Auto theft and vehicle burglaries are two of the most common property crimes, but that doesn't mean you have to become a victim. Just by taking a few common sense precautions, you can protect your vehicle and your valuables. Our tip-sheet Vehicle Security [PDF, 191Kb] provides valuable yet simple steps you can take to keep from being targeted.
Lock it up
• Locking your vehicle is the number one most important thing you can do to safeguard your valuables.
• Roll up your windows. If you feel that you must leave them cracked for ventilation (such as during the summer), do it as minimally as possible and no more than 1/2". Make sure that all wind-wing or side vent windows are shut and locked.
• If you have a trunk, keep it locked. If you have a pickup with a shell, keep both the tailgate and the shell locked as well. Also lock any interior compartments, such as the glovebox or an under-the-seat drawer.
• Always lock your vehicle and take your keys with you, even if you only plan on being away for a few seconds. This includes stops at ATMs, gas stations, dry cleaners, and anywhere else you'll be outside your vehicle.
Out of sight, out of mind
• Never leave valuables in plain sight inside your vehicle, such as cell phones, wallets, MP3 players, CDs, GPS units, money, cameras, etc. Take any and all valuables with you whenever you leave your vehicle.
• If you have valuable items in your vehicle that you don't want to take with you or that are too large or heavy, make sure to secure them out of sight in the trunk or glovebox (don't forget to lock it!) when you get in your vehicle. Never hide valuables after you arrive at your destination, as thieves frequently watch for such behavior. Remember that cup holders, center consoles, dash compartments, and anyplace else that can't be locked are NOT good hiding spots.
• Anything gift-wrapped should similarly be hidden out of sight and locked up (you might know that it's just a book, but to a thief it could be a portable DVD player).
• When shopping at multiple stores in the same location (such as at a shopping mall), don't make special trips out to your vehicle to drop off packages; thieves will watch for people who put things in their car and then walk away. Ask a store clerk or the mall concierge if they can hold your packages for you until you're ready to leave; some may even help you bring them out. If you must bring packages to your vehicle partway through shopping, get in your car and repark in a different area of the lot, out of sight from the previous parking space.
• Keep your garage door opener in your purse or briefcase, NOT on the visor or in the console.
• Don't leave your vehicle parked in an unattended lot for an extended period of time, as thefts of and from vehicles are more common in unattended lots than attended lots or the street.
• If using a public parking lot, try to use one that doesn't require you to leave your keys.
• If you must leave your keys with a lot attendent or valet, only provide the vehicle key. "Valet keys" (that only work the ignition and cannot open the trunk or glovebox) are better still. Never leave your house or other keys with a parking attendant.
• Only park in well-lit areas with lots of people around, particularly if you will be returning to your vehicle after dark.
• Never attach a tag to your keychain with your name and address, as if you ever lose your keys you may end up being a victim of burglary.
• When parking on the street, turn your wheels sharply toward the curb to make it more difficult to steal your car by towing it. If you have a locking steering column, turn your wheel to lock it after you've shut off the engine and removed the key.
Make it tough
• When buying a vehicle, check to see what types of anti-theft devices it has, such as an alarm, ignition cut-off, laser-encrypted or microchipped keys, etc.
• If your vehicle doesn't have an alarm, consider purchasing one (this may also net you a discount on your insurance policy).
• Consider purchasing a vehicle tracking device, such as LoJack®, which will help law enforcement quickly locate your vehicle if it does get stolen (this may also net you an insurance discount).
• Steering wheel locks (such as The Club®) deter theft by making it impossible to turn the steering wheel. Versions are also available that lock the steering wheel to the brake and gas pedals.
• Advertise! If you have an alarm or vehicle tracking system, put any stickers that came with it in conspicuous places on your vehicle, such as the driver's and front passenger windows.
While carjacking is less common than traditional vehicle theft, it is typically very violent. Here are some tips to help keep you safe;
• Keep your doors locked and your windows rolled up when you're in your vehicle.
• Be alert to your surroundings and of people approaching your vehicle.
• Stick with traffic. Avoid lightly-traveled streets, especially after dark.
• When stopped in traffic, always leave yourself enough room to make an emergency getaway if needed.
• Keep your car and house keys on seperate key chains.
• If someone threatens you with a weapon, GIVE UP THE VEHICLE. Your vehicle is not worth your life.
• Keep your vehicle registration in your wallet, not your car. Don't let someone who steals your car know where you live.
• For trailers, use a locking tow hitch with a padlock, and securely chain down any equipment or vehicles (including jet-skis, motorcycles, ATVs, and more), even if parked in your garage.
• Consider using a wheel lock when you park a motorcycle. Like steering wheel locks, these are resistant to cutting and render your motorcycle undriveable until removed.
• Write down your vehicle identification number (VIN) - located on the driver's side of the dash, or in the driver's door frame - and keep it in a safe place.
• Use an electric engraver to etch your driver's license state and number (for example, CA A0123456) into your stereo, GPS, catalytic converter, and any other valuable equipment on or in your vehicle.
• Locking gas caps (the kind that need a key) are an inexpensive and easy way to keep thieves from siphoning your gas.