How to get your car stolen

Photo: mwichary

Every 26.4 seconds, a vehicle is stolen in the U.S.* If you want yours to be one of those vehicles, just follow these simple guidelines and the thief will be driving away in your nice set of wheels before you can say “follow that car.”

1: Own one of the top 10 most stolen cars in America

A report put out by the NICB in 2007 lists the following cars as the most stolen in the nation (the list varies slightly by state, go to the NICB to find your specific area). No surprise to learn that the ever reliable Honda tops the list, again.

1: 1995 Honda Civic

2: 1991 Honda Accord

3: 1989 Toyota Camry

4: 1997 Ford F-150 Series Pickup

5: 2005 Dodge Ram Pickup

6: 1994 Chevy C/K 1500 Pickup

7: 1994 Nissan Sentra

8: 1994 Dodge Caravan

9: 1994 Saturn SL

10: 1990 Acura Integra

If you’re wondering where all the fancy cars are (Mercedes, Hummer, Porsche etc), just put yourself in the position of a thief. These cars are top-dollar items and are much more difficult to “get rid of.” The good old ’95 Civic is everywhere. It hardly draws attention to itself.

2: Live in California

6 of the top 10 cities for car theft are in California (if you live in Modesto and own a ’95 Civic, the odds are really running high that you'll be the victim of a car thief). Here’s how they rank:

Rank** Metropolitan Statistical Area Vehicles stolen
1 Modesto, CA 7,071
2 Las Vegas/Paradise, NV 22,465
3 Stockton, CA 7,586
4 Phoenix/Mesa/Scottsdale, AZ 41,000
5 Visalia/Porterville, CA 4,257
6 Seattle/Tacoma/Bellevue, WA 33,494
7 Sacramento/Arden-Arcade/Roseville, CA 20,268
8 San Diego/Carlsbad/San Marcos, CA 28,845
9 Fresno, CA 8,478
10 Yakima, WA 2,212

**Ranked by the rate of vehicle thefts reported per 100,000 people based on the 2000 Census. *Source: National Insurance Crime Bureau

3: Leave the keys in the ignition while you run an errand.

Any cop will tell you that car theft is usually a crime of opportunity. A good friend of mine recently fell victim to this. Her husband started up the car to let it warm up, went inside to grab the kids for school, came back outside literally 1 minute later and the car was gone. The same can happen if you pop to the ATM or check the mail. Leave the keys in the car and you’re just asking for trouble.

4: Park at the back of the lot at malls, sporting arenas or even at work.

I know a few people who park way at the back of the lot. They have their reasons, too: it’s good to walk further (fair enough), there’s always a spot at the back, and the favorite is that they’re much less likely to get a dent or ding. That’s all well and good, but thieves like it nice and quiet, away from the crowds. And your shiny, ding-free car just looks even more tempting now. The back of the lot is a car thief’s equivalent of being a kid in a candy store.

5: Don’t get LoJack

Most cars these days come with a factory-installed alarm. It may deter a few criminals but most professional car thieves know how to disable the alarm…and they’re exceptionally quick at it, too.

LoJack however is a different story. It’s linked directly to law enforcement, it can be installed in any number of places on your car, and over 90% of cars stolen with a LoJack system are recovered within 24 hours. If your car isn’t recovered in that time, you get a complete refund of the MSRP of the car. You also get insurance discounts. That’s basically a good way of knowing that these things really do deter thieves. If you’ve got LoJack, car thieves will almost always move on; it’s just not worth the risk.

6: Don’t keep your car in the garage

Sadly, I’m one of these people. We ran out of storage room in the house, we don’t have a basement and so we spilled over into the garage. I park outside now and thus run a much higher risk of having my car stolen. Not only is it more easily accessible, it’s also advertising itself to thieves. “Out of sight, out of mind” is true in this case. If your car is nicely hidden in a locked garage, only a very determined thief (who knows what’s in there) will attempt to break into the garage and then the car.

7: Keep a spare set of keys in the car

How about in some place the thieves would look first, like above the sun visor, in the center console or, better still, in the glove box. That way, if the thief does get into your car, he won’t have to hotwire the car but can instead make an even quicker getaway.

