Thanks to Coronavirus, Auto Theft Is Rampant — Here’s How To Protect Yourself
One of the many changes that coronavirus has brought to society, in general, is a lower crime rate. Violent crime in particular has cratered during the COVID-19 epidemic in the United States. Yet, contrary to this trend, auto theft has skyrocketed. Increasing economic despair has perhaps played a role in the rise of car thefts, as has the increased number of cars being parked at homes, and occasionally unlocked. Regardless of the cause, there are steps you can take to protect yourself from theft, particularly during the coronavirus era.
Last updated: October 8, 2020
Lock Your Doors
The world has turned upside down during the coronavirus. Many people have followed shelter-in-place orders and stayed home far more than usual. People tend to feel safer with their cars parked at home, especially in a world when no one seems to be out and about. Unfortunately, this has translated into a world in which lots of people aren’t locking their car doors. This is an open invitation for thieves.
Don’t Leave Your Keys in or on Your Vehicle
Just like some people feel safe leaving their doors unlocked, others feel safe keeping their keys in or near their vehicle. Some owners choose to put keys above the sun visor, or on top of one of the tires. Unfortunately, this also leads to easy targets for thieves. According to U.S. News and World Report, 72% of vehicles stolen in April had the keys near the car.
Close All Windows, Including Your Sunroof
Some vehicle owners feel that if their cars are near their homes, it’s safe to leave the windows open, or at least the sunroof. But this is just as risky as leaving the car unlocked. With vehicles parked more often at home during the COVID-19 outbreak, this type of opportunity has opened up even more for car thieves.
Don’t Create Temptation
Auto theft is often a crime of opportunity. Thieves will grab the easiest target available, so don’t make your car stand out in the crowd as an easy mark. Don’t invite temptation by leaving things on your seat in plain view. Within a matter of seconds, a thief could smash-and-grab anything of value out of your car — and they might even go so far as to take the car itself. Just because you’re nearby in your home due to the coronavirus doesn’t mean you should overlook this basic precaution.
Install an Alarm
Alarms aren’t foolproof car protection devices, but they can make a thief think twice about taking your car. Not only do noisy alarms put them in the public spotlight, if they can’t figure out how to turn them off, they’ll be driving away in a car that’s obviously been stolen. Sometimes, even the flashing light indicating the car alarm is armed will be enough to deter would-be thieves. So, don’t be complacent about turning on your car alarm if you’re sitting at home due to COVID.
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Install a Tracking System
A tracking system might not deter thieves — they might not even know it exists — but it’s sure a lot easier to find and recover your car if you have one installed. In some cases, it may actually work to your advantage to advertise somewhere on your car that you do have a tracking system.
Buy a Lock Bar
A lock bar is an extending, lockable metal club that fits over your steering wheel. It makes steering a car impossible. Lock bars may seem a bit old school these days, but they’re still effective. For starters, they’re a visible deterrent. Although it’s true that professional thieves can cut them off, it takes additional work and time to do so, and that’s something that most thieves don’t want to bother with.
Park in a Garage
Out of sight, out of mind applies to car thieves also. If your car is safely tucked away in a garage, you’ve gone a long way towards discouraging attempted thefts. Sure, if your car is a $400,000 Ferrari and everyone in town knows you keep it in an unlocked garage, you might still be at risk. For the most part, however, thieves are reluctant to go the extra mile of actually breaking into your house to get your car. There are much easier targets out on the street. If you’re staying home for a longer period of time than usual due to the coronavirus, be sure to keep your car in your garage, if you have one.
Park in a Brightly Lit Area
If you must park your car outside, keep it in a brightly lit, highly visible area. Again, this won’t be enough to stop a determined thief, but opportunistic ones would rather steal from the shadows rather than being exposed in the open, for anyone in the neighborhood to see. If you’re parking your car at home because of the COVID-19 situation, park it under a bright street lamp or under a light near the outside of your home.
