Vehicle thefts are down, way down in the United States. Fewer vehicles were reported stolen in 2011 (the most recent year for which stats are available) than in any year since 1967. Still, over 730,000 vehicles went missing during the year, and many of those thefts were avoidable. According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), a not-for-profit organization dedicated to fighting insurance fraud and crime, of the top ten most stolen vehicles of 2011, only two were SUVs or minivans: The 2000 Dodge Caravan (#5) and the 2002 Ford Explorer (#9). That's no excuse to get complacent. If you've ever had a vehicle stolen (I have), you know what a miserable experience it can be. Here are a few easy-to-follow tips to help protect yourself against SUV and minivan theft:
1. Lock your SUV. Take your keys.
Believe it or not, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 40 - 50% of vehicle theft is due to driver error, like leaving the vehicle unlocked with the keys in the ignition or in plain sight on the seat or dash.
2. Park smart.
If you've got lockable garage space, use it for your SUV. Many of us use our garages as storage space for things we don't know what to do with, and leave our SUVs parked in the driveway or on the street. Clean out that garage, and make room for your SUV. When you can't park in your own garage, park in a well-lit, high traffic area.
3. Don't leave packages or valuables visible in your SUV.
One sacrifice that you make when you drive an SUV or minivan is covered, securely locking trunk space. Some SUVs come with cargo or luggage covers. Use them if you've got them. Never leave a GPS unit or cellphone on top of your dash or center console. I also advise you to hide the cables and mounts inside your center console or glove compartment. Stereo thefts are down, because OEM head units are very difficult to remove and reinstall. But accessories are hot, so keep them out of sight, or better still, in your pocket.
4. Leave your third row at home.If you aren't going to be using your removable third row seat, leave it at home. Third row seat theft has become somewhat of an epidemic across the country. A new replacement seat can cost upwards of $1,400, while used examples sell for $400 to $700 at salvage yards, making them hot commodities. Unlike many other vehicle parts, like doors, engines and body panels, third row seats are not required to be stamped with an identifying number or code at the point of manufacture, so law enforcement can't tell if that used seat is stolen or just salvaged. Keep an eye out for local clinics, when police, automobile clubs and/or insurance companies offer free engraving services for windows, third row seats and catalytic converters.
5. Never leave the area while your vehicle is running.
This should be a no-brainer, but some owners still leave their vehicles running to warm up during the dead of winter, or to cool down during the heat of summer. A running vehicle with no occupants is a sure target for an opportunistic thief, and may even be tempting for a misguided youth. Don't make it so easy for someone to drive away in your SUV.
6. Adopt a layered approach to protection.
This tip comes from the NICB. The layers of protection are: 1. Common Sense; 2. Warning Device; 3. Immobilizing Device; and 4. Tracking Device. Common Sense includes all of the tips that we've discussed, starting with removing keys from the ignition. A warning device is a "visible or audible device which alerts thieves that your vehicle is protected," like an alarm, window etching or steering wheel lock. An immobilizing device like a smart key may already be built into your new vehicle. You can also add a kill switch or fuel disabler. The final layer of protection, tracking device, comes into play when all the other layers have failed.
7. Never hide a spare key in or on your vehicle.
This tip comes from the Automobile Club of Southern California. Thieves know all about Hide-a-Keys, and they are very adept at searching above your sun visor, in your glove compartment, under your floormats and in your ash trays for a spare ignition key.
8. Park with your wheels turned toward the curb, and engage your parking brake.
Any small thing you can do to make it more difficult for an unauthorized party to tow your SUV away is worthwhile. The side benefit is that it's safer to leave the parking brake engaged while the vehicle is parked anyway, so you're killing two birds with one stone.
9. Drop a card with your contact information inside your car doors.
This tip comes from NHTSA. They suggest sliding a business card, mailing label or other identification between the window and door so that it disappears inside the door. That way, if your SUV is ever stolen and recovered (even in pieces), law enforcement will have an easier time getting in touch with you.
10. Disable your vehicle if you must leave it parked for an extended period of time.
If you're going away on a long vacation, consider removing the battery from your SUV or minivan before you leave -- especially if your vehicle is going to sit in your driveway while you're away. On some vehicles, you may be able to remove an ignition cable, distributor wire or fuse without using any tools. Ask your mechanic for advice about an easily reversible way to disable your vehicle.
I hope this helps you avoid the horrible feeling of seeing broken glass and an oil stain where your beloved SUV or minivan used to be.