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10 ways to put the brakes on car theft


Steering wheel lock anti-theft deviceNew technology is making auto thieves' jobs harder, yet hundreds of thousands of vehicles are stolen each year. Nearly 660,000 vehicles were swiped in 2014, according to the FBI's preliminary vehicle theft data.

Older vehicles are the most likely targets for auto thieves because they're easier to steal, but no car is theft-proof. "If someone wants that vehicle badly enough, they'll find a way to get it," says Frank Scafidi, spokesman for the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB).

But you can reduce your chances for theft, and reduce your car insurance premiums, by making use of anti-theft devices. Insurance companies will typically grant car insurance discounts of up to 15 percent, but sometimes even more depending on the device you have, if your car has theft protection.

"Having an active security and GPS tracking system, such as LoJack or OnStar, installed in your car might make you eligible for an insurance discount," says Randy Petro, chief claims officer for Mercury Insurance. "These preventive systems help deter thieves and aid in the recovery of stolen property."

Additionally, many new model cars come equipped with high-tech anti-theft gear, such as entry and tilt sensors. While your car insurer may not offer a discount specifically for some of the newfangled devices, you may get a lower base premium if that particular model car is typically targeted less by thieves, and therefore has fewer stolen claims compared to other models.

Here's a look at 10 auto theft deterrents.

1. Keep the keys

Sure it sounds like a no-brainer, but the first line of defense is taking the keys out of your car.

Nearly 45,000 cars stolen in 2014 had the keys inside, the NICB found. They account for nearly 7 percent of all auto thefts. In St. Petersburg, Florida, 83 percent of all cars swiped in 2013 had their keys inside.

By leaving the keys in the car, you'll shoot yourself in the foot. "If you have all kinds of gee-whiz stuff (to deter theft) and run off to get a quick cup of coffee, you've just defeated yourself," Scafidi says.

Using common sense: No cost.

2. Steering wheel lock

They've been around for decades, but devices that lock your steering wheel into place, such as The Club, remain useful for deterring car thieves.

"Even something as old and archaic as The Club is still around and still effective," Scafidi says.

By attaching The Club or a similar device to your steering wheel, it's locked in place and can't be turned to steer the vehicle. Some devices attach to both the steering wheel and brake or clutch pedal.

Rather than taking the time to unlock The Club, it can be quicker for thieves to target another car.

Cost: $15 and up

3. Audible alarms

The blaring of an alarm can attract attention to your vehicle. That can be enough for a thief to pick another target.

You can also put stickers with the name of the car alarm system on your vehicle.

Cost: $25 to $200; possible 5 percent insurance discount

4. VIN etching

With vehicle identification number (VIN) etching, the VIN for your vehicle is etched into the windows and windshield of your car.

Many older vehicles are stolen for parts. VIN etching might deter a thief from stealing your car because selling those can be a challenge, says Chris Hayes, a vice president of transportation risk control for Travelers Insurance.

Cost: Some police departments and organizations such as AAA offer complementary VIN etching. You can also buy a do-it-yourself kit for as little as $20. Possible 5 percent to 15 percent insurance discount.

5. Hidden kill switch

Install one or more of these switches inside your vehicle to cut the flow of electricity at the battery or ignition switch, or to shut down the fuel pump.

If you install several switches, thieves will have their work cut out for them trying to find them all.

Cost: $35 and up, but you may need a professional to install them.

6. Tilt and glass-break sensors

CNET recommends glass break and vehicle tilt sensors, which will issue an alert if your car windows are broken or someone jostles your car and the position changes, for example, by trying to load it on a tow truck and haul it away.

The sensors may sound an alarm, shut down the ignition, or send you an alert on your smart phone.

Cost: As low as $25 for a tilt sensor and $20 for a glass break sensor

7. GPS tracking

You can use a GPS tracking device to keep track of your car's location. If your car starts moving when it's supposed to be parked outside your office, you'll know you have a problem.

Text or email alerts will be sent to your smart phone. You can get detailed reports on where your car has gone and where it's headed.

Depending on the device, you may be able to immobilize your car if it's stolen.

Cost: As low as $40 up to several hundred dollars. You also may be charged a monthly fee.

8. Remote locks

Car thieves loved unlocked vehicles. If you walk away from your car and forget to lock it, turn to your smart phone. You can lock and unlock your vehicle from afar if it's equipped with remote locks.

Other cars come with passive locks, which will automatically lock your car doors.

GM vehicles, for example, will lock the doors once the vehicle is off, all the doors have been closed and at least one key fob has been removed from the car.

Cost: Standard on some vehicles; apps can cost $70 or more and may have a monthly fee.

9. Vehicle recovery systems

Unlike GPS, LoJack uses radio frequency technology to help law enforcement track and recover your car.

Once you file a report that your car has been stolen, police computers send a radio signal to your car and the LoJack device can be activated. Law enforcement then can track the silent signal from your vehicle, even if it's in an underground parking garage, says DJ Thompson Sr., LoJack's director of law enforcement.

Cost: $695


10. Smart keys

This is CNET's top theft deterrent. These keys have specially coded computer chips or radio frequencies.

Because each is unique, your car engine can't be started unless you have the exact key in hand.

Cost: These often come standard on new cars; a SmartKey from Viper costs about $190.

Save yourself heartache - and money

Exactly how much each device can save you on the comprehensive portion of your auto insurance will depend on your insurer's policies.

But having more devices, or better devices, will typically yield you bigger auto insurance discounts, which could reach up to 30 percent on your comprehensive insurance premium. Check with your insurer to see which devices are mostly likely to earn you savings.


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