How To Prevent Car Theft: 11 Tips Every Driver Should Know

Reading time: 14 minutes

prevent-car-theft-garage-livingApproximately 800,000 vehicles are stolen in the U.S. every year. That works out to one car theft every 39 seconds. In Canada, about 80,000 vehicles per year end up in the hands of thieves.

Car theft numbers in both countries have been on the rise recently and are way up in some areas. Washington state had an 88% increase in the number of auto thefts in early 2022 compared to the previous year. In New Jersey, car thefts are up 31% over last year.

Auto theft is a multi-billion dollar industry and too many drivers make the work of car thieves way too easy. Want proof? The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 40-50% of auto thefts occur because of “driver error”. That’s a kind way of saying “negligence” or “carelessness” to describe mistakes like leaving car doors unlocked and keys in unattended vehicles.

It doesn’t matter if you live somewhere that hasn’t experienced a major increase in auto thefts lately, own a vehicle that thieves are less likely to target, or aren’t prone to making “driver errors”. Every driver can benefit from learning more or being reminded about the best ways to prevent car theft.


Here’s why car theft is on the rise

The pandemic is a big reason for the recent surge in car thefts. People have been at home a lot more and are still gradually returning to workplaces and going out to socialize. That means more vehicles have been left parked in driveways and on residential streets. Crime data shows that most auto thefts occur at or around the home of the vehicle’s owner.


Digital keys

All of that great tech in our vehicles that allows us to conveniently enter and start our cars without a traditional key is also to blame. Most new vehicles have ditched physical keys for digital keys, whether it’s a fob, card, or your smartphone. Shrewd thieves have figured out how to bypass modern car security systems and exploit their advanced tech.



Most auto thefts are a crime of opportunity, but some thieves are willing to be a little more patient and calculated. A newer trend with car thieves is using tracking devices like Apple’s AirTag or one of the various models of Tile trackers. Here’s how it works: a small tracker device is hidden on a desired vehicle when the driver is out and about. A thief then locates and steals the vehicle later at a more opportune time.


Supply and demand

Ongoing supply chain issues have shrunk the amount of new and used vehicle stock considerably. The reduced number of vehicles available for sale has contributed to the increase in auto thefts as well. Things are so crazy in the auto sales industry right now that some used vehicles are selling for more than new vehicles of the same model! Desperate consumers are buying vehicles as soon as they become available, sometimes sight unseen. Naturally, car thieves are taking advantage of this chaos for their own financial gain.


push-button ignition

Modern car technology is convenient for drivers, but also make vehicles easier to steal than older vehicles. 


Where stolen vehicles end up

When a vehicle is stolen, it can end up in several different places. Here are the most common things that happen to a stolen vehicle:

  • it’s stripped for in-demand parts like catalytic converters, airbags, tires, and rims
  • the vehicle is used to commit another crime
  • it ends up on a shipping container destined for overseas and is then resold
  • it gets sold at an auto auction to an unsuspecting buyer
  • the vehicle is used for joyriding and then abandoned
  • it ends up on a used car lot

“Doesn’t a vehicle identification number (VIN) make a stolen vehicle difficult to resell?”, you may ask. Thieves get around this pesky issue by replacing the VIN with a fake VIN. Some car thieves are so brazen that they don’t even bother to remove the license plates before selling a vehicle to overseas marketplaces!


These are the most stolen vehicles

The types of vehicles that are most targeted by thieves aren’t what you might expect. Luxury vehicles get far less attention from car thieves than perennial best-selling vehicles do. Older car and truck models are a favorite of thieves, too.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau’s (NICB) annual Hot Wheels report lists the most stolen vehicles in the U.S. Here were the most stolen vehicles in America in 2020 (the most recent year of the report), including the number of thefts in parentheses:

  1. 2006 Ford full-size pickup (44,014)
  2. 2004 Chevrolet full-size pickup (40,968)
  3. 2000 Honda Civic (34,144)
  4. 1997 Honda Accord (30,814)
  5. 2019 Toyota Camry (16,915)
  6. 2020 Nissan Altima (14,668)
  7. 2005 GMC full-size pickup (13,016)
  8. 2020 Toyota Corolla (12,515)
  9. 2000 Honda CR-V (12,309)
  10. 2001 Dodge full-size pickup (11,991)

These vehicles have a higher resale value and are more abundant, so there are more of them to steal, naturally. The top-selling vehicles also have the largest market for parts.

Sky-high gas prices are also affecting what vehicles get stolen more. Thieves are now targeting more cars and SUVs that have better gas mileage.


11 tips to help you prevent car theft

There are plenty of things drivers can do to prevent car theft. Most of them require minimal effort and no expense, merely a little bit of common sense.

Follow these car theft prevention tips to deter thieves and decrease the chance that you’ll have to worriedly ask one day, “Where’s my ride?”


1. Lock up, close the windows, and take the key. Really.

Seemingly every local news story about a rise in car thefts has the same comment from a police official that goes something like this: “Please let me remind drivers that they need to always lock their vehicles and take their keys with them.”

