Car Theft On The Rise: Take Proper Precautions

Other than your house, your vehicle maybe the biggest investment you’ve got on your hands — your biggest, mobile, vulnerable investment.


According to the Insurance Information Institute, Americans lost $5.9 billion to car theft in 2016; “motor vehicles,” they say, “were stolen at a rate of 236.9 per 100,000 people” — up 6.6 percent from the year previous. Data shows that in the first part of 2017, vehicle theft jumped another 4.1 percent.

Basically: car theft, while in decline for so many years, is making a roaring comeback. And it’s due to several things, says the Insurance Information Institute: “Thieves constantly devise new and sophisticated means of stealing autos. Tactics include acquiring smart keys, which eliminated hot-wiring to steal cars; switching vehicle identification numbers … The number of vehicles stolen with the key or keyless entry device left inside by the owner climbed 22 percent in 2015 to 57,096, according to the [National Insurance Crime Bureau].”

[Check our article Five Apps To Increase Your Car Security.]

This doesn’t even account for car break-ins. These often aren’t reported, but are rampant in some areas: San Francisco is currently experiencing an epidemic of car break-ins, as are other parts of the Pacific Northwest. Even in the safety of suburbia, I’ve had my own car broken into at least twice, once losing spare change and some sundry items; another time, losing two iPods. 

So clearly, car security is paramount. We need to secure our cars the ways we secure our houses — and we need to do it as soon as possible, especially if we drive an expensive vehicle or regularly leave things attractive to thieves lying around inside our cars (not recommended).

There’s the good ol’ car alarm, which mostly annoys us all: but it makes us look up, doesn’t it? Thieves don’t want people to look up. So while any good car thief will know how to disable an alarm, the presence of an alarm itself may be enough to deter a lesser criminal from jacking your property — or breaking into it. 

[Don’t forget our Security Tips For Parking Lots And Parking Garages.]

But car alarms only go so far, which is why you need something else. Lifewire recommends car immobilizing devices: basically, something that, once it realizes the right key isn’t in the ignition, hits a kill switch and makes it impossible to start the car. That won’t stop them from stealing the valuables inside, but it will stop them from driving off with the most valuable thing of all.

There’s also the simple dashcam: the car equivalent of installing CCTV, or security cameras, at your home. According to a survey obtained by the The Guardian, burglars cite barking dogs and CCTV as their biggest deterrents. And since your car can’t have a protection dog, a dash cam may be your best bet. Drive-Safely.Net has a number of streaming dash cams listed that can not only capture your thieves on film, but send them to your smartphone in real time. Plus, as we’ve pointed out, a dash cam can be super-helpful when it comes to sending accident footage to insurance companies. To learn more, check out our review of the best home security cameras. 

But there’s more than just some streaming dash cam apps that you can use to keep your car safe. We’ve examined the value of tracking apps, which let you see the location of your car in real time. These apps can help you find your parking place, track your teen driver — or they can help you find your stolen vehicle. Other apps “allow for remote control of a vehicle via smartphone. Features include remote unlocking — ideal if someone loses a physical key — and remote engine start.”

[Our author’s experienced a few break-ins, and the easiest step is still the most important — Always Lock Your Car.]

Of course, you can always go low-tech. Install extra door locks, wheel clamps, or a steering wheel lock like the infamous Club. There are also hood locks and tire locks.

But one rise in car theft is mostly attributable to high-tech means: the rise in keyless entry thefts. Relay attacks have become an issue: “One person uses a transmitter device to find the frequency of the wireless key inside a car owner’s home. That signal is sent to another device held by the second person close to the car. The car mistakenly thinks the wireless key is present, giving thieves the ability to enter and start the engine of the car.” Luckily, you can thwart these thefts by keeping your key in metal or in what’s called a Faraday cage, which blocks radio signals. 

So consider getting a car alarm as a baseline security measure. Utilize a dashcam, if you can. Use a GPS or bluetooth tracking system for your vehicle, so it can be covered, and if you really want to be safe, get an immobilizing device. All of these devices, in order to work, must be turned on, used, and checked, no matter how annoying or inconvenient.

And use common sense: don’t park in high-crime areas; don’t leave valuables, like shopping bags or purses, in plain view; don’t, for the love of all things holy, leave your car unlocked or your keys on the dash.

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

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