Technology has helped to prevent auto theft in significant ways. Engine immobilizers, keyless entry and ignition, audible alarms and vehicle recovery systems have generally made cars harder to steal and easier to recover. But even with these theft protection improvements, criminals have found new ways to steal cars.
In fact, after a 26-year decline in the United States, auto theft has risen substantially the past few years. Between 2019-2021, the increase was 16.5% countrywide, with some states experiencing increases of 74% to 79%.
Today’s thefts are often the product of opportunity, with would-be thieves looking for unsuspecting drivers who leave their cars unattended. Criminals are also stealing cars using updated tactics, getting tips on social media, and targeting specific auto parts instead of the entire vehicle.
Recent Trends in Auto Thefts
As anti-theft innovation has advanced, thieves have gotten more creative. They now use techniques like hijacking the signal from your key fob to open your vehicle and watching online videos that describe how to easily take certain cars.
A recent social media trend involves viral videos encouraging and showing potential thieves how to hotwire specific vehicles. This has caused a national rise in thefts of these cars.
Additionally, the United States has experienced a major growth in catalytic converter thefts. This car part—which lessens harmful emissions and contains valuable metals—can be removed and sold by thieves for large profits while leaving you with costly repairs.
Protecting Your Car and Yourself
Despite these trends, there are ways to help protect your vehicle and yourself.
Stow Valuables Before You Park – Many thieves watch parking lots looking for people who leave valuables in their cars. Stow valuables out of sight before you park so as not to attract the attention of thieves.
Park in Plain Sight – Always remember to park your car in a safe and visible location. Thieves will act even in broad daylight if they can find cover. Look for well-lit areas and open, unblocked spaces when you park. Also, consider buying an anti-theft device designed for preventing catalytic converter theft.
Do Not Leave Your Vehicle Unattended While Idling – Even if you’re just making a brief stop, lock your car and always take your keys and key fob with you. Thieves tend to frequent convenience store parking lots and gas stations, where people may leave their cars running and keys in the ignition. During cold weather, it might be tempting to let your vehicle idle to warm up. This makes an inviting target for car thieves.
Hide All Electronic Cords – Avoid unintentional visual tips for thieves, which include leaving chargers for phones, USB cords, gadgets, and holsters for navigational equipment in plain sight.
Take Precautions and Make Tracing Your Car Easier – When leaving your car, lock all doors, roll up the windows and remove the keys. If you have one, activate the alarm and set the parking brake. Install wheel locks to prevent theft of wheels and tires. Consider an after-market steering wheel/brake lock if you are in a high-crime area. Having your vehicle identification number etched on all windows, and even the catalytic converter, can also help deter criminals.
If You Believe Your Car Was Stolen
Though taking safety precautions can help to lower the chances of your car being taken, it’s still possible for theft to occur. Here are some actions you can take if you believe your car was stolen:
Verify that it actually was stolen and not parked or moved by someone else with access to
Call the police.
If you have a vehicle recovery device or vehicle assistance plan or system, contact the company to activate the locator.
Notify your agent or insurance company.
If your car is stolen or gets damaged by thieves removing valuable parts, it can be an expensive problem to fix. Auto theft can also lead to—at least temporarily—a loss of transportation to work, school, the grocery store and more.