In part one of our two-part vehicle security series, we discussed tips for deterring car theft or break-ins. Totally preventing criminals from gaining entry to your vehicle is obviously ideal, so you should focus most of your efforts on this goal. However, if all of your deterrents fail and a thief is determined to break into your car, you’ll need to realize that stopping it is essentially an arms race.

Photo: Flickr.com/tcb613

Photo: Flickr.com/tcb613

You might drive a plain car with no personal items inside, only to have a thief smash the window to see what he finds. You might have chosen a well-lit parking spot on a major street, but thieves can work fast to evade detection. Your alarm can be disabled or never triggered in the first place; your steering wheel lock can be cut off and tossed aside. Each of these measures might help stack the odds in your favor, but they’re not foolproof.

Car theft keyless technology vehicle burglary security electronics lock 1

Professional thieves in Europe have been spotted stealing cars using electronic signal repeaters.

Even a brand-new car with bulletproof glass and a sophisticated alarm system can be stolen — tech-savvy criminals are now using repeaters to bounce the keyfob signal from inside the owner’s home and trick the car into unlocking and starting. Regardless of how it happened, let’s say the bad guy is now in your car. This is where roadblocks to impede the criminals and mitigate the damage come into play.

Mitigation: Reducing the Impact of a Break-In

Photo: Flickr.com/marufish

Photo: Flickr.com/marufish

When it comes to break-ins, we mentioned in part one of our series that the ideal is to avoid storing any personal belongings in your vehicle, even worthless ones. However, that’s often impractical when it comes to emergency gear. If you leave items such as a vehicle survival kit or get-home bag in your car, hide them in places criminals would be unlikely to look — NOT in the glove box or center console. Placing items underneath the trunk floor or backseat (preferably locked to the seat frame) will make them more time-consuming to access, and they may be overlooked altogether in the seconds the perpetrator spends in your car.

Above all, make sure nothing inside your vehicle is irreplaceable or catastrophic if stolen. Don’t leave copies of your title, insurance, registration, or other documents that can be used to identify you inside the car. These can also be used by thieves to claim they borrowed the car, to find your home address for a follow-up burglary, or to steal your identity.

Photo: Flickr.com/steevithak

Photo: Flickr.com/steevithak

Regarding theft of the entire vehicle, there are a number of options that may slow down or stop thieves altogether. A hidden kill switch (or multiple switches) can be used to disable the fuel pump or starter motor, preventing the would-be thief from getting the engine running unless he can find the switch. This is especially effective for older cars that lack modern electronic security measures — just be sure to put the switch(es) somewhere unexpected.

Alternatively, you can pull the fuel pump relay from your fuse box and take it with you every time you park, essentially guaranteeing no one else can start your car without a trip to the auto parts store.

Photo: Flickr.com/redroseexile

Photo: Flickr.com/redroseexile

As manual transmission ownership rates decline, a car with a stick shift may throw off inexperienced car thieves. Frank Scafidi, the Director of Public Affairs for the National Insurance Crime Bureau agreed that “some thieves might be thwarted” by a stick shift. There are also several examples where armed carjackings have failed for this very reason.

Alarm systems and steering wheel locks may be worth considering, though their effectiveness is debatable as we mentioned in part one of this series. Electronic immobilizers, which prevent the car from starting rather than simply making noise, are present on many post-1990s cars and can be substantially more effective. So owning a newer vehicle may automatically reduce the risk of theft.

If you’re really concerned about theft of a vehicle that’s stored outside for extended periods, you may consider buying a tire lock or boot like the ones used by city parking enforcement officials. However, these cost several hundred dollars and are highly conspicuous. And even then, a well-funded professional thief can use a tow truck to drag your car to a more secluded area before cutting off the boot or dismantling the entire vehicle.

Photo: Flickr.com/kim_scarborough

Photo: Flickr.com/kim_scarborough

Finally, if every one of the above steps fails, GPS tracking services such as LoJack and security cameras aimed at your parking spot can aid in recovering the vehicle (or what’s left of it). From a preparedness standpoint, these are last-resort failsafes.

Photo: Flickr.com/garycycles

Photo: Flickr.com/garycycles

Lessons Learned

At this point, the best-case scenario is that you end up vacuuming broken glass off your seat and replacing a shattered window. That’s not a pleasant experience, but it’s a whole lot better than never seeing your vehicle again, or worrying about a follow-up home invasion or identity theft attack. Even if you can’t stop a thief from accessing your vehicle, you can at least increase the likelihood that he exits the vehicle empty-handed and frustrated.

To recap our mitigation tips:

  1. If you must leave emergency gear or other belongings in your vehicle, hide them completely from view in an unusual location.
  2. Never leave registration documents or personal information in the car.
  3. A manual transmission may prevent some inexperienced thieves from making their escape.
  4. Kill switches are a great way to protect your vehicle from theft, especially if they’re hidden well. Removing fuses/relays can produce a similar effect.
  5. Alarm systems and steering wheel locks may be effective in some cases. Electronic immobilizers are more effective. Tire boots are effective but conspicuous.
  6. Security cameras and GPS tracking systems can increase the odds of recovering a stolen vehicle, but it’s likely to be crashed or gutted by the time you get it back.

With a combination of the auto theft deterrents from part one and steps to mitigate any damage that may occur, you can greatly reduce the risk of losing your vehicle and other property.

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