Car thefts have been on the rise over the last couple of years. In addition to the major inconvenience a stolen vehicle has on its owner, it’s also a major expense. According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, auto theft costs Canadians close to a billion dollars a year – this includes costs to repair or replace vehicles (which impacts insurance rates), police and court costs, and millions more for correctional services related to criminal convictions.
To help us all protect our vehicles (and our wallets), we spoke with Staff Sergeant, Sam Cosentino of the Toronto Police services, to get his advice on deterring a would-be car thief.
“While you can’t always stop a thief who is determined to steal a particular car, there are ways you can reduce opportunity for a theft,” says Cosentino.
Simple things you can do to help protect your car from theft
1. Park Smart:
If you have a garage, use it. This means keeping the garage door closed and the door to your house locked too. “Out of sight, out of mind,” says Cosentino. It’s also easier to take a car that’s out on the street. If you must park outside, be sure to park in well-lit areas and use your parking brake. If parking in your driveway, park a front-wheel-drive vehicle in front first, and back in a rear-wheel-drive, which will make it harder to tow away. If you have two vehicles, park the less expensive vehicle behind the more expensive one.
2. Lock it up:
As simple as it sounds, most thefts are crimes of opportunity. A thief looking to take a car is more likely to try the one whose owner was kind enough to complete the first step. So be sure to always lock the doors, roll up the windows and close the sunroof.
3. Don’t give them the keys:
Never leave keys in the vehicle, even if you’re just stepping away for a minute or the vehicle is locked. “It’s surprising how many people have told me they leave a spare key in their car for emergencies. Don’t,” says Cosentino. “Warm-up thefts are a problem in the winter too – where people start their car and then go back inside their house while the vehicle warms up.” Try to maintain control of your keys at all times. “Don’t leave them on the floor next to you while at the gym, and avoid leaving your keys with parking attendants and other strangers too.” Also avoid marking your keys with your name and address in case they are lost. While labeling your keys might help a good Samaritan return your lost keys, someone with less sincere motives will know exactly where to look for your parked car.
4. Beware keyless entry:
While key fobs and push-button starts can come in handy, they have also created a new risk – sometimes called a relay attack. “You have one thief standing by your car with an electronic relay transmitter, and another thief standing close to you, or your house, with a relay amplifier. The amplifier will pick up the signal from your key fob and transmit it to the other device tricking your car into thinking the key is there,” explains Cosentino. When at home, “keep your keys away from windows and doors to make it harder for a transmitter to pick up a signal. Alternatively, you could keep your fob in a metal container, or purchase a key fob blocker pouch that holds your key while in your pocket or purse.” When parking your car, press the lock button on the actual car door while exiting instead of using the key fob to lock the vehicle.
5. ID the vehicle:
Consider purchasing a vehicle equipped with anti-theft labels, or even getting your vehicle identification number (VIN) professionally etched onto each window and other major parts of the car. Not only can these allow the vehicle to be traced and identified more easily after recovery, but it also makes the car less attractive to steal, as it will be harder to sell.
6. Consider an alarm or security system:
“While there are ways around any security system, the more layers of barriers you have, the more likely a thief is to move on to the next vehicle,” says Cosentino. There are several options available:
- Warning Devices: After-market – audible car alarms or wheel – locks.
- Immobilizing Devices: Such as a good-old fashion steering wheel lock, or a brake lock, which require removal before the vehicle can operate.
7. Look into a Tracking System:
This may not prevent a theft, but tracking systems can help locate and recover a stolen vehicle quickly. They emit a signal that allows police or a monitoring service to keep tabs on where the vehicle goes. Self-tracking GPS units are also available and allow vehicle owners to place devices (sometimes small tags) inside the vehicle, allowing them to locate where the car is via their smart phone. While this technology may assist you in finding your car in a large parking lot, never go after a stolen vehicle by yourself. Always report the information you have gathered to the police.
If you find your vehicle broken into or stolen, contact your local police department immediately.
Originally published January 2016