To Lock or Not to Lock?

Tim Cotton

Tim Cotton | Nov 30, 2016

Depending on the zip code you reside in and your personal experience, there are varying opinions on whether locking your car is a good idea.

In a recent Facebook post, I attempted to use humor to urge folks around my city of Bangor, Maine, to lock up their cars. We had an uptick in car burglaries and, over the course of a couple of nights, 14 intrusions were reported. Most folks found that they were missing loose change from the console, a few compact discs, GPS units and other small items.

(Bangor Maine Police Department)

I implored our citizens to, at minimum, take all the valuables from their vehicles and, to add another level of security, I asked that they lock their doors when leaving their cars.

On a side note, it is always interesting to me that people act surprised when they discover their CDs are missing. Many of them have mentioned their disbelief that someone would want “their kind” of music. I have explained time and time again that the person who committed the crime probably did not peruse the discs before slinking off into the night. Miscreants tend to grab the sleeve of discs and later take a look at what they have obtained. In recent years, CDs are more often left behind. Movies for the in-car DVD player are a prime target for theft. 

Maybe the unwanted discs are used as stocking stuffers.  Gheorghe Zamfir, King of the Pan-Flute, can be quite a delight to a child that was expecting a navel orange in the toe of his stocking. All the better if it is a collection or the entire discography.  Nothing says, "comfort and joy" like Zamfir’s well-received, "Return to Romance" disc. 

The movie Frozen is probably a better choice when giving takes the place of receiving (stolen merchandise).

Out of the reported 14 car burglaries, 13 of the cars were unlocked. The owner who did lock his doors found nothing but safety glass sprinkled about like pixie dust because someone used a sledgehammer to gingerly take out the rear window. This burglary was not in the same section of town as the others so it is unlikely that the burglar was the same individual(s). There were also expensive items in clear view from outside of that car. Those goods were gone. 

For metalworking, we'd recommend a ball peen hammer, but for less precision work, a sledge hammer gets the job done fine. (Shakespeare, Wikipedia)

The tool of choice in that burglary was found to have been left outside on the porch of the home, very near to where the car was parked. It doesn’t make the vehicle owner feel any better to realize he had left the entry device in such close proximity to the scene of the crime but it does make a patrol officer feel a little better about how well they patrolled his beat. No one wants to find out that they did not see a pedestrian in dark clothing carrying around a 10-pound sledgehammer. Hopefully if an officer were to come across someone like that they would at least attempt a conversation about the uncommon "fitness" accoutrement. Crossfit for crooks. 

Some feedback on the post led me to deduce that many citizens believe it is far better to leave their cars unlocked in order to avoid having their windows broken. On the surface it might make sense.  From my perspective and experience, it is far more unlikely that a car burglar will break your window as most are trying to avoid being caught. This non-empirical self study cannot be taken into account if someone leaves their new iPad on the dash, or a Gucci purse on the front seat. 

Step 1: Smash. Step 2: Grab. (Kafziel, Wikipedia)

What about car theft?  In our area of the country, most of the cars that are stolen have very accessible ignition keys left behind in the car. The ignition would be the most common spot, followed by the console, floorboard, glove box, and sometimes on top of a tire. However, with that said, it is a rare day in our part of the world that a car is stolen. It is not one of our most pressing problems. 

I attribute it to the fact that many of us choose to drive middle- to lower-tier vehicles. Most thieves are looking for something a little more flashy than a GMC pickup that could use a couple of cab corners and a rocker panel. Rust is a more formidable enemy than any car thief will ever be. 

A thief will pass on your old truck; rust is less discerning.

In the winter, when most folks leave their cars running for a "good long time" to warm them up, they leave them in the driveway, unlocked and unprotected. Even then, our car theft problems are few. I have always attributed it to the fact that no one wants to steal a cold car, at least until the frost is off the windshield, and that can take some time. 

Vehicles with soft tops certainly add quandary to the research. I saw that many Jeep owners believe it is futile and do not want to replace canvas. I understand that. I have owned a few CJs, two TJs , and one YJ.  I did lock the vehicles when I was in a well-lit area and left them unlocked in locations that were out of the way. I never left anything of value in view. I used a cable lock on my tool box handle to at least try to slow down the thief that was looking to cut and run. I have to say I was always worried that someone would cut the top. It never happened. 

As for the modern convertible, I think I would probably lock the door and stick with the standard removal of anything of value. A slashed roof can set you back some major coin but we don’t see that very often around here. 

Cars that could be featured on the television program Hoarders, are rarely broken into. Cars in this category should probably be left open and accessible. The spoils contained within these rolling treasure troves most definitely could be difficult to recover and probably will be very sticky. No one wants that, except the owner. We have had no reports of midnight interventions in this category. 

Definitely leave this one open. Police do not want to be tasked with retrieval of sticky items. (Aric McKeown, Flickr)

It seems pragmatic, at least on the surface, to say that leaving the car unlocked will lead to less damage. I will stick with my recommendation of locking up the car. Taking expensive items out of the car or locking them away in the trunk are obvious tactics. While most trunks are accessible from inside of the motor vehicle, even without a key, it is rare that a thief will go to the trunk after rummaging through a car. 

I did see many comments that stated the insurance company will not compensate you for your losses if the car is left unlocked. Car insurance policies do not typically pay the owner for lost property. The items lost in theft situations are usually covered by your homeowners' policy. If you do not have a homeowners' policy, your items will probably not be covered at all. Keep that in mind.  

Check with your insurer for complete details of what is covered. I am fairly confident that most of you never read all the fine print in your policy. I haven’t. 

I say, lock up your car. What are your thoughts?


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