Disguise Your Stuff to Prevent Car Break-ins

Photo: autiscy

When my truck was broken into this winter, I decided to get a little savvier about the way I store my essential belongings and a little craftier at discouraging future break-ins. I’ve always tried to practice common-sense when leaving my vehicle unattended for long stretches of time; I never leave obviously valuable items in plain sight, I don’t have a deluxe car stereo system or other tempting electronics, and I try to park in well-lit areas. But pickups and hatchbacks are unique because without a trunk, nearly all the contents are visible from the outside, and this creates a veritable display case for would-be thieves. (See also: How to Get Your Car Stolen)

Since my truck has a canopy, I decided to embrace the "fishbowl effect" by creating a secret hiding place in plain sight. I took an old cardboard box that was about 18” wide and 22” tall and created a false top for it. I cut the false top from another piece of sturdy flat cardboard and made it roughly the same dimensions as the top opening of the box. Next I took miscellaneous scrap cardboard pieces from other boxes, folded them vertically, and stapled them to each other using a heavy-duty staple gun. I then attached the stapled pieces to the false top with hot glue.

The goal was to create a "cap" that looked as if the box was packed with scrap cardboard and paper destined for the recycling bin. The top sits about 3” deep inside the box and fits tightly enough to not shake off during normal travel. Finally, I labeled the box “Recycle” just to drive the point home.

Under the false top, I store my camping gear, a first aid kit, and a few car-repair tools. Once closed, it just looks like a box of old scrap paper and isn’t the least bit tempting to the suspicious passer-by.

Fake Recycling

The same idea would work by stacking newspapers on the false top and securing them in place with twine. I decided to not use aluminum recycling materials because aluminum might be more tempting to hardcore recyclers or potentially harder to identify as "junk" in the dark. The key is to make the box clearly identifiable as recycling without your efforts appearing too studied or deliberate. Expect the would-be thief to be peering in the window, and don’t give him a reason to be curious or to second-guess the contents of the box.

Of course, nothing can completely prevent car break-ins, but with a little planning and an afternoon project, maybe you can make your car the least attractive one on the block and skip the window-replacement bill.

Additional photo credit: Kentin Waits
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Guest's picture
Guest in CA

This is a good idea that I'm going to pass along to some of the people I know. However, this needs to be used ANY time you leave stuff in the car, not just the "long periods of time" you mention at the outset. I've had my car broken into where all they got was the miscellaneous change on the dashboard.

Also, parking in a busier area is no protection. It takes a fraction of a second for someone to pop a window out & grab whatever they can see, and it doesn't make much, if any noise.

I work in a building with windows facing our exceptionally busy parking lot, with a popular playground also facing the lot, and we still have 4-6 car break-ins a year - that aren't noticed until after the fact. The thiefs work under cover of the comings & goings (in a less-busy area they'd be more noticeable).

Guest's picture

Well, if carjackers read lifehacker, you're out of luck. And so are people who recycle.

Guest's picture

Great idea! We keep our stuff in the trunk in my car as we don't have the canopy issue!

Guest's picture

I've been there, too. My car was broken into TWICE last year. I realized that it was the change I had sitting out in the open that attracted the break-in. I wish I had thought of this tactic myself (and kept my loose change in my pocket!). Great post...and the recycle box looks truly recyclable! So, when you're done with it, you can just recycle it.

Guest's picture

This could also work with a laundry basket. If someone sees a laundry basket, they expect you to be too cheap to afford a washer/dryer (or they may think you are living in your car) and may be less inclined to break in.

A (fake) severely soiled diaper or underwear on the front passenger seat would be another deterrent.

Guest's picture

This also works in reverse. If you have some junk you want to get rid of just put it in a box and wrap it with birthday or Christmas wrapping paper. Leave it in your unlocked car on the street and it will be gone in a flash.

Guest's picture

And I thought I was the only one who did this!!!

Guest's picture

My car is a ratty beat up 10yo car with junk screwn around. The fact I put my laptop and other expensive things laid haphazard and underthings helps out. Living in a lower income area, I call it "urban camouflage" security. I could afford to fix somethings on my car and house but it'd be for ego cosmetics and not structural necessity.

Kentin Waits's picture

I love the term, "urban camouflage" -- a perfect descriptor. Thanks for sharing!

Guest's picture
Mrs. $

What a great idea. I love creativity and people who think outside of the box.

Guest's picture
Pat S.

Anyone else notice, its the actual security truck that got broken into. Pretty bad neighborhood, huh?

Guest's picture
Jeep Guy

I took a far different path 5 years ago when I purchased my Jeep Wrangler. If I've left it in the car you can have it if you really want it, though I ask you leave my kids' booster seats behind. Granted my vehicle doesn't frequent bad neighborhoods but it does spend it's nights in a carport, not a garage.

I never lock it even if the softop is up. Sure it's a tad inconvient occasionally taking my laptop into the grocery store on the way home from work but I have little fear of stuff getting stolen and I have no annoying alarm. Quite liberating. During the summer the top is always down and I don't even need to change my habbits. Heck, this summer I may even get around to taking the doors off.

Guest's picture

There's not really any stopping people from stealing out of cars, so my solution is to make my car less tempting than other people's. I use the opposite of urban camouflage. When you look in my car, you don't see anything. It looks like it came off the showroom floor except maybe a bit of dust and such. No GPS, no iPod, no cds, no loose change, no junk, no garbage, no anything. The car is also always locked with the car alarm on. They try the door handle, the lights flash, so they know it's got an alarm. Why set the alarm off and have to grab and run when they see nothing to grab? It's just a bad idea. So they move on and look for easier marks.

My sister uses the opposite method because she drives a soft top jeep. As many people with a soft top do, she leaves the doors unlocked. She uses urban camoflage too. Anyone who leaves a bunch of stuff in their car, but leaves the doors unlocked, probably isn't hiding anything worth it, right? And they can check for themselves and find out that it wasn't worth the bother.

Guest's picture

and then I posted it ont he internet so everyone knows the apparent box of recycling in my truck actually hold some goodies.