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How to keep your car from getting stolen

We rely on our cars every day to get us where we need to go, but what do you do when your primary mode of transportation disappears? A motor vehicle is stolen every 44 seconds in the United States and July and August are the top two months for vehicle theft. Now a new report finds that after eight years of decline thefts are on the rise again.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau has released a list of hot spots for vehicle theft for 2012 and found that eight of the 10 regions are in California and the remaining two are in Washington state. Overall the West region--which includes Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming--was most affected with a 10.6 percent increase in thefts over the previous year. Preliminary 2012 FBI figures estimate a 1.3 percent increase in 2012 overall across the country (new FBI data will be released in the fall).

Here are the top 10 regions for theft in 2012

Rank Region
#1 Modesto, CA
#2 Fresno, CA
#3 Bakersfield-Delano, CA
#4 Stockton, CA
#5 Yakima, WA
#6 San Francisco/Oakland/Hayward, CA
#7 San Jose/Sunnyvale/Santa Clara, CA
#8 Vallejo/Farifield, CA
#9 Spokeane/Spokeane Valley, WA
#10 Redding, CA

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 40 to 50 percent of vehicle theft is due to driver error and only about half the vehicles are recovered. The most popular items that attract thieves are the engine, transmission, air bags, radios, GPS navigation systems, iPods, laptops, and purses.

Driver assistance systems like GM's OnStar and Hyundai BlueLink can help recover stolen vehicles through tracking systems that can notify owners and police, slow down the vehicle, and immobilize it. If you don't have those systems, there are other ways owners can take control of their vehicle's safety. Here are a few tips to help you prevent your car from being on the hot list.

  • Lock your car. It is common sense that many thefts happen to unlocked vehicles. The goal is to make your car less desirable than others, and a locked door is a simple deterrent.
  • Never leave your car running unattended and always take your keys with you. Otherwise, you are inviting thieves to drive off with your ride.
  • Keep windows closed when you park and leave your vehicle. A slender arm or clothes hanger can reach in through even a narrow opening to unlock the door.
  • Don't store valuables or expensive electronics in plain sight. Don't create an unnecessary temptation: take portable devices with you.
  • Park in a well-lighted, public place when running errands and at home. Also, a car will be safer in a garage than in a driveway or at a curb.
  • Use a visual warning device, such as a blinking light, as a deterrent. An alarm can be effective, but it is even better if the crook doesn't break into the vehicle in the first place. If your car is not factory-equipped with these features, they can be installed at a local automotive stereo shop.
  • Smart keys or a fuel cut-off system, aka engine immobilizer, are standard on many late-model cars and can add security. Thieves are less likely to steal a car they cannot start.
  • For advanced protection, install a GPS or radio frequency tracking system in your vehicle to help police find it.

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