Each year, $1.255 billion in personal items and accessories are stolen from vehicles in about 1.85 million thefts; and for every theft, experts estimate, there are several break-ins and attempted break-ins.

Not surprisingly, the costs from break-ins can be significant. Owners can place an insurance claim for vehicle damages (shattered glass or a broken lock) as well as the replacement of a factory audio system if it's been stolen, but only if comprehensive coverage is a part of the policy. Multiple claims for break-ins, in addition to the zip code where you park your car, can have a significant impact on your insurance policy.

Before you decide to move out of your zip code to attract a better insurance rate, keep these tips in mind. With these common sense habits and preventative measures, you can greatly reduce the chances your vehicle will become a target.

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1. Lock Your Doors
While this piece of advice should be a no-brainer, up to a quarter of vehicle thefts are from unlocked cars, according to some law enforcement agencies. Even if you're running into the store for a Coke, that's too long to leave your vehicle's contents open for the taking. Simply locking the doors will deter those who might just be waiting around for an easy target.

2. Keep it Tidy
Almost any worthless personal item that's visible from the outside--even an empty shopping bag--could be seen as a valuable or a carrier of valuables. If you have a wagon or SUV that leaves your cargo area on display, consider getting a cover. Most of these vehicles can be fitted with inexpensive retractable covers to help keep shopping bags or other belongings out of sight.

3. Conceal all the evidence

Don't leave any bait out for thieves; stow your electronics and accessories well out of sight--or better yet, bring it with you. The evidence alone might be enough to pique the interest of thieves, so hide that too, including power plugs, telltale iPod adapters, or nav-system windshield suction-cup mounts, and even put the cigarette lighter back in place.

4. Stash Before (Not After) You Park
Get in the habit of putting shopping bags in the trunk right when you return to the vehicle, rather than after you park at the next place. According to National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) spokesman Frank Scafidi, thieves sometimes linger in busy parking lots looking for valuables being moved out of sight. Don't display to them what you have.

5. Completely Close Windows and Sunroofs
No, it's not just because thieves might reach in through the gap and open your locks with a coat hanger. Open windows will disable the pressure sensor in some car alarms, leaving the vehicle more vulnerable to break-in and potentially giving thieves more time before the alarm sounds.

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6. Get an Alarm
If you don't have an alarm system, get one. The noise alone may be enough to scare away an inexperienced thief and prevent the break-in. Factory-option alarm systems are generally best, but a carefully installed, properly calibrated aftermarket system can provide just as much safety. Beware, many less-expensive new cars have remote entry but not a true alarm. In some instances you may be eligible for an auto insurance policy discount from the installation of your alarm as well.

7. Stick With Your Original Audio System
Thefts of car audio components are on the decline, but having an aftermarket system still makes a car more attractive to thieves thinking of breaking in. There's no black market to speak of for factory stereos, and they've become much better sounding in recent years. Beyond that, an original audio system can often fall under your auto insurance policy during a theft claim, where a custom unit is more difficult to file in a claim (if at all).

8. Park for Visibility
Park in a busy, well-lit area, and avoid concealment from larger vehicles, fences, or foliage. Except for the most brazen thieves, the greater the chances are that someone might see a crime in progress, the lower the chances are that the potential thief will attempt it.

9. Get physical
A significant portion of vehicles are broken into with the intent of stealing the vehicle itself, so combining several visible simple, inexpensive physical theft deterrents like steering wheel locks (The Club), steering column collars, or brake pedal locks may discourage the would-be thief from breaking in and trying.

10. Layer your Defenses
That's the strategy recommended by the NICB; layers include warning devices such as alarms, wheel etching, or decals; immobilizers; and even tracking systems (LoJack is one). "None of them are foolproof, but if they're used in tandem they can really keep the chances down," agrees Loretta Worters, vice president of the Insurance Information Institute.

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