Don’t become a car thief’s next victim

Although car theft in the United States decreases slightly every year, it’s still a significant problem. According to the Insurance Information Institute (III), the U.S. motor vehicle theft rate in 2007 was 363.3 per 100,000 people. Every 28.8 seconds a car is stolen (2008 FBI data). Theft of components is also a problem, with 75,000 stolen airbags a year reported by the III. The problem is worst in urban areas. The South and West each account for about 36 percent of all car thefts in the country. Taken together, these two regions were the scene of nearly three-quarters of motor vehicle thefts in the United States.

Although vehicle theft has been decreasing every year since 2006, only 59% of stolen vehicles were recovered last year, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau. Car theft is a major problem that can leave you without transportation while you deal with a time-consuming insurance claim. Here are some ways to reduce your chances of becoming a car thief’s next victim.

* Lock up. Newer cars are easier than ever to secure when you step away even for a few minutes, with automatic locks and remote key fobs. Close your sunroof and roll up your windows before you leave. Avoid starting your car to warm it up unless you’re sitting in it. An idling vehicle with the keys in the ignition takes mere seconds to steal and drive away.

* Parking is an issue, both at home and away. At home, use your garage and lock it up, especially night. On-street parking can be a haven for thieves, especially in high-crime areas, so choose spots with good lighting and a good flow of vehicle and pedestrian traffic.

* Don’t give a car thief extra incentive. Take your purse, briefcase, or electronic gadgets with you instead of leaving them in the car. Instead of keeping your car’s paperwork in the glovebox, carry it with you and make copies for other family members. Most of all, don’t deal with your tendency to forget your keys by keeping an extra one attached to the vehicle somehow. Car thieves know all the best spots to find hidden keys, and if they find yours, they don’t even have to break a window to steal your car.

* If you want to add an extra shield of protection, a number of devices are available that can go a long way toward making your car theftproof.

Car security comes in many types and price ranges. At the most basic level, a simple steering wheel lock or brake pedal lock is an inexpensive way to secure your vehicle and is visible to thieves who might be sizing your vehicle up.

A car alarm is a highly effective way to chase thieves away from your car and alert law enforcement in the area. An alarm system is simply a sensing device attached to noisemakers like sirens and horns. Sophisticated alarm systems go beyond the basic door trigger switch found in low-end systems and use motion detectors, sound sensors that pick up the pitch of glass breaking, air pressure detectors that know when a car door is open, and even sensors that know when your vehicle is being driven up a ramp onto a thief’s flatbed trailer.

Immobilizing devices, also known as kill switches, work by disabling vital components necessary to start your car, such as the fuel pump or the battery circuit. Radiofrequency identification devices (RFIDs) only allow your car to start if you use an ignition key that emits an electronic signal.

New tracking technologies have become standard equipment on high-end vehicles. Global positioning systems (GPS) can help law enforcement find your vehicle after a theft. Police can also track a vehicle using a tracking systems with a hidden transmitter to allow police to track the vehicle. An example of this type of system is the LoJack, which operates over half of the states in the U.S. Law enforcement likes these systems because they frequently lead to chop shops and other illegal theft operations and the arrest of criminals.

Certain vehicles are frequent targets for car thieves, especially high-end sport utility vehicles. The Cadillac Escalade and the Hummer were featured last year in an ABC News article on the most stolen cars in the U.S. Models among the least likely to be stolen are the Mercedes E Class, Buick Rainier and Subaru Forester.

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