Is Your Vehicle a Candidate for Theft?

Auto theft is an Expensive Crime.*

All too often, consumer attitudes about vehicle theft prevention are based on misconceptions—misconceptions that can have expensive consequences for unprepared vehicle owners, says Carolyn Gorman, vice president of the Insurance Information Institute, a not-for-profit consumer education organization.

Some people think that they can keep from car thieves by driving older cars. They mistakenly believe that only people who drive expensive luxury cars are vulnerable to auto theft. Well, think again. Some of the most targeted vehicles are older, less expensive models.

More than 75,000 airbags are stolen every year, estimates the Insurance Information Institute. Airbag theft costs insurers and vehicle owners more than $50 million dollars a year. The cost of new airbags bought from a dealer is $1,000; on the black market, they bring $50-$200.

The theft of Xenon headlights is also a popular component with car thieves. Next may be Global Positioning Systems. The vehicle with the highest rate of insurance theft claims is the Escalade; years 2003-2005.

Several myths about car theft abound:

  • Most thefts occur in unprotected areas (more than one-third of all vehicle thefts occur at home)
  • Stolen vehicles are usually found (stolen cars missing more than six days are less likely to be recovered)
  • Insurance always provides a rental car (although insurance is included in the comprehensive portion of an auto insurance policy, it may not automatically include rental car coverage)
  • Anti-theft devices are easy to install (because of the complexity of today’s automobiles, it’s better to have a professional install any security device)
  • Thieves are not interested in older vehicles (see above).

Several common-sense preventive measures can help you avoid being the victim of car theft; the most important of these is lock your car, and don’t leave your keys in the ignition.

Surprisingly, many vehicles are targeted simply because the owners left them unlocked, with the keys in the ignition. I once parked my car in a hospital lot only to find that a sedan had made its way across the parking lot, right into the side of my car. Unbelievably, the sedan’s owner had parked her car, left it in drive and gone into a doctor’s office, without even realizing that she had left the car running.

Following common sense measures can prevent a thief from stealing your vehicle:

  • Always park in a busy, well-lighted area.
  • Turn the car’s wheels toward the curb and apply the emergency brake.
  • Roll up all windows, lock the car (and take the keys!), even if you know you’ll return shortly.
  • Always take your wallet or purse with you. You may even want to carry the car’s registration and insurance card.
  • Remember to hide packages and valuables in the trunk or under a cover in the back of your vehicle.

The more secure a car is, the longer it will take a thief to steal it. However, car thieves are not always deterred by a single layer of protection, according to Stephen Cox, vice-president of communications for the Council of Better Business Bureaus. Nevertheless, securing a car is worth the effort.

Many new cars now come equipped with an anti-deterrent theft system, alarm or both. Today’s vehicles typically come with theft-deterrent keys that will not work with any other vehicle. The security systems of most cars act as deterrents, alerting thieves that the vehicles are protected.

Experts suggest that you use more than one layer of protection for your vehicle. The harder a thief has to work, the better your vehicle will be protected. Those driving theft-prone vehicles should take extra steps toward safety, such as installing a visible deterrent such as a wheel lock, alarm or other disabling device.

Steering wheel locks like the Club are readily available and fit onto the steering wheel and brake pedal, preventing the steering wheel from moving more than a few degrees. You also can install a steering-column collar, which can be permanently installed. It is made of steel or alloy and encases the steering column, preventing access to the ignition.

Invest in a keyless entry fob with a panic button. If you suspect a stranger is lurking in or around your car, you can push the panic button, and the car’s alarm will sound and, hopefully, scare the assailant away.

Finally, if your car is stolen, report it immediately. You also will need to file a claim with your insurance company.

* Based on data for the 1,192,809 stolen vehicles reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation Uniform Crime Division, there was a vehicle stolen every 26.4 seconds in the U.S. in 2006. The odds of a vehicle being stolen in 2005 were 1 in 207; the odds highest in urban areas.

About the Author

Susan Frissell, PhD, is an automotive writer and publisher of Womenwithwheels.com. She can be reached at editor@womenwithwheels.com and welcomes your questions and comments.

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