Learning how to prevent your car from being stolen is a lot easier than tracking it down once it’s gone. Some of the best car theft-prevention devices include remote car starters and kill switches, but you can also go the budget-friendly route with a steering wheel lock and etched windows.
Car Theft Prevention: How to Keep Your Vehicle Safe from Thieves
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1. Always lock your doors and take your keys
People may observe your routine and look for an opportunity to steal your car. You’ll deter them if you’re always in the habit of rolling up the windows, locking the doors, and taking the keys with you every single time you get out of the car.
Don’t make any exceptions—some people steal cars just because it’s easy.1
Remove the valet key
Some cars have a valet key tucked into the glove box or owner’s manual. It can be used to open the doors and drive the car. Make sure you look for and remove the valet key before someone else gets a hold of it.
Valet keys are typically seen in brands like Audi, BMW, Infiniti, Nissan, Subaru, Volkswagen, and Volvo, plus high-end sports cars like Corvettes and Jaguars.
Upgrade to power locks
If you have an older car with manual locks, upgrade to power locks. You’re less likely to forget to lock a door when you have to press only one button.
Buy one power lock actuator for each door. They’re very affordable, but it’s worth paying a professional to install them correctly. Expect to pay at least $200 for installation.
2. Install a remote car starter
You might be tempted to make one exception to the “don’t leave keys in your car” rule if you enjoy having a toasty car for your morning commute. You pop the keys in the ignition, crank up the heat, and head back into your house for a few minutes.
This ritual makes it all too easy for someone to hop into your car and take off.2
Install a remote car starter instead. Remote car starters turn on the car but don’t allow it to shift gears, so it’s impossible to drive away with the car. You get to stay in your house, push a button, and walk out to a warm car.
Some remote car starters include other features, like a smart car alarm, smartphone app, or ignition kill switch. We like the Crimestopper RS7-G5 best overall, but you can see our other top picks in our full review of the best remote car starters.
With real time location tracking, a vehicle GPS tracker could help law enforcement locate your vehicle if it is stolen.
Whether you use a remote car starter or not, never leave a vehicle running in a closed garage. Deadly carbon monoxide gas will build up.
3. Get a smart car alarm
With a smart car alarm, you don’t have to be within earshot of your car alarm to know something’s wrong. It makes the usual deafening sound to attract witnesses while also sending an alert to your phone.
We like the Carlock 2nd Gen because it gives you additional information, like whether the engine was started or the vehicle was moved.
4. Install a kill switch
Kill switches can be wired to the ignition, fuel line, or battery, but they all do the same thing: prevent the car from starting.
Install a kill switch in a hidden location and flip it every time you get out of the car. Even if someone gets a hold of your car keys, they won’t be able to go anywhere unless they find and flip that switch.
5. Use a steering wheel, brake, or tire lock
One of the more budget-friendly options on our list, a steering wheel lock hooks onto your steering wheel and locks into place with a special key. The long arm of the steering wheel lock bumps into the windshield or console if anyone tries to turn the car.
The sight of a steering wheel lock is enough to deter anyone looking for an easy target, but other people may use power tools to remove it. Pair a steering wheel lock with another anti-theft device for best results.
We recommend the Winner International Club 3000, but you can check out our other top picks in our review of the best steering wheel locks.
Steering wheel lock alternatives include brake locks or tire locks.
6. Etch VIN into windows
Some people steal cars in order to sell individual parts. But it’s risky to sell parts that have an identification number etched on them because they can be traced by law enforcement.
Etching your VIN (vehicle identification number) onto each window of your car tells people you’ve taken steps to protect it from theft. It may not be enough to deter everyone interested in stealing your car, but it will keep some people away.
Plus, it’s affordable and you can do it yourself. Just be sure to wear gloves when using the glass etching kit.
7. Beef up driveway, garage, and streetside security
Car security doesn’t have to start with your car. Get the jump on anyone prowling your property with these home security features:
- Shine outdoor lights on your car’s parking spot.
- Install a floodlight camera for a live video feed from the safety of your home, and use the two-way audio to scare people away.
- Set up a driveway alarm to know when someone crosses onto your property.
- Use contact sensors and tilt sensors on your garage door, service door, and windows to know when someone breaks in.
Vehicle theft FAQ
Motor vehicle thefts in the US occurred at a rate of 246 per 100,000 people in 2021.3
But the chances of a car being stolen partially depends on the vehicle’s make and model. Some brands are owned by a lot of people, so their car parts are easier to sell. For example, full-size Ford Pickups were the most commonly stolen vehicles in 2021.
Make your car harder to steal by adding a steering wheel lock, tire lock, or brake lock—or all three. You can also install a hidden kill switch to confuse anyone who tries to steal your car. They’re likely to give up when the car won’t turn on.
If you have a garage, park your car in it so that it’s out of sight and inaccessible. Take steps to secure your garage against intruders.
Some people take stolen cars apart and then sell individual parts. Others steal cars to drive while committing a different crime so that the license plate number can’t be traced back to them. Finally, some thieves report taking cars just to impress friends.
Related articles on SafeWise
- Imre Namath, The College of Wooster, “Why Steal Cars, Why Not? Current Trends in Car Theft,” 2013. Accessed January 3, 2022.
- Georgia Worrell, Longmont Leader, “Longmont Police Department Warns Against a Specific Kind of Automobile Theft This Winter,” November 29, 2021. Accessed January 3, 2022.
- Insurify Insights, “The 10 Most Stolen Cars in America,” November 3, 2021. Accessed January 3, 2022.
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