Guard your Car

Sure, the auto theft rate has moderated in the last few years.  We told you that last week in the first portion of this two-part look at auto-related crime.  But the moderating theft rate is of little solace to those who live in Western states, where the crime wave continues unabated, and it won't do much for your peace of mind if you have an in-demand vehicle, because thieves are out there, and they want your car.

So what can you do to keep your car safely in your hands?  We consulted the experts at insurance company GEICO, and they had these suggestions:

Keep your vehicle locked at all times, even while driving. Close all windows and sunroofs, no matter how hot it is, when parking.  And, duh, never leave your keys in the car.

When leaving your car, park in busy, well-lit areas. Thieves prefer to work in the dark. Leave your car in park or in gear with the wheels turned toward the curb or some other obstruction, so the bad guys won't be able to tow it easily.  And don't tempt Fate -- avoid leaving valuables inside your vehicle where passersby can see them.

If thieves wanted to work for a living they would, so capitalize on their laziness by making it hard for them to steal your car.  Install an anti-theft system in your vehicle if it doesn't have one. A mechanism that locks onto the steering wheel can be a very visible sign that you've taken steps to protect your vehicle, while ignition cut-off systems prevent a car from being started. Some new cars come with passive alarms that activate automatically when the key is removed from the ignition, and one aftermarket system emits a signal that can be tracked by the police. Thieves are reluctant to steal vehicles that can be tracked and recovered quickly, so many insurers offer discounts for these types of systems.

Beware of the "bump-and-rob" technique. It works like this:  Carjackers bump your car from the rear, then steal it when you get out to look for damage.  To prevent this gambit, when stopped at a traffic light, leave room to maneuver around the vehicle ahead if you need to. If another car bumps yours and you feel threatened, drive to a well-lit, well-populated area (Times Square comes to mind) before getting out to survey damage. And if you have a cell phone, call the police for assistance.

Do not leave registration or title or the British crown jewels in the car. Too often a car thief is pulled over and gets away from the police because he or she can produce the auto registration. If multiple drivers use the vehicle, the best suggestion is to hide the registration in a secret location that only the owners know, like a Swiss bank or behind the refrigerator.

Look around. Be aware of your surroundings, especially in garages, parking lots and gas stations. If it is your own garage, it should seem familiar to you, so don't panic.

Know where you're going. Avoid known high-crime areas, like downtown Bagdad, even if the alternate route takes a little longer.

If confronted by a carjacker, do not resist. In fact, compliment him on his outfit and ask him if you can get him a drink of water or a Coke.  Remember, cars can be replaced, but you can't.  (Although I'm not sure my wife agrees with this one.)

No stranger to crime, Driving Today Contributing Editor Tom Ripley writes about the car industry and the human condition from his home in Villeperce, France.