by Rick Muscoplat, Vehix.com
You’ve invested in an attractive reliable car. But lately you’ve heard about some car thefts and break-ins in your neighborhood and you’re wondering what you can do to protect your investment. We’ll look at a few different theft scenarios and suggest some protection strategies that make sense and fit your budget.
Let’s start with the ordinary “smash and grab” type of theft, where the thief smashes your window and steals personal in your vehicle. Since this is a “crime of opportunity,” you can prevent them by removing valuable items. That includes CDs, loose change, and especially expensive audio gear and GPS receivers—anything that can be “fenced” for even a few bucks (GPS receivers are high on thieves’ shopping lists these days).
Pay attention to the “tell-tale” signs of automotive electronics ownership. For example, a suction cup or the suction cup “ring” on your windshield tells thieves you’ve got a GPS. They know you probably stashed it in your glove box, under a seat, or in the console. e. So unless you want to lose your investment in your GPS and deal with the hassle of broken glass, take the receiver, power cable, and the mounting bracket with you. Wipe the window to remove traces of the suction cup. The same advice holds true for laptop computers and PDAs.Grand Theft Auto
Now let’s talk about losing the entire vehicle to car thieves. This is where you get the lecture on the risks of leaving your keys in your car. You already know you shouldn’t do that. So don’t. The same advice goes for leaving a spare key in a “hidden” place on your vehicle. Crooks know all the hiding places.
Your next line of defense includes some kind of theft prevention system. The list includes lockout devices, VIN etching, alarms, and vehicle locators.
Lockout devices fall into two categories—physical and electronic. Steering wheel locks like the CLUB or the WRAP fit onto your steering wheel and restrict wheel rotation. They provide a physical and visual deterrent to amateur and semi-professional thieves. Tire and wheel locks are also in this group. They snap onto one wheel and prevent vehicle movement. Wheel locks provide the advantage of visual deterrence from a distance—their bright yellow color and heavy duty construction screams “extra work required to steal this baby!” Each of these mechanical lockout devices work fairly well against most amateurs and semi-pros. Just be aware that professional crooks can remove them in an instant.
Electronic lockout (immobilizer) systems are a better but more costly alternative. They work by shutting down the ignition system and the fuel pump. They are far more difficult to defeat because the thief first has to know that you have a system installed and they then they have to figure out the wiring locations, and a bypass method. Most crooks don’t have that kind of time or expertise. Unfortunately, before they discover that you have an electronic lockout system, they have to already be in your vehicle and have already bypassed the ignition lock cylinder. In other words, they’ve already damaged your vehicle (broken glass, steering column, and lock).
You could warn prospective thieves by placing warning stickers on your windows. But experts disagree on whether that’s a good idea. On the plus side, the sticker warns the intruder that your vehicle won’t be a “cake-walk.” Hopefully that gets the thief thinking that maybe they should set their sights on an easier target. The flip side, of course, is that you never want to give a thief advance notice of the obstacles they may encounter when trying to steal your car. If you decide to install warning stickers, make sure they do NOT have the manufacturer’s brand name on them—that’s like giving them a wiring diagram. The same advice holds true for car alarm warning stickers.VIN etching
If you’re concerned about your car ending up in a “chop shop” where it’s dismantled and sold for parts, consider VIN etching. The etching process permanently marks your vehicle identification number (VIN) into each major auto part. But don’t limit yourself to glass etching alone. Make sure you etch each body part, the engine, transmission, computers, and high cost electrical components. Etching won’t help you get your vehicle back, and it won’t stop a car thief looking for a joy riding. But it does help law enforcement break up theft rings. And, because you will advertise this anti-theft feature with window stickers, it can serve as a deterrent. You can find do-it-yourself VIN etching kits on the Internet or have it done by a professional dealer.Making noise
The next step up from a stand alone electronic immobilizer system is a combination car alarm/immobilizer system. Even though most experts agree that a car alarm siren, flashing lights, and honking horn won’t scare away an experienced thief, it certainly can’t hurt and it will slow them down. All the racket forces the thief to disable the siren and flashing lights before they can start working on the immobilizer system. That extra time can thwart many amateurs and some semi-pros. The hardware for a combination system will cost more and so will the installation. But it provides better theft protection.
When shopping for a combination system, make sure you ask the installing dealer if the alarm’s immobilizer circuitry is built with solid state relays. The relay is what shuts down power to the ignition and fuel system. The electrical contacts inside a mechanical relay can bounce if the vehicle hits bumps in the road, causing split second shutdowns of the ignition and fuel systems. Those brief shutdowns cause noticeable engine misfires. They’re recorded by the engine computer, and once the computer sees repeat misfires, it lights the “Check Engine” light. This problem with mechanical alarm relays is so great that at least one major auto manufacturer has issued a technical service bulletin advising dealers of the issue. Dealers are instructed to first check for mechanical alarm relays in any vehicle showing signs of repeat engine misfires. Those alarms must either be retrofitted with solid state relays, or disconnected. If the alarm dealer can’t install an alarm with solid-state relays, or doesn’t even know what you’re talking about, find another dealer.To catch a thief
If you live in a high-theft area or own a vehicle that’s on the “most stolen” list, and you want to get your vehicle back if it is ever stolen, consider installing a vehicle locator system. Once you contact the locator manufacturer and report the theft, they activate the GPS device installed in the vehicle. The manufacturer detects the location of the vehicle and notifies the police. These systems are remarkably effective in finding and recovering stolen vehicles before they’re dismantled.
Vehicle locator systems are more expensive than car alarms and they must be professionally installed, but your insurance company may offer sizeable discounts to offset some of the cost.Car Jacking—your worst nightmare
So far we’ve been talking about ways to prevent car theft when you’re away from your vehicle. But if you watch the evening news, you know that crooks are becoming more brazen in their attempts to steal vehicles while you’re still inside. Car jacking occurs most often in parking lots, shopping centers, near ATMs, valet parking, fast food drive- through, convenience stores and at stop lights. Those are locations where you are either entering or leaving the vehicle, have the keys in your hand, and have the door either open or unlocked. Under those conditions, the thief can grab your keys, push you aside and take off with your vehicle. To reduce your risk of car jacking, follow these safety tips:Anticipate what time you will be returning to your vehicle and park in an area that will be well lit when you return.Don’t park near walls or areas with high plant growth where strangers may hide.
Lock all doors when you’re in the vehicle.
When you approach your vehicle, be aware of strangers nearby. Get into your vehicle, lock the doors and get moving. Don’t sit in a parked vehicle with your keys in the ignition.
Be wary of strangers trying to inform you of a parking lot mishap like a flat tire, or offering to help with a car problem. Lock your doors and talk to them through a closed window. If you must leave the vehicle, pocket your keys and take your purse and cell phone with you.
When loading packages into vehicle, keep your keys in your pocket or purse and pay attention to those around you.
If you are bumped in traffic, try to pull into a busy store parking lot or service station. If you must stop along the side of the road, lock your doors and keep the windows up. Keep your cell phone handy in case of any mishaps.
If you are confronted by a car jacker, throw your keys on the ground and run. Never agree to be kidnapped.