Always Lock Your Car

We live in the suburbs. The tree-lined, 50s-era, solidly-middle-class suburbs. We have a one-story home with a driveway. Sometimes the kids ride their bikes there; usually we park our cars on it. Cars, plural. And we both grew up in cities with high crime rates, so you’d think the safety lesson would be ingrained.

Clearly not.

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Our perfect little suburb wasn’t so perfect as it seemed. We’ve had our cars broken into twice, and once at my in-laws’ house. None of these incidents were smash-and-grabs, with shattered glass and loud alarms. Nope. These crooks were smart. Apparently, each time, they canvased the neighborhood — for unlocked vehicles. Vehicles with alarms that wouldn’t go off. Vehicles easy to sneak into. And then, to cap it off, they left the doors open: nothing alerts a person like a car door slam in their own driveway.

Always Lock Your Doors

We broke the cardinal rule: We left the door unlocked. We thought we were safe in our little tree-lined suburbs. We were wrong. Crooks bank on this sense of safety. Police in the Chicago suburbs recently said that 99 percent of car break-ins in one outbreak were “crimes of opportunity” because they involved unlocked vehicles, according to the Chicago Tribune. “In almost all cases” of a series of break-ins in Evanston, Illinois, the cars were unlocked, the Tribune reports.

And in a group of September break-ins in Columbus, Ohio, police told TV10 that, “In nearly all cases, vehicles are entered through unlocked doors.”  Basically, car locks are your first line of defense — no matter if you live in the big city or the cookie-cutter ‘burbs. We forgot that crime can happen anywhere, not just where you expect it. We let our guard down, and we paid for it.

Don’t Leave Anything Of Value In Your Car

Thieves want several things: money, meds, and electronics. Basically, if they can sell it, they want to steal it. The first time, crooks took my ChromeBook, because I was stupid enough to leave a computer, in plain sight, in a unlocked vehicle. They also stole a horde of quarters we kept for the parking meters downtown (a quantity of small change isn’t so small anymore).

The second time, at my in-laws’ house, just off the main road of a big city, we lost both of our iPods. Yet again, a crook had seen them and slipped in to pick them up, because it’s not as if we hid them; they were perfectly visible from the outside.

The third time … well, the third time was the worst. They stole the spare set of car keys from the car. Meaning some random person with ill intent had keys to both of our vehicles. We had to change the locks immediately: a pricey and annoying proposition. This isn’t uncommon — in the Evanston break-ins, thieves looked for “valet” keys often kept in the glove compartment. Moreover, police said that during those break-ins, when a car was forced open, it was because thieves saw valuables in plain view. Basically, if it’s got any kind of value, take it into the house.

It Happens Everywhere

These rules don’t just apply to your driveway. Your laptop can be stolen from a Target parking lot; your wallet can be taken from your car parked in a metered spot downtown. I can’t count how many times I’ve left my car unlocked in the Target lot. I’ve been lucky.

It’s More Likely At Night

Thieves like quiet. They like darkness. They like it when no one will notice them, because everyone is asleep. One thing they don’t like? Floodlights. We installed a motion-activated light after the second break-in. But the best deterrent is probably a security camera. If the thief can see that he’s on camera, he’s much more likely to move on. After all, no one wants their face plastered all over the five o’clock news for car theft.

Don’t Expect To Get Your Stuff Back

If the worst case scenario happens, and your stuff does get stolen, don’t think that the police are likely to find it. The most you can do is to make an insurance claim — and some insurance won’t pay out if your car was unlocked. Also, don’t expect that anyone’s going to catch the crook. In the vast scheme of things, they’re small potatoes.

The Habit Of Locking

Lock your car. Break-ins happen to people who don’t lock their cars. And unless you want to lose electronics, miss small change, or spend the day at the dealership getting your car expensively re-keyed, lock your vehicle. All the time, every time. Don’t take three times to learn your lesson, either. All law enforcement seems to agree: car break-ins are crimes of opportunity. Just lock it up. I wish I had.

Elizabeth Broadbent

Elizabeth Broadbent

Elizabeth Broadbent lives in a medium-sized city in the South with her three children, three dogs, and patient husband. She works as a staff writer for Scary Mommy, and her writing has been featured in The Washington Post and on Time.com.

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