Don't Leave Your Keys: Five (Obvious) Ways to Deter Car Theft

Jim Motavalli

Jim Motavalli | Nov 19, 2016

Do Americans seem, I don’t know, not as swift as they used to be? For evidence, look no further than the police report, because we never learn. According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), a car is stolen every 45 seconds. The obvious lesson is to, hmmmm, lock your car maybe?

Don't do this! (Masi27185/ Wikipedia)

Unfortunately, every six-and-a-half minutes someone steals a car with the keys or remote left inside to make it easier for them. NICB calls this “a freebie for the thief.” In 2015, according to the new report, there were 57,096 cases of theft by available key—an increase of 22 percent over 2014. Over the past three years, keys-in-car thefts grew 31 percent.

Car thieves are wheely, wheely annoying! (Frank Schmidt/Flickr)

Logic would dictate these numbers declining, because with modern, keyless remote systems you can enter and start your car with the keys never leaving your pocket. So why take them out and leave them inside?

Sometimes they leave the car behind. (Simon/Flickr)

One has to wonder about Bridgeport, Connecticut. The city motto is “Only in Bridgeport.” The Mayor of Bridgeport lost his SUV, which recently turned up in Kentucky. Twenty-year-old Derrick Johnson Greene evidently had an easy time of it—the doors were unlocked and the keys were in the ignition. Joe Ganim, who’s on his second tour of duty as mayor (the first having been interrupted by his serving seven years after a conviction on graft charges), knows a thing or two about crime. He may not be getting that car back; police have declined to retrieve the car, saying it would cost too much to send a delegation (working overtime) down south to retrieve the car.

All of this is aside from the increase in thefts that happen because of those keyless entry systems—thieves can and do open your doors remotely.

Every week, I read the local police reports to marvel at people who lose expensive computers, tablets and cameras because they left them in their cars. C’mon, man, it doesn’t make sense! I learned at 17 not to tempt thieves when I was walking down a street in New York City and saw approaching me a man wheeling my own bicycle. I had stupidly left it in full view in the back seat of the old Belvedere. (I grabbed the bike from the startled thief, but still suffered a broken window.)

This 2002 Audi was stolen from the owner's driveway in 2008. Don't leave your garage door opener! (Steve Rainwater/Flickr)

OK, here are five tips to deter car thieves:

Don’t Leave Your Keys in the Car. It’s worth pointing out that some insurance companies won’t pay theft claims if they determine that the motorist failed to exercise “reasonable care” against such incidents, which in some cases definitely includes leaving the keys in the ignition or on the console. Car rental companies may also make renters liable in careless theft cases.   

Don’t Leave Your Garage Door Opener Clipped to the Visor. It’s bad enough that thieves are in your car, do you want them in your house, too? This is a particular risk if you leave your car in the driveway in front of said garage. A close relative was the subject of exactly this kind of easy-pickings theft.

Don’t Leave Your Car Running When on Errands. People do this, too, thinking they’ll only be inside for a minute. But as Nick Cage would tell you, the car can be gone in 60 seconds.

Be Careful If You Drive One of These. Here are the five vehicles most stolen in 2015, in descending order: Honda Accord (52,244 thefts); Honda Civic (49,430); Ford full-size pickup (29,396); Chevrolet full-size pickup (27,771); and Toyota Camry (15,446). You could simply avoid buying one of these but thieves have good taste in vehicles. They’re not stealing lemons.

Be Careful If You Live Here. These states have the worst keys-in-car theft record (with occurrence numbers): California (22,580); Texas (11,003); Florida (9,952); Ohio (8,623); and Nevada (8,073). Also beware in these metro areas: Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, Nevada (7,815); Detroit-Warren-Dearborn, Michigan (4,380); Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, Georgia (4,118); Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, Florida (3,847); and Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, Pennsylvania-New Jersey-Delaware-Maryland (3,365).

Hawaii reported not one case of keys-available theft in 2015. So one of three things is occurring: 1) people are smart and don’t leave their keys in the car; 2) they do, but there aren’t any thieves in Hawaii; or 3) police car-theft reporting needs work in the Aloha State.  

Here's sensible animated video about car theft prevention:


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