It’s reasonable to worry about your car when you park it in a foreign place, especially if that place doesn’t seem particularly friendly. Sometimes the thought of leaving a car in a vulnerable situation hinders us completely. But learning how to prevent your car from being broken into or stolen is information we all need, especially if you own a car from the mid-1990s or early-2000s - these models have the highest rate of theft in the United States.

The reason thieves are attracted to older cars is that sometimes the cars have rare parts that can make more money at chop shops. Another reason is that older cars are easy to break into. One example is a mid-90s Honda, which sometimes tends to have similar ignition switches, even between different models. Because of this, thieves can create something of a master key out of one modified key, which is capable of accessing many different cars.

If you can’t find a secured area, like a parking garage or parking lot, whose security enforcement might be worth the extra money, follow the steps below to help secure your vehicle when it’s parked and to deter potential thieves.

Part 1 of 1: How to help secure your parked car

Step 1: Lock your doors. Always lock your car doors when you leave your car, no matter where you are.

This is probably the most obvious of all car break-in and theft prevention tips that can deter many a lazy criminal, or those who are just looking to perform a quick theft job. Obviously, time is of the essence for any criminal, and the more time they have to spend trying not to get caught, the less effort they are likely going to spend trying.

But this likelihood depends upon location, of course, so it’s also important to pay attention to the surroundings when you park.

Step 2: Choose a good place to park. Is your car parked in a public place? Is it an open space, or is it closed off? Are there plenty of pedestrians walking or driving by? Is it light or dark?

These are really important questions to consider when you’re trying to secure your car before you park. The more open and lit the place you park, the better. Thieves will be deterred by other strangers who might turn out to be cops or plain old good Samaritans who are likely to bust them and send them straight to the court house.

On the other hand, if the location is secluded and dark, a thief has plenty of time to master his craft and run away with all your stuff, and maybe even your car, too.

Step 3: Close all windows and the sunroof, if you have one. If the windows and sunroof aren’t closed when you lock the doors, then the doors are basically unlocked.

It might be easy to forget that the sunroof is open or one of the back windows is rolled down, especially if it’s warm and quiet. Always pay attention to this as you’re basically inviting car thieves straight into your car with 100% unrestricted access.

  • Warning: If it’s a hot summer day, the inside of your car is sweltering, and you want to crack the window open, make sure you do it just enough so a thief could not squeeze their fingers onto the top of the window and pull it down.

Step 4: Check whether the trunk lid is open. If you have a key that allows you to open the trunk with the push of a button, you might want to check it before you leave your parked vehicle behind.

Most vehicles with this feature will alert you from the dashboard if the trunk is open, but if your car is off and you slide your keys in your pocket, you could potentially hit the button and unlock the trunk.

You can be sure that if a thief has targeted your vehicle, they are going to check any and all ways they can to get into the car. If the trunk is accidentally left open, they might have access into your car through the back seat - and if you have valuables in the trunk, they will most definitely be taken.

When leaving your parked vehicle, it only takes two seconds to check the trunk, and it’s worth all two of them.

Step 5: Hide any valuable items. If you have valuables in the car, hide them in the trunk, glove box, or center console.

The ideal situation is that you don’t keep valuables in your car whatsoever, but that’s not always the case.

Whatever you do, don’t keep them out in the open. If valuables are left out in the open, they’re basically an unwrapped birthday present for a criminal, and know this: every day is their birthday and everything they have access to is their birthday present. The only thing they might have to ‘unwrap’ is your car window, which leaves you in a situation where you’ve not only lost something valuable that you might have to pay to replace, but also a car repair that will cost you money to fix.

Step 6: Shop around for anti-theft devices. Consider purchasing an anti-theft device, such as a car alarm, a steering wheel lock, or car disabling locks for the ignition or fuel systems that can help deter criminals - who, of course, are looking for an easy steal that doesn’t draw any attention to them.

Also consider the value of anti-theft services such as LoJack or OnStar. LoJack can be expensive initially, but it might also score you a discount on your car insurance.

Step 7: If you’re car shopping, consider a vehicle with a smart key. A car operated with a digital smart key is impossible to steal, since it can be operated with the smart key and only the smart key, which requires proximity.

The computer chip that operates the key cannot be altered or duplicated. For more information about how to operate a smart key, read this article.

Step 8: Do not, in any situation, leave your car running. Some people like to let the engine and cabin warm up before driving during the winter.

While they’re waiting, they most likely go back inside to gather their items for work, for example. But nearly a third of car thefts occur near a car owner’s home. So do yourself (and your insurance bill) a favor by sitting in your car while it warms up, and never let your vehicle sit idling while you’re away from it.

You love your car, and it’s important to take as much precaution as possible and to be aware of where you leave it even when you’re in a hurry. That said, the more responsible and aware you are of where you leave your vehicle, the more secure it can be when you park it.

This article originally appeared on YourMechanic.com as How to Keep Your Car Safe When It’s Parked and was authored by Brent Minderler.


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