One of the video games I’m banned from playing is the Grand Theft Auto series where players can become virtual criminals and assault, murder, and steal cars with no real-world repercussions. Apparently, my wife feels that I will learn too much from the game. Similarly, Hollywood has glamorized and romanticized auto theft with hit movies like Gone in 60 seconds. In the film, Angelina Jolie and Nicolas Cage steal priceless classic cars in…less than 60 seconds. Because of the unrealistic portrayal of car thieves, many people believe that auto theft in the real world is virtually non-existent.
The reality is that car theft is still a very real problem. In the most recent statistics from the Information Insurance Institute (III), motor vehicle theft has increased by 3.1% from 2014 to 2015. In the United States alone, that amounted to over 700,000 vehicles stolen in 2015. While nationally, the number of cars stolen per capita has stayed relatively constant in the past five years, the number of cars stolen in certain areas is extreme, being more than three times the national average per capita in many cities in California.
On almost any new car in the last 20 years, you’ll find an electronic fob is required to start the car. These electronic fobs prevent the hotwiring of cars and are known as immobilizers. For example in the UK, immobilizers have been required for all new cars since October 1, 1998.
Technology has also aided law enforcement in the reduction of auto theft. The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) maintains a nationwide database of Vehicle Identification Numbers (VIN) so that authorities can track patterns of auto theft and quickly identify stolen vehicles. Also, in the US, there are numerous specialized auto theft investigative units in law enforcement.
On the other hand, technology has also allowed car thieves to gain the upper hand in an automotive theft. If you own a Volkswagen, Alfa Romeo, Citroen, Fiat, Ford, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Opel, or Peugeot that is more than three years old, hackers can wirelessly unlock the vehicle with $40USD worth of electronics.
The reality is that if a thief wants to break into your vehicle, they will succeed. However, that doesn’t mean that all vehicles are equal opportunity targets. The key is to make your car less appealing to steal than the ones around it.
USE YOUR BRAIN
The easiest theft prevention to implement is common sense. I have friends that have had laptops, smartphones, and tablets stolen from their cars. If you store valuables in your vehicle, even hidden from view, you are inviting thieves to break into your vehicle. As mentioned above, unlocking a late-model car no longer requires smashing a window. In Vancouver, theft from underground parkades is rampant. Unfortunately, there is a false sense of security that parkades are safe just because they require a fob to enter.
For years, my friend Ed would use The Club, a steering wheel lock, every time he parked. I always thought the bright red device was silly and ugly, but he never had a problem with theft after owning the vehicle for more than 15 years. Thieves target the most easily stolen vehicles first, so any anti-theft device such as an alarm, steering wheel lock, wheel nut locks, will make your vehicle less desirable to theft.
Even with every anti-theft system installed, a determined thief will be able to steal your car. However, that doesn’t mean that you are helpless; a tracking system will let you recover your vehicle in hours if not minutes. Traditionally, radio-based systems such as LoJack have been relatively expensive costing over a thousand dollars including installation. However, new GPS tracking systems are just as capable and can be bought and installed for hundreds of dollars and viewed on your smartphone.
What’s your experience with auto theft? What are the bad neighborhoods where you live? In Vancouver, Canada, North Surrey is known for having car theft rates four times the provincial average. Let me know in the comments below!