The NICB reports that 229,339 vehicles in the U.S. were stolen between 2016 and 2018 because drivers left a key or fob in the car.

The easiest way to prevent car theft is to never leave the doors of your vehicle unlocked and your keys inside if you’re not around.

What’s the first thing a thief scoping out an unattended vehicle will check? The doors, naturally. An unattended car that is unlocked with the key or fob sitting in plain sight is basically serving up the vehicle to a thief on a silver platter.

Even if it’s hot outside and you want to keep the vehicle’s interior temperature comfortable on a hot day, don’t leave the windows down if you’re away from the car, even for a few minutes. A car window that’s only open an inch is all a skilled thief needs to get inside of it.


locking luxury car with key fob

Tens of thousands of vehicles are stolen every year in the U.S. because drivers don’t lock their car doors or leave a key in their vehicle (or both).


2. Don’t leave a running car unattended

The only thing more inviting to a thief than an unattended and unlocked car with the key inside is an unlocked, unattended car that is running.

Leaving a car running and unattended happens most frequently when a driver wants to cool down or warm up their vehicle for a few minutes at home or work. Sometimes a vehicle is started manually and sometimes the vehicle has a remote starter system. Be very selective with when you use a remote starter and only use it when you can keep your vehicle within sight.

A vehicle in an attached garage shouldn’t be left to idle for too long anyway. If a heated living space adjoining the garage isn’t adequately sealed, carbon monoxide from an idling car can enter the house.

We all know that idling is bad for the environment and wastes gas, too. Sacrifice a little comfort by only running your car or truck when you’re sitting in the driver’s seat.


3. Organize your garage so you can park indoors

Another way to prevent car theft is very simple – always park in your garage. After all, a car thief can’t steal what they can’t see!

A Garage Living online poll of 1,500 North Americans found that 20% of them were unable to park in their garage. It’s simple logic that a vehicle that is left parked in a driveway or on the street is at a much higher risk of theft and vandalism.


gray jeep in organized garage clean


It’s not as difficult as it may seem to restore the main functionality of a garage – the ability to park. Here’s what you need to do to reclaim your garage’s interior space:

  • eliminate as much clutter as possible
  • talk to a garage design expert so they can maximize your garage storage space
  • outfit your garage with effective storage systems like slatwall, overhead racks, and cabinets

Indoor parking and ample home storage can co-exist in a garage. You can even create extra square footage in your garage for hobbies like working out or using a workshop. All it takes is the right garage design to fit your family’s lifestyle.

Learn more about the additional benefits of home garage parking here.


4. Don’t leave your garage doors open

Garage Living prides itself on creating attractive garages that turn the heads of our clients’ neighbors and people passing by their homes. A Thompson’s Company study found that 52% of homeowners want to have a garage their neighbors envy.

As much as a tidy, remodeled garage with eye-catching features like a stylish floor coating is something you’ll want to show off whenever possible, try not to leave your garage doors open any longer than they need to be. Otherwise, you may be making your vehicles and other items in your garage the envy of a thief.


5. Protect your key fobs and garage door opener

We’re all in the habit of leaving our car keys and key fobs near the door we enter after arriving home. It may be the front door or it may be an access door that opens from the garage into the house, which is what many homeowners use nowadays.

Thieves have figured out how to intercept the short-range radio signal that allows a key fob, smartphone, and RFID (radio frequency identification technology) card to communicate with each other.

If your vehicle’s digital access key is within close proximity of the walls, exterior doors, or windows of your home, thieves using wireless transmitters can potentially hijack the signal to gain access to your vehicle.

faraday-bag-keyfob-mercedesTo combat relay theft, as it’s known, make a Faraday pouch or box the home for your key fobs instead of hanging them on a key holder or leaving them on flat surface by a door. A Faraday pouch is designed to block electromagnetic signals, which eliminates the risk of relay theft.

Another way to avoid car theft is by not leaving your car keys and fobs alone when you’re at a gym, pool, spa, or the beach as well. A locker in a public space can easily be broken into. For activities that involve being in the water, get a waterproof key holder that you can attach to your waist or arm.

A garage door opener remote is essentially a key to your house. Treat the door remotes your family uses the same way you would a house or car key.


6. Use a reliable car anti-theft system

Almost all new vehicles come with an anti-theft system that will sound the horn and flash the car lights when a break-in is detected.

Ignition immobilizer systems are another electronic security technology that is designed to prevent a vehicle from being hot-wired. This technology has been around for about 20 years and requires a code or signal sent from a transponder chip in the key fob to match with the immobilizer system’s code. If the code or signal doesn’t match, the vehicle won’t start. If your car lacks this feature, it’s worth it to have one installed.

Unsurprisingly, car thieves have found ways to take advantage of the tech. Push-to-start ignitions are fairly common in new cars, which makes them a bigger target for theft. A thief just needs to buy a key programmer (which is readily available online) and plug the device into a vehicle’s onboard diagnostics port to bypass the ignition system.

