The last few years have seen a steep rise in vehicle theft, as car thieves figure out ways to get around modern security systems. And it can be hard to track stolen cars, so chances are, if your vehicle’s taken, you might never see it again.
So, if you want to keep it safe, you need to take the initiative. Here we let you know what thieves look for and some tips on how to protect your car.
- Always Make Sure You Lock Your Car Properly
- Check, and Check Again
- Be Careful Where You Park
- Never Leave Your Belongings on Show
- Beef up Your Security
- Get Connected
- Think About Where You keep Your Keys
- What if the Worst Happens?
This should go without saying, but we’ve become so used to locking our cars with a key fob we don’t always pay proper attention, often waving our keys in the general direction of our vehicle as we disappear into the shop. But if your key fob breaks or the battery dies you could leave it unlocked without realising.
Car thieves sometimes just check door handles so to be absolutely sure, stand by your car when you lock it and listen for the ‘clunk’ as it locks. On most models, the indicator lights should flash too, and the wing mirrors may fold inwards. Even if you’re just leaving your car for a few moments, it’s worth checking.
Car thieves are getting savvy, and, according to security experts, there’s a new tool they’re using called a remote key jammer. This is a handheld device, which unfortunately is available online. It allows someone to interrupt the signal from your key fob from up to 100 metres away, leaving your car unlocked and completely unprotected. So, it’s always worth double checking that your car is properly secured. Once you’ve locked your car, try the door handle, or, if your car has a keyless entry system, look through the window to make sure the internal locking mechanism has worked.
If you’re in a hurry, or endlessly circling a busy city centre looking for a place to park, it’s tempting to take the first available space you find. But it’s worth taking a moment or two to think because if you leave your car in a vulnerable spot, it might not be there when you get back. Here are few parking tips to deter the thieves:
- Avoid leaving your car in unsecured areas, such as dark car parks or spots obscured by buildings or trees. Instead, seek out busy, well-lit areas. Thieves are far less likely to target your vehicle if there are lots of people around and plenty of CCTV cameras on show.
- If you’re leaving your car on the street, try to park beneath a lamppost, even if you’re parking up during the day. If your meeting runs long, or you get held up unexpectedly, your car will be well-lit come nightfall.
- If you’re going for a bite to eat, park as close to the windows of the pub or restaurant as possible. Even if you can’t see your vehicle, it will be visible to other diners, which should discourage any would-be thieves.
- Whether you’re leaving your car in a public car park or in your own driveway, always park facing the wall or the garage, and put your wheels on full lock. Car thieves are after easy targets, so if they have to reverse or make complicated manoeuvres to get away, they’ll be less inclined to take the risk. The same applies when you’re parking on the street – turn your wheels towards the kerb to make speedy getaways impossible.
- If you’re travelling to an unfamiliar town or city, do your homework. UK police run a safer parking scheme, with over 5,000 approved car parks throughout the country.
The worst possible thing you can do is leave belongings in your car in plain view. Satnavs, wallets, mobile phones, even a handful of coins in the ashtray can all attract thieves. And, if you can’t take belongings with you, be sure to stash them in a safe place, such as your glove box, boot, or, if you have one, the storage compartment in your central console; bags, clothing, anything that might contain valuables should be stored out of sight.
Don’t forget to remove any wires or connectors for your iPod or smartphone. Also, if there are suction marks on your windscreen from a satnav holder you should wipe them off.
The same goes for paperwork too. Identity theft is at a record high, with more than 90,000 cases reported in the first six months of last year alone, so don’t leave any discarded phone bills or bank statements lying around on your backseat and try not to keep important insurance documents in your glovebox. Something as simple as keeping your car neat and tidy can be a real deterrent.
Most modern cars are fitted with an alarm and immobiliser as standard, but you needn’t stop there. There are plenty of other ways to protect it. Some extra tips include:
- Steering wheel locks. The harder you make it for thieves the better. These fit over your steering wheel, locking it in place, and are a great and highly visible deterrent.
