Best tips and products to prevent car theft

I live in an area with a lot of car theft. How can I help prevent my car from being stolen?

According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, almost 24 percent of Americans surveyed had antitheft devices installed on their vehicles, although 25 percent indicated that they did not always activate the devices. There are two options available when purchasing many auto theft prevention devices. Passive devices automatically arm themselves when the vehicle is turned off, the ignition key removed, and the car door closed. In contrast, active devices require some separate and independent action before they are activated, such as pushing a button or installing a steering wheel lock.

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There are many devices available that are designed to reduce the risk of automobile theft, including warning devices, immobilizing devices, and tracking devices.

Warning Devices

These visible or audible devices alert thieves that the vehicle is protected. Warning devices include the following.

  • Audible alarms release loud warning sounds if the doors, hood, or trunk are opened by a thief or if glass is broken. These products cost between $200 and $1,000, although critics argue that these are limited in their effectiveness.
  • Personal alarm pagers directly alert only the owner if the car is being broken into, although many of these devices have a limited range. Costs range from $200 to $400.
  • Visible steering wheel locks, costing between $25 and $100, prevent the steering wheel from being turned. The most popular brand is "The Club," a steel bar that clamps on the steering wheel.
  • Steering column collars protect entry to the ignition through the steering column and cost between $80 and $200.
  • Brake locks immobilize one of the strongest parts of the car—the solid steel brake pedal. The combined strength of the steel brake pedal and the solid steel auto lock makes the device very difficult for a thief to remove. Costs range from $30 to $60.
  • Wheel locks protect wheels and tires from theft. Ford sells these hardened locks, which simply replace a lug on each wheel. The kit includes four locks and a key, with a price range between $38 and $46. More visibly deterring and expensive tire locks are similar to circular steel boots used by many larger police departments. Costs for this product range from $80 to $300.
  • Theft deterrent decals typically identify that the vehicle is protected by an alarm system or a national theft prevention company. Typical cost ranges from $2 to $5.
  • Theft deterrent decals utilized in conjunction with local police departments also involve window decals. The difference is that the police department is authorized to stop vehicles with this clearly visible decal during certain early morning hours, such as between 1:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m., a time when most vehicle owners are in bed and when thieves abound.
  • Window etching involves etching the VIN onto the windows as well as other parts to discourage thieves and also assists in recovering the vehicle if it is stolen. This etching typically costs between $20 and $100.
  • Laminated glass is offered on many vehicles for its antitheft features. For example, many Lexus and BMW models offer this type of glass. In one study, it took testers five times as long to break through laminated glass as compared to ordinary glass. This glass has the added safety benefit of not shattering when broken. By holding together in a rollover accident, they could keep heads, arms, and bodies in the car. However, laminated glass costs about five times more than regular tempered glass and that translates into an approximate $300 option.

Immobilizing Device

These devices prevent thieves from bypassing the ignition system and hot-wiring the vehicle. Many auto manufacturers now offer computer chips in ignition keys as standard equipment, and these "smart keys" have proven to be fairly effective and easy-to-use loss prevention devices. Replacement keys can cost from $30 to $75. Other examples of immobilizing devices include high security locks and keys; fuse cut-offs; kill switches; and starter, ignition, and fuel disablement products. These devices come in a wide variety of costs. For example, kill switches costs range from $10 to $125.

Electronic Tracking Device

This protective device emits a signal to the police department or a central monitoring station when the vehicle is stolen. This device has proven very effective in assisting law enforcement in the recovery of vehicles before they are stripped or chopped up. Average costs range from $400 to $1,500. Fortunately, greater competition and lower technology costs are gradually reducing prices.

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Vehicle Theft Prevention Tips

Numerous law enforcement agencies compile lists of basic auto theft prevention tips for consumers, a summary of which follows.

  • When temporarily leaving your vehicle, never leave the vehicle running or with the keys in the ignition.
  • Always lock the car and roll up the windows, even if it is in your driveway. If you have a garage, park your car in it and close and lock the garage door.
  • Park in busy, well-lit areas.
  • When purchasing auto stereo equipment, choose items that can be removed and locked in the trunk.
  • When using valet parking or taking your car in for repairs, leave just the ignition key with the attendant.
  • Turn your wheels sharply toward the curb when parking since this makes it extra difficult for thieves to tow the vehicle. Always use your emergency brake and the transmission in park or left in gear.
  • If you are leaving your car unattended for an extended period of time, remove the electronic ignition fuse, rotor, distributor, coil wire, or otherwise disable the vehicle.

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