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It takes less time for a professional thief to break into your car, start it up and drive away as it does for you to walk into 7-11, plunk down three bucks for a bagel and coffee and emerge to watch your ride recede into the distance. And don't presume your elderly clunker's immune; the most stolen vehicle of 2008, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, was the 1994 Honda Accord.

"We know that thieves never miss an opportunity to make a quick buck by stealing a car," says Joe Wehrle, president and CEO of NICB. "They work weekends, nights and holidays and ironically, they are particularly busy on New Year's Day and Labor Day."

While there isn't any way to stop a crook who really wants your ride and has the tools and know-how to make it happen, the following tips can help your car become a less inviting target and slow down, discourage or actually prevent car theft.

Park in plain sight

Holiday Car Theft

Holiday Number of Thefts
New Year's Day 3,017
Labor Day 2,847
Halloween 2,727
President's Day 2,683
Memorial Day 2,599
Independence Day 2,584
Valentine's Day 2,389
Christmas Eve 1,841
Thanksgiving 1,806
Christmas Day 1,267
New Year's Eve 916

The holidays ranked by number of thefts reported to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) for 2008.

Our natural inclination is to hide something we don't want anyone to steal, but for cars, visibility is the key to safety, say experts. Thieves prefer to work out of sight of people and electronic recording devices, so leave your car in a well-lit, populated area.

Take your keys---always.
If you think this tip falls into the "duh" section of car theft prevention, try Googling the phrase "keys in ignition" or similar and you'll see many trusting souls leave the equivalent of a sign reading "FREE CAR!" hanging from their ignition switches on a daily basis. Car theft is often a crime of opportunity, so shut yours off and pocket your keys even if you're only ducking into a convenience store.

Don't hide your keys anywhere within or outside the car.
You know those magnetic key holders you can buy to store your spare key? Leave it in your house on the fridge, not under bumpers, in the glove compartment or anywhere in the car. Thieves know all the hiding places you do, and probably a few more.

Use a variety of methods to slow would-be thieves.
Car alarms are ubiquitous and often go ignored. When used in tandem with other theft prevention methods, though, they will make a thief naturally try to work faster, and if he comes across other security measures, he may give up altogether and move on. Apply the emergency brake, turn your wheels hard left or right and set the car in "park" or in gear, making it more difficult for you to be quickly towed, and consider using a vehicle recovery system like LoJack or an engine immobilizer device such as Ravelco.

Disable your battery if parking long-term
A thief won't spend time trying to diagnose an apparent engine problem. Consider yanking one of the cable wires to your battery if you're leaving your car parked at an airport or anywhere else where it will sit unattended for more than a few days.

Sign valuable parts
Take the time to embed your Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) on the inside of your trunk, inside your doors, on your sound system components and any other pricey parts thieves like to chop. If you don't feel like doing it yourself, contact your local police precinct or even your insurance company, some of whom offer free VIN etchings.

Go east
California is the number one state for auto theft, according to the National Insurance Crime bureau, with the town of Modesto ranking #1 with 4,235 vehicles stolen in 2008.

The good news for all of us is that auto thefts were down almost 9% overall in 2008, according to the NICB, to less than one million a year in 2008. With foresight and preventive measures that don't take much time, you can help ensure you'll never have to experience that unique nausea familiar to anyone finding a grease spot where their car was parked.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 5 Months Ago
      Drive a manual transmission with a failing clutch. I am nursing a bad clutch that will last at best another year. But its very hard to shift unless you know what to do. My other car has a fuel pump problem and i have wired with a switch because it was failing when hooked up to the wiring harness. So drive crap and you will hopefully be passed by thieves.
      • 5 Months Ago
      a simple sighn in the window works well for me,"nothing I own is worth your life!"
      • 5 Months Ago
      A nifty trick is to have a good mechanic install a solenoid operated switch on your fuel feed. Your fuel is shut off unless you flip the well-hidden switch on. This means that our "what's mine is mine and what's yours is mine" crook will start up your car, only to have it sputter to a stop in traffic. Exit crook. How far away is your car? Maybe a block or two. Inconvenient? Yes, but a lot nicer than finding the stripped down chassis somewhere later. GPS devices are also available that "know" where your car is. Ask at quality auto dealer/parts shops and, if needed, the police do the rest.
      • 5 Months Ago
      Im a contractor and drive a van full of tools. The bad guys would love to steel it just for the tools and not the van. Everytime I leave it parked somewhere and no exceptions hear is what I do. First I have a viper security system which has the red blinking light on the dash. Second I use the club on the steering wheel. Third just for the heck of it I always leave a copy of guns and ammo magazine in full view of the drivers window. If the thief can get through all that well I tried and all I can say is good luck. Thx
      • 5 Months Ago
      I've been protecting cars for 39 years, and 6 prior to that taking them, so I have a bit of experience. Here's some of what I've learned. If a thief wants the car or truck, it can be taken. But for more on protecting the vehicle from that eventuality, have a look at some of my sites: www.CARALARMZ.com - www.CARARMOR.com - www.PASSLOCKBYPASS.com - www.CARPROTECTOR.com - www.INSTALLSUPPORT.com & www.MRINSTALL.com www.GPSONTHENET.com (There are more, but all interlinked) I hope they can enlighten you on how you can help protect your cars and trucks, and possible assist in understanding what's possible and wha't "hollywood". Thanks for your time. Robert Martin/ALARMTEK AUTO SECURITY ONLINE. www.DELUXESERVICE.com
      • 5 Months Ago
      do NOT leave any valuables even change in sight
      • 5 Months Ago
      • 5 Months Ago
      Buy a car with a transponder equipped key. Without the key the car will not start.
      • 5 Months Ago
      Never lock your car doors, it just leads to a broken window, when the car is returned, just like the picture shown here. A locked car does not deter thieves.
      • 5 Months Ago
      I like the theme of the article, but why are all the stats from 2008? That was four years ago. Are crime statistics made available to the public that slowly?? Not trying to be snarky, just kind of surprised...
      • 5 Months Ago
      Drive a stick shift, few people know how to drive them nor want them.
        • 5 Months Ago
        my accord was stick shift, they had no trouble stealing it from infront of my house. I say it was a mexican, when the car was recovered the seat was moved all the way to the front, that short bastard. -_-
        • 5 Months Ago
        You're right. My daughter's friend was almost carjacked, she was punched in the face and the mothereffer tried to take her car, but he couldn't drive a stick, so the punk ran off!! She was okay, thank God.
        • 5 Months Ago
        I also had a Honda Accord stick shift stolen from in front of my house!
      • 5 Months Ago
      I could callously say, "Get a bicycle," but that REALLY not the answer. Ask any one from a major city!
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