Preventing Car Break-Ins and Theft

Lead Image for Preventing Car Break-Ins and Theft

We purchase car insurance to give us peace of mind, just in case an incident occurs. But no one wants to go through the loss, the hassle, or the heartache when it's time to actually make a claim. There's no guarantee that we won't ever become a victim of a car break-in or theft, but there are definitely some things we can do to protect ourselves, and our property, and make our vehicles less attractive to thieves.

Safety First

If you've ever come back to your car and noticed a random ding or scratch that wasn't there before you left, we feel your pain. Not everyone is as careful as you when it comes to maintaining a ding-free distance from other vehicles. And if they didn't bother to leave a note, that's just plain uncivilized.

We've got some choice words reserved for this situation, but we'll leave that out, lest we, too, be accused of being uncivilized. But, this is just one of the many annoyances of being a car owner, and one which may have inspired your habit of parking away from high traffic areas.

Seems like a good strategy from a car owner's perspective. And probably from a car thieves perspective as well. In fact, car thieves out there would actually like to thank you for taking care to leave your car in an unattended space.

That's because most car thieves would rather do their business out of the public's eye, making that lone vehicle at the far end of the parking lot a much more attractive target than the ones slotted like sardines closer to a store or building's entrance.

It's so much easier for them to perform their skills without the presence of an audience, especially since this is a talent of the criminal kind and not one meant to be admired.

Time to adjust your strategy. And yes, it involves getting your car closer to the action. Parking closer to the entrance doesn't mean you have to be completely in the thick of things. As long as you're located in close proximity to where people tend to be, it won't be just your car that's safer, but you as well.

If something were to happen and you needed assistance, the likelihood of getting help from a passerby is greater. There may be more witnesses to potentially aid in any sort of trial or lawsuit.

And most importantly, there's safety in numbers, meaning a car thief might be more reluctant to do the crime because of the greater possibility of getting caught.

smashed car window

Be Mindful of Your Time

Look for areas that are well-lit if you won't be back until after dark. This can be more difficult or even impossible in the fall and winter months when daylight saving time ends. If you know you won't be back before dark, make a special effort to park near a well-lit and well-trafficked area.

If you have the choice between a lot staffed by an attendant or one that's not, choose the former. There are usually cameras capturing activity in a supervised lot, and it's also nice to have the added security offered by staff who regularly patrol the area and keep an eye on anything that may seem amiss.

Truly, it all boils down to safety. If you're not comfortable parking your car there, you should probably be concerned about your personal safety, too.

With earlier sundowns looming, you may consider this a good time to discuss safety protocols with the site in question, whether it's supervisors and staff, an HOA or property management, or the family at home to hash out some best safety practices.

Stash Your Valuables

dark car compartment under seat

We all lead busy lives, so we understand the temptation to get errands done ASAP. But leaving your cell phone, keys, purse, or laptop lying in plain sight while you do a quick in-and-out to the store is like advertising "Free Stuff."

Smash and grabs happen quickly, taking only a few seconds for a thief to grab what you so carelessly left displayed. So if it's something you couldn't do without, take it with you or stow it out of sight.

But what if it's just a backpack or a grocery bag? We hate to break it to you, but that doesn't matter. A thief is gambling on whether or not that backpack or bag might be valuable. It could be filled with dirty laundry or diamonds. It might just have a few used books, but it's also got a picture of your mom when she was a child.

That grocery bag had your dog's prescription food that cost a fortune. Regardless of what's in the bag, when it's in full view, that's all the motivation a would-be thief needs to grab it, all in the hopes of a good score.

Who's Watching You?

thief looking into car window

We've said it to our kids over and over again, but it's worth repeating to ourselves: be aware of your surroundings. And not just when you're parking, leaving, or returning to your car. That goes for when you're walking around the block, in a movie theater, grocery shopping, or at the pool. And obviously, while you're stashing your stuff in your vehicle.

We know we've previously suggested you not leave valuables (and not so valuables) out in the open, so if you can't carry them with you, hiding them is a good option, as long as you're wary of who might be watching you stash your stuff.

You might think you're being smart by popping those shopping bags full of treasures into the trunk, and we'd like to commend you for taking them out of plain sight. But did you happen to look up and notice who was out and about as you threw them in?

