Learning from the Experts: Car Thieves and Their Tricks

The Wall Street Journal features a fascinating article on Unlocking the Secrets of a Car Thief (may require site registration). It reminded us of a similar article on Edmunds.com: Confessions of a Car Thief, which interviewed a reformed professional thief.
According to the WSJ article, here’s the good news: The FBI reports that car theft has been declining for the last seven years. In 2010, the last full year f data, auto theft declined by 7.4%. But that still represents nearly three-quarters of a million cars stolen in 2010. Experts think that new technology has made it harder to steal cars than it was in the old “screwdriver theft days” of yore.
But here’s the bad news: Professionals can almost always find a way. The article notes that “It can take less than 19 seconds for a reasonably strong, savvy car thief to break through the security systems that are supposed to stop someone from shifting or steering a luxury SUV.” And Robert Hartwig of the Insurance Information Institute points out that recovery rates are dropping. Theft rings use flatbed trucks and high-tech tools to swiftly seize cars and move them for resale or to chop shops for parts.
The best thing you can do to prevent theft is to make things less appealing by providing obstacles. There are a variety of theft devices and technologies ranging from inexpensive steering wheel locks to alarms to subscription based vehicle tracking systems.
Here’s another relatively inexpensive way to protect your car that is touted by law enforcement professionals: VIN etching, or permanently etching your Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) into the windows of your automobile. Many states offer free programs or you can order a variety of inexpensive kits online that you can find with a simple search for “VIN ETching.” Many insurers offer discounts on auto insurance for cars that have VIN etching — check with your local insurance agent to find out about this and other available discounts for auto theft prevention devices and measures.
We looked at the VIN etching program available through the Massachusetts Governor’s Auto Theft Strike Force, which offers the service for $10 – you can learn more at 781-393-1201. And another anti-theft measure we noted in Massachusetts: If you give information that leads to the arrest of a car thief, or the location of a chop shop, you could receive a confidential cash reward of up to ten thousand dollars ($10,000.00). All you need to do is call 1-800-HOT-AUTO.
For more tips and ideas, see the Insurance Information Institute’s article on Preventing Carjacking / Theft