Get an Ignition Cutoff System
An ignition cutoff system immobilizes your car’s engine without a proper key or code. Even if a thief manages to break into your car, they won’t be going anywhere unless they’re sophisticated hackers as well. An ignition cutoff system is an added expense, but it can give you peace of mind when it comes to securing your car.
Unplug Your Battery
Your car isn’t going anywhere if it isn’t attached to the battery, so consider taking this step if you want to reduce the chances of auto theft. Sure, diligent thieves could take the time to figure out why the car isn’t starting and reconnect your battery, but that takes extra time, something a thief has little of. During the coronavirus epidemic, unplugging your battery has the added benefit of prolonging its life, as you might be sitting at home without driving your car for days or weeks at a time.
Install a Brake Lock
A brake lock is like a lock bar for your brake pedal. One end hooks around your steering wheel while the other wraps around the backside of the brake pedal. This prevents the brake pedal from being used, which is not an ideal situation for thieves looking to make a fast getaway. If you’re using your car less due to the COVID-19 epidemic, this would be a small inconvenience to help keep your car safe.
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Cameras are a great option when it comes to preventing auto theft. First, visible cameras are often a good deterrent. Second, cameras can record the details of any crime. If you’re stuck inside during coronavirus, you can even watch the live feed of your cameras from the comfort of your own couch.
Sometimes, you simply can’t prevent auto theft. The truth is that a motivated professional thief can steal nearly any car, given enough time and preparation. If you want to truly secure your car, you’ll need to buy insurance. For most Americans, this isn’t an added expense, as auto insurance is already mandated. However, as auto thefts are on the rise during the current epidemic, an added layer of theft insurance might not be imprudent.
Buy a Car That’s Undesirable for Thieves
Some cars are more prone to theft than others. Flashy cars like a classic Porsche worth more than your house might seem to be the No. 1 target, but in reality, more common American and Japanese brands are among the most prized targets.
According to 2018 data from the National Insurance Crime Bureau, the most commonly stolen cars in America include the Honda Civic, Honda Accord, and pickups from Chevrolet, Ford, GMC and Dodge. If you’re looking to get an edge against thievery when you buy your next car, take the extra time at home to scour the NICB lists of most-stolen vehicles.
Put a Sticker on Your Car
When you get a car alarm, you’ll often get a car sticker along with it, indicating that your vehicle is protected by an electronic device. But there are no rules stating that you actually need an alarm on your car to attach a sticker. If you want to get some level of deterrent effect without forking over hundreds of dollars for a good car alarm system, consider getting a simple sticker indicating your car is protected.
Get a Smart Key
Car technology has come a long way. Many modern vehicles require a smart key to enter the car and start the engine. If you have an older vehicle that doesn’t have this technology, consider investing in it. It may give you some peace of mind and prevent theft opportunities.
Don’t Leave Your Car Running and Unattended
Even if you’re only out for the quickest of errands, never leave your car running while you leave the car. That 20 seconds it takes to run into the UPS Store to check your P.O. Box is an eternity for a perceptive car thief. If you make this a habit, you may very well run back to an empty parking space someday. In the era of coronavirus, you can avoid this situation entirely by simply staying home unless your errands are absolutely necessary.
Secure Your Vehicle Title
Never, never, never leave your car’s title inside the car. If a thief takes your car on a joyride and your title is in the glove compartment, you’ll likely never see that car again. A few simple signatures on a title are all that is needed to transfer legal ownership, so you’re inviting thieves to take legal possession of a car that they stole.
Get a Tire Lock
A tire lock, also known as a “boot,” is like a steering wheel lock, except it goes on your tire. Tire locks render a car undrivable. Generally, tire locks are only used for car owners with unpaid parking tickets, and they are installed by parking enforcement. However, if you’re staying at home due to the coronavirus, you might consider installing a tire lock of your own. If you’re not going anywhere, this will ensure that your car won’t be going anywhere either.
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