It might not be as obvious as someone standing next to your car watching you, so take note of anyone casually strolling by. Would-be thieves will thank you for not being aware of them, but they don't know you're a clever DIYer, and you're generally the type who has a plan. The plan in this case: don't become a victim.

Lock It Up

We won't lament the bygone days when people could leave their houses unlocked. That seems like a lifetime ago. An age of innocence that very quickly came and went. But it's not as if crime didn't actually happen back then. We're just not quite so trusting anymore. Or naive.

These days it makes sense to lock it up, and though it seems it shouldn't have to be said, surprisingly, some people still can't be tasked to lock their doors. Including the ones on their cars. It's that quick-trip mentality again, right?

Or maybe a pocketful of jangling keys during a jog or a stroll around the lake is too much of an encumbrance to handle. So they leave the doors unlocked or windows wide open. Toss the keys under the seat or the floor mat because no one would ever think to look under there.

Please. Stop right there. Think about how it would affect your life if your car was stolen all because you didn't lock the doors. Getting to work just got a little more complicated with bus passes, metro rail cards, and/or transfers.

And that's if you're lucky enough to live in a community with public transit. No more mid-week trips to the movies because you'll be getting home later with your longer commute on the metro.

Honestly and truly, we've got nothing against public transit. We love public transit. In fact, we're big fans of decreasing our carbon footprint and reducing our dependence on our cars. But dare we say it, we're kind of addicted to the convenience of having a vehicle to get us around whenever and wherever we go.

It's hard, but we're working on that. And if you've got a car, you're probably in varying degrees of agreement with us, so we'll thank you not to judge.

And for those who prefer to leave their cars unlocked because they'd rather a thief take what's in the car without having to break the windows, that's certainly your prerogative. But we'd like to argue, why make it easy for someone to take something that belongs to you?

Especially when that something gets you to work, picks up the kids, takes you to doctor visits, etc. Leaving your doors unlocked could potentially cost you more than the benefits of car ownership.

It could also cost you your cell phone, tablet, library books, and any other items of importance you happened to leave in your vehicle. You've worked hard for what you have. Don't just give it away.

Oh, and speaking of locking it up, we're including when you're actively driving the vehicle. A brief moment at a stoplight preoccupied with your cell phone makes you an easy target for the wrong person walking by.

Don't Hand Over Your Keys

person in car with key in box

We can't stress this enough—no matter how clever you think you're being about hiding a spare key somewhere on the body of the vehicle, it's probably not a place that a thief hasn't already considered. Trust us, we get it.

That spare key would spare you the time and hassle of having to call a locksmith if you happen to get locked out of your car. And as much as we'd love to bypass the hassle, attaching a spare key to the car is probably not one of the best ways to do it.

If you can avoid attaching a spare to the vehicle, go for it. Instead, give one to a trusted friend who you can rely on to help you out when you're in a bind. That spare key clinging to the wheel well or sitting in a lockbox on your tow hitch means thieves also have access to your vehicle.

So now they can steal not just the items in your car, but the car itself.

Turn Your Car Off

With so much on our plates, it's tempting to take any shortcut that can gain you an advantage over your day. We're hoping not turning off your car isn't one of those shortcuts.

Hey, we're not monsters nor are we judging, but if you're one of these people, we encourage you to get out of this habit. It doesn't matter how quick you think you'll be because smash-and-grabs and thefts take seconds.

How often have you found yourself in a scenario of similar proportions: You're late for work and you just started the car, but you can't remember if you turned off the stove/iron/tv. You leave your car running so you can check, but while you're inside the dog makes a mess or you get a call that you have to answer.

Pretty soon you've been distracted for five whole minutes and all the while your car's been running. Did you even shut the car door before you went inside the house? Hopefully your neighbors are watching. If not, it might be time to organize a neighborhood watch group so your community can look out for each other. But we digress.

Don't be tempted to take shortcuts that could cost you dearly. If or when you have to leave your car, knowing you'll be returning soon, take the few extra seconds to turn it off, take the keys, and lock the doors behind you before you run inside.

Leave your car running and that quick trip into a store or back into the house can turn into a huge loss in just a matter of minutes.

We may be sounding all doom and gloom, but that's not what we're hoping you take away from this. There's just no guarantee that you won't ever become a victim of a theft or a smash and grab, but there are definitely things you can do to protect yourself and avoid valuable losses.

Above all else, nothing is as valuable as your life, so keep these tips in mind and get police assistance when necessary.