What to Watch For and What to Do

By Neil Ohlenkamp

A vehicle is stolen every 20 seconds in the US. Thieves cruise through parking lots, city streets and neighborhoods to see what they can take. Don’t make it easy for them. Use the following tips to prevent auto theft and also to help law enforcement recover a stolen vehicle. The basics are:

  1. Lock it up
  2. Park smart
  3. Install anti-theft hardware
  4. Help law enforcement recover your car


  • Lock your vehicle and take your keys, even for quick errands.
  • Lock the trunk, hatchback or tailgate to block access into the car.
  • Close all windows, including vent or wing windows and sun roofs.
  • Lock and chain trailers, motorcycles and recreational vehicles.
  • Vehicles or motorcycles carried on trailers should be secured with a strong chain and padlock. Trailers in tow should be secured to the vehicle with a strong chain and padlock.
  • Trailers and motorcycles stored in your garage should be secured with a heavy lock. Portable or permanent alarms should also be fastened to the vehicle to alert you if they are disturbed.


  • Park in a well-lighted spot, close to any building you will be entering. Be aware of your surroundings.
  • Don’t park next to a van or vehicle you cannot see into.
  • If you return to your car and a van has parked next to it, get in the door farthest away from the van if possible. Always lock your doors and start your car immediately.
  • Check to be sure no one has been following you, then park in a place with as much visibility as possible.


Anti-theft hardware makes it harder for the thief to steal your car. Anti-theft devices are of three basic types:

  • Alarms
  • Disablers
  • Locks

Alarms can be installed permanently into your car or less expensive portable alarms can be used that plug into a cigarette lighter. Disablers don’t allow the car to start. Electrical disablers have a special key, hidden switch, secret code, or are operated by a pocket transmitter. Locks can be installed to prevent thieves from moving your vehicle or stealing accessories. They include:

  • Interior hood lock and release.
  • Exterior hood lock.
  • Locking gas cap.
  • Steering wheel and brake pedal locking device.
  • Console shifter locking device.
  • Battery lock.
  • Second ignition switch.
  • Radio, tape deck or cellular phone anti-theft device.

Reminder: some devices are set automatically when the ignition is turned off or when the doors are locked. Others require the driver to activate them. Remember, if you don’t turn it on, it won’t stop a thief.


If your car is stolen, report it to your local law enforcement agency immediately. Have the following information ready to give them:

  • Make and model.
  • License plate number.
  • Vehicle identification number (VIN). Vehicles have the VIN on a small metal plate visible through the windshield on the driver’s side. This information is also on your vehicle registration.

If you find your car after reporting it stolen, call the local law enforcement agency before driving or moving it. Otherwise, you could be mistaken for the car thief. If you notice an abandoned vehicle in your neighborhood, report it to your local law enforcement agency. It may be a stolen car.

Thieves will steal vehicles to trade or sell vehicle parts. You make it harder for thieves if you:

  • Engrave your driver’s license number on radios, tape decks and other removable items.
  • Engrave the VIN on vehicle parts. (Some auto manufacturers already engrave the VIN on selected parts.)

Remember, remove the temptation and thus reduce the opportunity for the thief.

This award winning page is copyright © 1994/2004 by Neil Ohlenkamp, Encino Judo Club, USA. All rights reserved. Last modified july 4, 2004.