No matter where you live or where you go, there’s a possibility that your car may be broken into, or even stolen. Nothing can deter every thief, of course, but there are steps you can take to help protect your car, and even yourself, every time you park.
“You need to be aware,” says Brian Burt, founder and CEO of Trusted Auto Glass. “We get hundreds of calls every week for break-ins. Your best bet is to be conscious that it can happen, so you’ll be more likely to follow the advice.”
You should always try to make your car as difficult to steal as possible, give thieves the impression there’s nothing worth breaking in to get, and consider your personal safety when you’re leaving or going back to your car.
KEEP YOUR CAR FROM DISAPPEARING
Car immobilizers—which keep the car from starting if you don’t use the right key—have been required equipment in cars sold in Canada since the 2008 model year. They do make a difference, and if your car is older and doesn’t have one, you might consider installing an aftermarket version.
But Burt also favours highly-visible deterrents, such as a steering wheel club or pedal lock. Thieves need to work quickly, and anything that’s going to eat up time while they disable it could send them looking for another victim. Use a car cover, if you have one, any time you’re leaving the vehicle alone for a few days.
When you’re in a parking garage, choose a spot in a well-travelled and well-lit area, but not right at the door. A lonely spot off in the corner gives a thief time to work without being detected, while a place by the door lets him get out in a hurry.
Never leave your car running, or the keys inside it, even when you’re just stepping into a store or paying for your gas. It only takes a few seconds for someone to jump in and take off.
Once you’re home, be careful where you put your keys. Most people tend to hang them up or toss them on a table close to the door. Make sure they’re not visible to someone looking in. In the middle of the night, it’s likely you won’t even get downstairs before someone breaks the glass, grabs the keys, and drives away in your car.
And your spare key? Find a better place than in a magnetized box stuck inside the wheel well. That’s the first place thieves look.
KEEP YOUR STUFF SAFE
Keep everything hidden. If your windows are clear, consider tinting them, so it’s harder to see inside. This can be especially important on a hatchback or SUV, where you don’t have a separate trunk for storage.
Small items can go into the glovebox, centre console, or even under the seats, while larger items should go in the trunk. It’s best to do this before you leave home, if possible. Thieves sometimes sit in parking lots, watching people tuck stuff away. Not only do they know what you have, but now they know where it is.
If you have a hatchback, pull the cargo cover over your items (if you don’t have one, consider investing in one). Many vehicles have storage bins under the lift-up cargo floor, too.
Burt warns not to tuck away everything, though. If something has no value, such as your old gym shoes, leave them out. If you hide them in a bag, no one knows what’s in there, and it might have them breaking in to find out.
And don’t leave “indicators,” such as charging cords or GPS holders. The device may be in your pocket or bag, but a thief might suspect it’s been stashed in the glove box and could go looking for it.
KEEP YOURSELF SAFE
Remember that well-lit, well-travelled advice when you’re parking. Be aware of your surroundings when you’re in a parking garage, and pay attention. This isn’t the time to be walking and texting. Check your back seat before you get into your vehicle.
If your car has a navigation system, don’t program your address into the “home” button. If your car is stolen, the thief can drive right to your house, and if your car has a garage door opener, he can get inside. Instead, program an address a few blocks away. If you need to use the “home” feature, it’ll get you back into familiar territory.
OFF ON VACATION?
Nothing will ruin a vacation faster than having your car or your stuff stolen, so take extra precautions when you’re away. Your license plate—or even the dealer’s badge on the trunk, if you don’t leave the province—can mark you as an out-of-towner. Some jurisdictions won’t allow car rental companies to put their name on vehicles, but most will still have a telltale bar code on the windshield.
You’re already a target, so take extra precautions. If you can, leave anything you don’t need in your hotel room. Be especially careful at the beach, where thieves know that many people leave their wallets or purses in the car.
When booking your hotel, consider one that’s farther off the highway, especially if you’re driving something desirable, such as a luxury car, or a truck and trailer. Hotels right beside the highway ramp are hotspots for thieves, since they can make a quick getaway and be many kilometres away before you even realize your vehicle is missing.
All of this may seem like overkill, but break-ins do happen—many thousands of them a year—and as Burt says, being aware is half the battle. A few precautions and a bit of care can make all the difference.