Preventing Auto Theft

By Chelle Cordero

January 21, 2011 5 min read

The Insurance Information Institute warns that it is nearly impossible to avoid being a victim of auto theft. It's a costly crime that can happen even when precautions are taken.

It still pays to use the safeguards available. According to Claire Wilkinson, the institute's vice president of global issues, "installing anti-theft devices is one way drivers may save money on their auto insurance. Many insurers offer discounts if an anti-theft device is installed." U.S. motor vehicle thefts fell 17 percent from 2008 to 2009, according to an FBI report. "Consumers spend hundreds of millions of dollars on vehicle security devices," Wilkinson adds. Anti-theft devices have proved useful in reducing the incidence of car thefts.

The institute says there are five major myths about auto theft that we should discard: 1) Most thefts occur in unprotected areas. 2) Stolen vehicles usually are found. 3) Insurance always provides a rental car. 4) Anti-theft devices are easy to install. 5) Thieves are not interested in older vehicles.

More than two-thirds of cars that are stolen are taken from private driveways or gated communities. Even though half of stolen vehicles are found, they may be totaled, and if your car is missing for more than six days, don't expect it back. Car insurance doesn't necessarily include car rental coverage; check with your agent. Though there are some aftermarket theft deterrents, many systems need professional installation to ensure maximum efficiency. Older cars may be targeted for theft for their parts. According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, the top five model years stolen in 2005 were 1991, 1995, 1989, 1994 and 1997.

Anti-theft devices include a variety of systems and range from the audible alarm to steering wheel and brake locks. Many late-model vehicles come equipped with passive immobilization systems that include computer chips in the keys that "signal" their engines to start when the keys are turned.

Tracking systems, such as the LoJack system, aid in the recovery of stolen vehicles, as well, and are deterrents to would-be criminals. When a car is stolen, the owner reports the theft to the police, providing the vehicle identification number, or VIN, which is sent quickly to the FBI's National Crime Information Center. That database is cross-checked against LoJack's database. Once the match is found, a signal is sent to turn on the LoJack transponder, which directly communicates with the tracking computers installed in police vehicles and aircraft. This process provides police with a precise location of the stolen vehicle. LoJack is sold through dealerships and directly from the company.

Patrick Clancy, LoJack's vice president of law enforcement, says: "The LoJack system has benefits that go beyond its better than 90 percent stolen vehicle recovery success rate. LoJack helps police track down the criminals behind vehicle theft, which is often committed as part of a much bigger crime."

Another system to consider is OnStar. Using GPS technology, OnStar can pinpoint the location of a stolen vehicle and work with police using exclusive technologies, such as Stolen Vehicle Slowdown and Remote Ignition Block. Remote Ignition Block makes it impossible to restart the vehicle's engine once it has been turned off. With Stolen Vehicle Slowdown, a remote signal is sent to slow the vehicle gradually.

Most anti-theft devices cost between $30 and $1,000. Some of the more popular choices are: audible car alarms, brake pedal lock or steering wheel lock, personal alarm pagers, passive immobilizer, and GPS vehicle tracking. Passive immobilizers are built in to the keys car owners get with their new cars, and replacement keys must be ordered from the manufacturer.

In addition to installing anti-theft devices, a few common-sense things you can do to reduce your risk of car theft are: Lock your car doors, and close the windows and sunroof. Don't forget to take your keys with you. Look where you typically park your car; if you have an alarm, would you be able to hear it? Discourage thieves with indicator lights, window decals and heavy-gauge steel objects, such as steering wheel or tire locks. Know how to properly place or arm your car security system.

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