Someone’s Vehicle Is Stolen Every 44 Seconds

With the holidays approaching, we need to be especially vigilant to guard against theft of all the goodies we purchase. The same holds true of the vehicles that get us to the stores in the first place.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), a motor vehicle is stolen every 44 seconds in the United States. Almost half of those thefts are due to driver error, the NHTSA reports, and only about 52 percent of stolen vehicles are recovered.

Officer Dan Lane of the Gaithersburg Police Department said, “Based on reports taken thus far, there are 43 reported stolen vehicles within the city this year.” He added that this number was drawn from internal databases. An official number of reported stolen vehicles for the city of Gaithersburg will be included in the Gaithersburg Police Department’s “2013 Annual Report.”

Don’t let your vehicle be part of these statistics. Fortunately, there are plenty of steps you can take to reduce your chances of becoming a victim of a car theft. Most of them are low cost and commonsense, and they all involve making your vehicle a less attractive target than the one next to it.

Specifically, the NHTSA recommends that you

  • remove your keys from the ignition and take them with you;
  • lock your vehicle;
  • never hide a second set of keys in your vehicle;
  • park in attended lots whenever possible, leaving only the ignition/door key;
  • park in well-lit and populated areas;
  • never leave your vehicle running, even if you will only be gone for a minute;
  • completely close all vehicle windows when parking;
  • do not leave valuables in plain sight;
  • park with your wheels turned toward the curb to make your vehicle more difficult to tow away;
  • if your vehicle is rear-wheel drive, backing into your driveway will also make it more difficult for a thief to tow your car away;
  • garage your vehicle, if possible, and always remember to lock the garage door;
  • do not leave the registration or title in your vehicle;
  • always use your emergency brake when parking, which makes it harder for a thief to tow your vehicle away;
  • disable your vehicle when leaving it unattended for an extended period;
  • Engrave expensive accessories like car stereos, cellular phones, compact disc changers and external speakers, so that a thief will have difficulty disposing of them;
  • drop business cards, address labels or other identification inside vehicle doors to help assist law enforcement in identifying your vehicle or parts;
  • replace easily accessible door lock assemblies; a`nd
  • install a warning device, immobilizing device and/or tracking system in your vehicle.

Concerning the last point, the insurance company Progressive notes there are several types of warning devices that can discourage theft. These include audible alarms, steering wheel locks, steering column collars, brake locks, wheel locks and theft-deterrent decals, among other things.

An immobilizing device prevents thieves from bypassing the ignition and hot-wiring your vehicle. Some use computer chips embedded in ignition keys, while others cut off electricity or fuel to the engine until a hidden switch or button is pressed.

Finally, a tracking system such as those offered by OnStar or LoJack can help police recover your vehicle if someone makes off with it. OnStar often is built into new vehicles, requires a monthly or annual fee, and relies on GPS, which a thief theoretically can defeat by driving under a bridge or into a tunnel to block the signal. LoJack can have a higher up-front cost but requires no monthly or annual fee, and it uses radio waves that are not so easily stymied.

All of these approaches vary extensively in both cost and effectiveness. You need to decide what theft prevention strategies are right for you and your vehicle.

Lane said the Gaithersburg Police Department uses LoJack for its vehicles. In terms of preventing theft in the first place, he echoed the suggestions above but added a warning. “Stolen vehicles are a crime of opportunity, so there’s no way to make your car unwanted or theft-proof,” he said. “If someone really wants your vehicle, they’ll take it.”