Say please: Polite ways to deter car thieves

How to deter car thieves

As car thefts surge in San Francisco, residents there are trying gentle strategies for persuading criminals to leave their cars alone.

Some drivers have begun posting notes in car windows that say such things as "Nothing in the car" or "Don't waste your time," according to a June 2015 report by CBS News.

Auto break-ins are up 70 percent over the past three years, according to the report, and window-replacement companies say they're getting numerous calls each day. Prosecutors say getting convictions for car thefts can be difficult, since there often are no witnesses.

San Franciscans aren't the first people to use notes to attempt to deter car thieves. In the early 1990s, when crime surged in New York City, many residents placed notes in their car windows bearing such messages as "No radio" and "No valuables in this car." 

Not all of the cars being stolen are new and pricey. Car thieves often take vehicles that are more than 10 years old so they can be sold for parts, says Chris McGoey, a security consultant and host of the Crime School Podcast.

As a car owner, your goal should be to do things that convince thieves to move on. Here are five ways to politely discourage car thieves.

1. Strip your car of valuables whenever it's vacant

"Make your car less attractive to thieves by removing anything of value from sight," says Karl Newman, president of the NW Insurance Council trade organization in Seattle.

If your car is loaded with valuables that can be seen through the windows, it's more likely to be broken into or stolen than a car with empty seats and nothing visible on the floors, says Frank Scafidi, a spokesman for the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

When you're shopping or running errands, you can't always remove all the valuables from your parked car, but you can keep them in the trunk and out of sight.

2. Have an alarm sticker or a blinking alarm light

Scafidi says the more antitheft devices you have, the safer your car will be. That's because people who break into cars don't want to face a challenge.

A sticker in your window that says your car is protected by an alarm system will make thieves think twice before breaking in and setting off a siren or buzzer. A blinking alarm light performs the same function. This doesn't mean a determined and skilled car thief can't take your car, but he or she will be less likely to do so.

3. Lock your doors

This may sound like a no-brainer, but one of the best things you can do to protect your car from thieves is to lock the doors. Many cars are stolen "simply because the driver left the keys in the vehicle or the doors unlocked," Newman says.

Thieves "take the path of least resistance," Scafidi adds. If you make your car an attractive target with unlocked doors, open windows or keys in the ignition, thieves will find it irresistible.

4. Use a steering wheel lock

Devices that lock your steering wheel in place, such as The Club, are relatively cheap and simple tools that provide a deterrent to theft, says Scafidi. You can find one in the $25 to $50 range and are available at auto parts stores and retail outlets with auto supply departments.

Removing a steering wheel lock is too time-consuming for most car thieves, since they prefer to work as quickly as possible, Scafidi adds.

Often, thieves use a hacksaw to remove these locks, he says. "If you see someone cutting through the steering wheel with a hacksaw, that will generate some attention."

5. Park in a well-lighted place

Parking in a well-lighted place "makes your car less attractive to thieves," says Newman.

Thieves prefer to work in the dark so their activities won't be noticed, says Scafidi. "They shun the light."

If possible, park in a busy area with plenty of foot traffic or in a parking lot with an attendant on duty. If your vehicle is in a well-lighted spot with a lot of people around, car thefts are less likely to go unnoticed.

Ensure you're insured

You can follow all of these steps, but you can't always prevent car theft. To stay financially prepared, maintain your car insurance. Auto theft is covered under comprehensive insurance, Newman says, and it pays claims for fire, vandalism and weather-related damage, including earthquakes or floods.

Your costs for comprehensive insurance are affected by the likelihood that your car will be stolen or damaged. The cost of repairing your vehicle also will factor into your premium.

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