12 Mistakes That Make Your Car Vulnerable to Break-Ins

It’s no secret that Americans practically live in their cars, treating them as a home away from home. But cars are typically much easier to break into than the average home, resulting in an estimated 773,139 motor vehicle thefts nationwide in 2017 and some $6 billion in losses, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Data report. Motor vehicle theft continues to rise—in fact, from 2013 to 2017 the number of thefts rose 10 percent. Fortunately, preventing car break-ins is mostly matter of taking simple precautions that make your vehicle a less tempting target. Here are just a few measures you can implement to keep your car and belongings safe from thieves.

  1. Don’t Leave Your Car When It's Running—Ever!

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    Don’t Leave Your Car When It's Running—Ever!

    Winter’s bitter cold or summer’s searing heat can entice even the most cautious drivers to let the car warm up or cool down while they're comfortably ensconced inside the house. But doing this makes it really, really easy for thieves to steal your car or rapidly remove any valuables left inside. A few minutes of comfort are simply not worth the risk. Similarly, don’t leave the car running while you dash into a store to run an errand—this is just asking for trouble. In fact, in at least 30 states it is illegal to leave a car running and unattended.

    Related: 8 Easy Ways to Winter-Proof Your Car

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  2. Don’t Leave Doors Unlocked

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    Don’t Leave Doors Unlocked

    Most thefts from vehicle are opportunistic—thieves often go down a line of cars, checking each one for easy access. Don’t give them an open invitation to steal your stuff by leaving the doors unlocked. You may even want to opt for a remote or auto-locking feature the next time you purchase a new car.

    Related: 10 Ways to Keep Your Car From Getting Stolen

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  3. Don’t Leave Windows or Sunroofs Open

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    Don’t Leave Windows or Sunroofs Open

    It can be tempting to leave car windows or sunroofs open, especially in the warmer months. But again, this makes it extremely easy for a casual thief to reach in and plunder your possessions. Always double-check that your windows and sunroof are completely closed when you leave the car. 

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  4. Don’t Leave Valuables in View

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    Don’t Leave Valuables in View

    Always stow valuables out of sight. Otherwise, you run the risk of attracting a “smash and grab,” a vehicle theft in which a thief sees something in your car, smashes the window, grabs the loot, and scrams. Indeed, former car thieves say it takes less than 20 seconds to pilfer your property. Avoid leaving wallets, purses, laptops, cellphones, backpacks, briefcases, shopping bags, GPS units, small electronics, stereos, sporting equipment, or even loose change in plain view. Stash these items in the trunk, or better yet, take them with you when you leave the car.

    Related: 10 Things You Need to Keep Your Car Clean

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  5. Don’t Park in the Dark

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    Don’t Park in the Dark

    Whenever possible, park under a streetlight. Most thieves prefer the cover of darkness, so if you're going to be out after dark, try to park in a well-lit location—preferably on a busy street.

    Related: 13 Hacks Every Car Owner Should Know

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  6. Don’t Park Alone

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    Don’t Park Alone

    Make it a habit to park in an attended lot, or in an area where there is a lot of pedestrian and vehicle traffic. Thieves prefer to operate in areas where they won’t be seen by passersby or caught on surveillance cameras.

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  7. Don’t Ignore Warning Signs

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    Don’t Ignore Warning Signs

    Keep your eyes open for potential problems, especially in shopping center parking lots, and especially during peak holiday shopping times. Some thieves will loiter around shoppers’ cars, waiting for them to leave valuable purchases in the trunk. If you see someone suspicious, alert security and don’t leave your car.

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  8. Invest in a Car Alarm

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    Invest in a Car Alarm

    Make your car the one that thieves decide to pass right by. Anti-theft devices like ignition cut-off systems, steering wheel locks, window and door alarms, and visible alarm indicators are real turnoffs to thieves and will help keep your car and its contents safer. 

    Related: 14 Ways You’re Wasting Money on Your Car

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  9. Don’t Forget About the Spare

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    Don’t Forget About the Spare

    If you own a van or truck that has the spare tire affixed to the rear of the vehicle, keep the spare chained up, and make sure that the chain is visible. Again, making things more difficult for thieves makes it more likely that they will pass you by in favor of easier prey.

    Related: The 10 Best Accessories You Can Buy for Your Car

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  10. Plan Your Route

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    Plan Your Route

    Before traveling, always investigate the area around your destination and plan a route that avoids potentially dangerous neighborhoods. Many of today’s GPS navigation apps—including Google Maps, Waze, and RedZone Map, among others—will guide you away from routes that pass through high-crime areas.

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  11. Skip the Hood Ornament

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    Skip the Hood Ornament

    For some reason, thieves just love to rip off hood ornaments, causing costly damage to your car in the process. In many cities, there is a black market for highly coveted hood ornaments—the rarer and more expensive the better—and thieves will target cars specifically for the hood ornament. This is one option that you might be better off without.

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  12. Avoid Cloth Tops

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    Avoid Cloth Tops

    Cars with cloth tops, including convertible sedans and Jeeps, are prime targets for criminals. All a thief needs to break into a car with a cloth top is a sharp knife—and the process is almost completely noiseless. Think twice before purchasing a convertible.

    Related: 15 Genius Tricks for Keeping Your Car Clean

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  13. See the House of the Week

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    Discover and admire beautiful and innovative home architecture, from grand Victorians to quaint cabins and all the styles in between. Take a look at the latest images and inspiration!