect to pay disposal and/or towing fees.

If items were stolen from your car, but not the car itself, you have another issue to address: whether or not to file a claim. Whether you file a claim or not, you’ll definitely need to file a police report. To determine if you need to file a claim for the stolen items, find out what your coverage level is for item theft in your policy documents. If your coverage level is low enough that you could pay the same amount out of pocket to replace the items, it may not be worth filing the claim. Then again, if you don’t have the cash on hand, it makes more sense to do so. The only reason you might not want to file a claim with your car insurance company is that some companies pay attention to the frequency with which you file claims and if you’ve filed too many within a given period, they may increase your premium. If that’s a concern of yours, it’s probably a good idea to call your agent or your insurance company’s customer service line to get the facts.

Auto Theft is a Serious Problem

Car break-ins nationwideThe numbers fluctuate, but auto theft in the U.S. is a pretty consistent problem. Not convinced because it’s never happened to you? The numbers are surprising. We already stated that some 720,000 vehicles are stolen each year. The FBI estimates that it equates to one vehicle stolen every 44 seconds. That is a lot of theft.

While auto theft can happen anywhere, the truth is that it is more likely to occur in certain areas. FBI crime reports for 2012 show that crimes are down overall, but that motor vehicle theft was up in metropolitan counties (counties surrounding major cities). Additionally, California tops the list as the state in which the most auto theft occurred. On a list of the top ten cities for auto theft, California cities took eight of the top ten spots.

The Top Ten Cities for Auto Theft

While California dominates the list, the top ten cities for auto theft in the U.S. do have some non-Californian entries. Surprisingly, Washington State claimed the other two spots. Despite the fact that these two dominated the top of the list, it does not imply that other areas in America aren’t battling high rates of auto theft as well.

  1. Modesto, California
  2. Fresno, California
  3. Bakersfield, California
  4. Stockton-Lodi, California
  5. Yakima, Washington
  6. San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, California
  7. San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, California
  8. Vallejo-Fairfield, California
  9. Spokane-Spokane Valley, Washington
  10. Redding, California

Car theft is a big problem throughout the U.S., especially in metropolitan and suburban areas. It’s no surprise that there are a large number of car alarms and anti-theft devices that have been designed to both deter and prevent thieves from breaking into your vehicle and stealing your stuff or your car. There are so many, in fact, that deciding which one is right for you can be a difficult choice to make. To help you out, we’re going to compare car alarms and anti-theft devices to give you a better idea of what each one does and what its strengths and weaknesses are.

What are the Best Car Alarms and Anti-Theft Devices?

We’re going to simplify things by separating these car alarms and other car security systems by types. We’ll look at manufacturer-provided devices and features, aftermarket alarms, and aftermarket anti-theft devices. We’ll explain each and then talk about the value of each car alarm and anti-theft device. When you get through this article, you’ll have a better idea of what you need to be better protected and we can help you save money by keeping you from buying more than you need.

Leading Car Alarm Systems

Let’s start with the most common anti-theft device: car alarms. Car alarms are typically an aftermarket item (only a few high-end car manufacturers include car alarms as standard equipment), which allow you more control over the alarm’s functionality.

Car alarms are useful not just in deterring auto theft, but in preventing thieves from stealing items inside your car. Often, placing a sticker that indicates your car is protected by a car alarm will go a long way towards scaring off would-be burglars. Some of the most popular brands are Avital, Python, Scytek Galaxy, and Viper car alarms

Passive Car Alarms

Passive car alarms engage when you turn off your car and lock it. You don’t have to manually arm the alarm system itself. These are great for people who are prone to forget that they need to push a second button on their keychain fob in order to arm their device. Passive alarms typically alert you to an attempted theft via a blaring loud (120db+) siren, beeping, or another alarm sound.

Active Car Alarms

They’re just the opposite of passive car alarms. Once you turn off and lock your vehicle, you’ll need to push another button to arm the alarm. This option works great for drivers who need that extra step to either remind them to arm their car alarm or confirm that it is armed. These alarms also utilize an incredibly loud alarm sound.