- Handbrake/gearstick lock. Another robust anti-theft device. One of these will protect your vehicle against all but the most determined car thieves.
- Tracking devices. Most high-end brands, such as Audi and Mercedes, have anti-theft software fitted as standard, and, if you own a modern, connected car, there are loads of third-party apps you can get. However, if you’re driving an older model, you might want to consider splashing out on a tracking device. If it is stolen, the police will be able to pinpoint its location and, with a bit of luck, recover your car in one piece.
- VIN etching. This is a real red light for a professional car thief. Having your vehicle’s registration number or the last seven digits of your VIN etched into your windows will make your car extremely difficult to offload and much easier for the police to trace. And it won’t cost the Earth; you can buy an etching kit online for less than £20.
- Window decals. Warning stickers on your windows that let people know your car has an alarm or a tracker will make any would-be thief think twice. Most car thieves are chancers, out for easy prey, so anything you can do to put them off and make them move on to the next vehicle is worthwhile.
- CCTV. Whether you leave your car in your garage or on your driveway, a few strategically placed cameras provide a strong visible deterrent. A basic home CCTV kit won’t cost you an arm and a leg, and it might just help the police catch them.
- Security lights. If you’re on a budget, motion-activated lamps are a great way to beef up your home security. Cheap, simple, and a sure-fire way to spook anyone sneaking around outside your house.
Loads of modern cars now have their own internet connection, and high-end brands such as BMW and Mercedes have their own in-built anti-theft software. And that’s bad news for the criminals. You can get apps, features and plugins which let you turn off your ignition remotely, slow down the engine to prevent high-speed chases, and track your stolen vehicle using GPS. But all this new technology doesn’t mean your connected car is untouchable.
Any device connected to the internet can be hacked, including your car. An experiment involving a Jeep Cherokee showed that hackers can take control of your vehicle if they want.
The hackers accessed the car’s system from over 10 miles away and were able to manipulate the air con, take control of the in-dash display, and ultimately turn off the ignition. Car manufacturers are pumping billions into ironing out these glitches, and, for now, they seem to be winning the war against the cybercriminals. And there are things you can do to protect yourself too:
- If your car starts acting strangely, such as windows going up and down of their own accord or intermittent braking or acceleration, pull over immediately, and switch off the engine. Contact a recovery service, and take your car to a garage or dealership to get it checked.
- Never leave documents in your car that might contain important usernames or passwords.
- Keep up to date with firmware upgrades, just as you would with your tablet or laptop.
- Only ever download apps from trusted sources. A recent study by security company Kaspersky found that Android apps were highly vulnerable to hackers, and while iPhones were found to be much more secure they’re still not perfect.
As car security systems have improved, with alarms and immobilisers fitted as standard, car thieves have had to adapt. And often it’s far easier for criminals to steal the keys themselves, rather than mess around trying to get passed complex security systems.
So, if you want to protect your car you need to think carefully about where you keep your keys. For one, you should never leave car keys near the front door or by an open window.
For years car thieves have used a technique known as ‘fishing’, using a length of wire to hook your keys through the letterbox or window, snatching them from right under your nose. And you need to be vigilant when you’re out and about too. Avoid putting your keys on the table at the pub or restaurant and keep them in a zipped or buttoned pocket.
If your car is stolen, the first thing you should do is call the police. But don’t sit on your hands. The recent ‘pinch and park’ trend has seen car thieves stealing keys, taking the car, and then parking it up for a for a few days or weeks, to make sure it isn’t fitted with a tracking device. If the car doesn’t get picked up by the police they know it’s not tagged.
So, the minute you put the phone down to the police get a friend to drive you around the local area; check side streets, car parks, anywhere a thief might try and hide your car. Who knows, you might just get lucky.
But of course, the best way to safeguard your vehicle is prevention, and, if you follow the tips above, with a bit of luck you’ll never have to deal with the stress of a stolen car.
At Holts, we’re dedicated to keeping your car protected and performing to its best. Click here to visit the homepage and browse our collection of DIY car maintenance products today.