8: Leave your car unlocked

It works every time. Car thieves will often just work their way down a row of cars parked on the street, trying the handle of each one and moving on. And if yours is unlocked, bingo, they’re in. The Arizona police informed me that if you leave your car unlocked, you have a 1 in 30 chance of having it stolen. Those are pretty good odds, right? Combine this with number 6 and you’ve handed your car to the thief on a silver platter.

9: Leave your valuables clearly visible in the car

Give the would-be thief a reason to break the window or jimmy the lock. Once they’re in and rummaging around for jewelry, money, personal information and credit cards, they may just decide to take the whole car. One crime leads to another.

10: Park in a dimly-lit area

Street lighting; overhead lighting in parking lots; the glow from late night stores; all of these areas illuminate the car thief while at work. Better to park in an area with no lighting, so that the criminal can get to work under cover of darkness.

These are my top ten tips for improving your chances of getting your car stolen. Don’t follow them and hopefully you won’t be calling to report a stolen car any time soon.

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Guest's picture

The best way to keep your car from being stolen is not to own one in the first place. I'm a Zipcar member. My car will never be stolen.

Guest's picture

About car ownership (by Beth). Using that line of reasoning, my Lear jet and my 120 foot yacht won't ever get stolen either -- since I don't own a yacht nor a Lear jet.

A Zipcar can still be stolen; it might not be yours. But if it should get stolen/totalled/damaged while under your responsibility/rental, who's got some 'splaining to do?

Guest's picture

DON'T do what Donny Don't does.

Guest's picture

My husband keeps a backup key in his wallet, after I read about it in an article someplace. It means that when he does accidentally lock his keys in the car, he's fine. It's happened a few times in the last few years, so I know it's been worth the few dollars to get that key made. :)

And he discovered that it's very handy to have that key to start the car in winter mornings, to let it start warming while he gathers his lunch. The car can be locked for that few minutes away.

Guest's picture

Where I live there are shared garages (like 6 alltogether). Because my neighbours all have automatic garage door openers despite me telling them how easy these are to open I park my car outside under a street lamp where it is clearly visible from every window around here (suburbs, so many houses).
In two years there has been two breakins in the garage, both times the thieves emptied all the cars, leaving mine untouched.

Guest's picture
Andrea D

Ah, I'm so proud to see Yakima on that list. I'm not from Yakima, but just glad that SOMEWHERE outside of the SW and California got a mention.

Guest's picture

I would like to dispute Paul's interpretation of the car theft statistics by make/model/year. Paul suggests that the fancy cars aren't on the "most stolen" list because they are harder to move for thieves, which is a valid point, but don't think the statistics given support it.

I think it's MUCH more likely that fancy cars aren't on that list is because there are many more average cars on the road, and far fewer of the fancy cars on the road. What percentage of '95 Honda civics are stolen versus the number of '95 Honda civics on the road?

Say there are 10,000 '95 Honda civics on the road and 100 of them get stolen, and say there are 100 pretty BMW's on the road and 20 of them get stolen. Now, far fewer BMW's are stolen in total, but theft of existing Honda's is 1% and theft of existing BMW's is 20% HUGE DIFFERENCE!

Which is why if you own a beautiful fancy car, you never park it on the street in a bad neighborhood. Because if a car thief sees your BMW next to a beat up Honda, if he's willing to steal and resell a car, which is more worth the effort?

Guest's picture

Nice work using statistics; Right on!!

However, if I may suggest, one may not want to use the time-honored "political" word-twisting approach; i.e., "beat up Honda" vs "beautiful fancy......BMW".

What if the Honda was in mint condition or one of the new fancy racers the young folks create? Or, perhaps, the Beemer wasn't totally "up to par"? Your argument stills holds, but it is more fair comparison and makes your argument "stand on all four legs", and leaves no room for counter-argument.

Again, nice work!!

Guest's picture

Report the theft to police as soon as you find out. I cannot stress this enough. The longer a thief has with the car, the longer the thief has to find, remove and disable any OEM or aftermarket tracking system.