Auto Theft: Prevention and Next Steps

It’s just another brisk summer morning and you step outside in a rush, eyes down digging in your bag to check for your phone, keys in hand. You look up at the driveway. Your jaw drops as your brain tries to process what you’re seeing – or rather, not seeing. Where is your car?

This scene plays out over and over across the country every single day, whether it be in a garage, a driveway, or a parking lot. According to Property Casualty 360, “a vehicle was reported stolen every 40.9 seconds in the United States in 2017.” And it can happen to anyone, any car, anywhere. Not only can an auto theft be a major inconvenience, it can also leave you feeling exposed and vulnerable.

According to NHTSA “in 2017, more than three-quarters of a million vehicles were stolen in the United States—and nearly half of those thefts were due to driver error.” This begs the question, what can you do to prevent this from happening to you?

Tips to Prevent Auto Theft

As noted above, a large amount of car thefts can be prevented if drivers take some steps to ensure that they are leaving their car in the most secure manner possible.

When you park and exit your car, ensure that all the doors are locked, all the windows are rolled up all the way, and you take your keys with you. That last part also means that you should never leave your car

running unattended, even if you are only making a quick run inside or trying to warm your car up on a cold winter day. Thieves will look for the path of least resistance and a car that is already running, has a key left in it, or is easy to get into through an open door or window, will be a better target for them.

If possible, also try to park your vehicle in a well-lit, highly visible area. If you park in a dark or secluded spot, it is less likely that someone would spot a thief trying to break into your vehicle. Whereas, in a brighter, highly trafficked area, thieves know they are likely to be spotted and therefore likely won’t risk attempting to break in.  

Another rule of thumb is to never leave anything valuable in your vehicle, especially in a spot where it can easily be seen. Thieves are more likely to invest time and effort into breaking into and/or stealing a car that has additional value inside of it. According to NHTSA, items such as radios, wheel covers, GPS units, cell phones, iPads, laptops, and purses are popular target items.

Protect Your Vehicle

Antitheft systems, which range from devices that make a vehicle more difficult to steal to components that make finding and recovering vehicles easier, are a great option to bolster your security and peace of mind. There are several main categories these systems fall into, and NHTSA gives a brief explanation of each:

  • Audible Devices: These devices, such as a horn alarm, deter theft by bringing attention to an unauthorized attempt to steal or enter a vehicle.
  • Visible Devices: Visible devices create a visual threat/warning/deterrence, such as the use of steering-wheel locks, as well as theft-deterrent decals, flashing lights, and window etching.
  • Immobilizing-Type Devices: These prevent thieves from bypassing a vehicle’s ignition system and hot-wiring the vehicle. Some incorporate computer chips in ignition keys or disable the flow of electricity or fuel to the engine.
  • Vehicle Recovery Systems: These devices use electronic transmission technology that help law enforcement reveal the location of stolen vehicles—and possibly catch the thief in the act.

What to do if your car is stolen?

Even if you’ve done your best to protect your vehicle, it is possible that it could be stolen. If you ever find yourself a victim of vehicle theft, you should follow these steps from NHTSA:

  • Contact police immediately to file a stolen-vehicle report. You will need a copy of the police report and/or a case number to provide to your insurance company. You may also be asked to provide the following information: license plate number; make, model, and color of your vehicle; VIN number; and any identifying characteristics.
  • Contact your insurance company to file a claim within 24 hours of your vehicle being stolen.
  • If you find your vehicle before authorities do, contact the police and your insurance company immediately.


NHTSA, “Vehicle Theft Prevention”

Property Casualty 360, “6 Tips to Prevent Auto Theft”