Silent Car Alarms

Some areas prohibit car alarms that make noise and are disruptive to neighbors. If you live in one of those areas, a silent car alarm may be for you. When someone attempts to break into your car, a signal is sent to a wireless device or your mobile phone to alert you. This increases the odds you (or ideally, the police) can catch the burglar. It’s also easier on your neighbors and is less disruptive when you have a false alarm.

Flexible Circuit and Single-Stage Alarms

It’s best to avoid these types of car alarms. They are old technology now and many car thieves are familiar enough to disable them without much hassle. They are also excessively sensitive alarm systems and are likely to trigger a high number of false alarms (much to the dismay of your neighbors). These are the alarms you hear in the grocery store parking lot going off all the time because someone bumped into them while putting groceries into their own car.

Vehicle Kill Switch

You might have seen something like this used on “bait cars”—cars that police use to trap car thieves. Essentially, they disable your vehicle from being able to start by shutting off some element of your car’s ignition system (what the kill switch controls can vary by model and installation).

A kill switch utilizes either a remote switch, a wireless device or key fob, or a hardwired switch that, when activated, disables components of your car that are used in starting it up. You park and lock your car, then hit the kill switch. When you’re ready to use your car again, you disengage the kill switch then perform a specific action (it varies by model, but ranges from actions such as pressing or holding down the brake pedal, buckling a seatbelt, unlocking the car, etc.).  For more specifics about how a car kill switch works, see this article on doityourself.com.

These devices are ideal for drivers who live in areas where car theft is a troubling issue. They don’t do much to prevent a car thief from stealing items from your vehicle. They’ll also require an experienced technician to install. On the up-side, a kill switch is pretty affordable—ranging from $35 to $200 for a complete kit.

Vehicle Immobilizers

These are a bit different from car alarms. Vehicle immobilizers are increasingly common as standard equipment on most new cars. They are often comprised of a microchip included in the key. Attempting to start the car without the key and chip will disable the fuel pump (in most cases) and prevent fuel from going to the engine—making the car impossible to drive. The great thing is that this feature has been standard for most manufacturers for a while now. If you have a vehicle manufactured prior to 2000, you may want to double check to see if your car has this feature. Be aware that vehicle immobilizers won’t prevent someone from breaking into your car and stealing items from inside.

If your car is older and lacks this feature, you can add it on. Vehicle immobilizers usually cost less than $100. Of course, the installation will typically cost extra. Be sure to ask about installation costs prior to purchasing your vehicle immobilizer system.

Car Tracking Devices

No car alarms here. Car tracking devices are silent. They use Global Positioning Satellites (GPS) to track the movement of your car, ideally, so the cops can just pick up your car and the person who made off with it. Since there is no car alarm the thief thinks things are going smoothly, which allows them to caught off guard and theoretically apprehended more easily. Their tracking system can be directly accessed by police to speed the aid of the recovery of your vehicle.

Auto Insurance Discounts for Car Alarms

Did you know that cars equipped with these devices may qualify for a discount on auto insurance premiums? Most car insurance companies offer a discount to car owners whose vehicle or vehicles are equipped with some form of an anti-theft device. To find out whether you are currently receiving this discount, consult your policy documents. To see how much you could save on car insurance from over 50 providers with one of these security devices, start a quote on compare.com.

Don’t Rely on Just a Car Security System

While the devices we’ve listed here are great at helping keep your car and the items inside safe, a little strategic planning can save you from being a victim. Make sure you’re doing everything you can to prevent auto theft by reading our guide to auto theft prevention and reporting.

Learn More about Auto Theft Prevention and Safety

Despite auto theft being a problem throughout the country, there’s also a localized element. The best way to stay up to date on relevant information and prevent being a victim is to stay in touch with your local police department. Most local and state police department websites will have a section dedicated to auto theft prevention. Go there for the most relevant and up to date information and tips on how to prevent or report auto theft near you.

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