Some car models are easier to hack than others, so it’s a good idea to check how secure the anti-theft systems in your vehicles are. If your vehicle is at a higher risk of theft, consider having a reliable, more secure aftermarket car security system installed.


7. Make your vehicle harder to steal when it’s outdoors

Anything you can do to slow down a car thief improves the odds of them leaving your vehicle alone. A skilled thief can steal a vehicle in less than a minute, so if you do have to park outdoors there are a few things you can do to deter them.

Always try to park in a well-lit area, whether it’s when you’re away from home or if a spot in your garage isn't available. Parking in view of a security camera will also deter thieves and help prevent car theft.

Tow truck theft is less common, but still something to be aware of. Most people don’t think twice when they see a tow truck taking a parked vehicle. That’s exactly what a tow truck thief is counting on to get away with their crime.

Parking strategically can deter tow truck theft, too. Engage your parking brake, which might slow down a tow truck thief just enough to not make your car worth their while. So can turning your car wheels as far to one side as possible. If a vehicle being parked in a driveway is a front-wheel drive, park frontwards. For rear-wheel drive vehicles, back into your driveway to park to make it harder to tow.

If you don’t have enough garage parking spots for all of your vehicles, you’ll logically want to park the vehicles with a higher value indoors. To add more parking space in your garage, consider adding car lifts so all of your vehicles can be parked securely indoors. 


car parked in well-lit area

Small things like parking in well-lit areas can help prevent car theft.


8. Understand the drawbacks of modern vehicle tech

Modern technology is great...until it’s not. Tech unquestionably makes our lives easier in so many ways. Unfortunately, one of the tradeoffs of the convenience tech provides is that it can also be used by criminals as an access point into our lives, homes, and yes, vehicles.

Modern vehicles are safer than they’ve ever been thanks to safety developments over the years. Most vehicles are also more fuel-efficient and offer nice amenities like infotainment systems and multi-zone climate systems to make our driving experience more comfortable.

Just be mindful that some high-tech car features, including keyless entry and push-button ignitions, actually make your vehicles more vulnerable to theft than the vehicles you owned 10 years ago.

Anti-theft systems will continue to get more sophisticated and advanced. Unfortunately, thieves will always manage to keep pace with the ever-evolving nature of modern tech and succeed in finding ways to manipulate it.


9. Invest in garage security upgrades

Parking in the garage is one of the best ways to prevent car theft, but it’s less effective if the garage itself can’t keep thieves out or deter them from prowling around your home.

In addition to common-sense safety measures like always locking your garage doors and any interior and exterior access doors, here are a few more ways to improve the security of a garage:

  • upgrade the exterior lighting around the garage
  • keep bushes and hedges near the garage well-maintained (overgrown foliage can aid burglars)
  • upgrade an old garage door opener to a newer, more secure model
  • don’t allow a clear view through any windows into the garage (use translucent glass or window treatments)
  • install a reliable garage security system
  • install security cameras for the exterior of the home and the interior of the garage



Upgrade your home’s security by improving the exterior lighting around your garage to deter thieves.


10. Hide items in your vehicle

We all know to never leave valuables in a car. Take that one step further and don’t leave any loose items visible in your vehicle that could incentivize a thief to break into it.

That includes loose change, phone chargers, or anything else that you don’t consider valuable. You never know what the motivation of a car thief is.

Sure, they may work in a highly organized car theft ring. Perhaps, however, it’s someone who is down on their luck and looking for anything of value or rowdy teenagers looking to do a quick smash and grab. Anything you can do to make your vehicle a less appealing target helps.

It’s been commonplace for ages to keep a vehicle’s registration and proof of insurance in the vehicle in case you’re pulled over or get into an accident. Some insurance companies and law enforcement officials now advise against this practice.

A vandalized or stolen vehicle with your personal information can cause problems with identity fraud. Car thieves can also use your vehicle’s registration and insurance card to evade arrest if they’re stopped by the police.

If you prefer to risk having these documents in your vehicle, keep them very well hidden. Another option is to keep the papers in your wallet or purse or stored on your smartphone.


11. Have a reliable vehicle recovery system

This tip won’t help prevent car theft, but it can certainly increase your odds of getting a stolen car back: make sure it has a reliable vehicle recovery system.

Many new vehicles have this feature built-in. It uses cellular technology and GPS data that can help police locate a stolen vehicle. Tracking devices like the AirTag or Tile trackers can also be discreetly hidden in a vehicle to pinpoint its location if necessary. Some companies, such as Tag, can professionally install tracking devices.

Some automakers offer other ways to identify a stolen vehicle. Audi, for example, equips their models with, as they describe it,  “unique and permanent tracking numbers discretely applied in various locations throughout the vehicle to improve its traceability”.


Organize your garage for more secure home parking

Don’t make the job of a thief easier by leaving your expensive vehicles parked in the driveway. Reclaim the functionality of your garage by getting it organized to create more space for your vehicles, home storage needs, and lifestyle.

Schedule a free design consultation with Garage Living to transform the look and functionality of your garage today.

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