Vehicle thieves were back in business in 2020. After years of steady decline, auto thefts surged last year, up 9.2%, according to preliminary numbers from the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB). Thieves swiped about 830,000 vehicles, the largest total in the last decade. The rise was appalling in the second half of the year.

Fortunately, anti-theft devices can combat this rising tide of thefts. You may be wondering, “Does my car have anti-theft devices?” If it’s a newer model, the chances are good that it may have a new car theft device or some form of active anti-theft system.

And even if your vehicle is older, installing the right anti-theft devices can reduce the chances your auto will be stolen and may earn you a bonus in the form of lower car insurance premiums.

These auto-theft deterrents – which range from steering wheel locks to kill switches and alarms -- can foil the most determined thieves. In addition, new vehicle models may include built-in security technology, such as tracking devices that can help locate your auto if it is stolen.

Wondering how to theft-proof your car? Here's a look at 11 auto theft deterrents.

Top 11 auto anti-theft devices

Many car anti-theft devices have been marketed as a way to keep your vehicle out of the clutches of thieves. Here are 11 of the best car anti-theft devices:

1. Steering wheel lock

They've been around for decades, but one of the best car theft protection devices are these tools that lock your steering wheel into place. Perhaps the most popular such device is The Club.

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.

Cost: Beginning at around $20

2. Car wheel clamp

Instead of locking the steering wheel, you could lock an exterior vehicle wheel with a device known as a tire clamp or boot. It is another of the best car anti-theft devices.

This device can prevent thieves from stealing your wheel, but it also protects the entire vehicle from theft, as a clamped tire will not rotate or turn.

Expect to pay between $30 and $70.

3. Brake lock

Slam the brakes on thieves by adding a brake lock to your automobile anti-theft arsenal.

These devices typically attach to your auto’s brake pedal, preventing crooks from using the brake and stealing the vehicle.

A brake lock will run you around $50. Some attach to the steering wheel, preventing thieves from using the steering wheel or the brake pedal.

4. Audible alarms

The blaring of an alarm can be a great car theft deterrent. An alarm will 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 which is a passive anti-theft approach.

Cost: $200 and up depending on what system and installation type you select.

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 when they try to find them all.

Cost: Beginning for as little as $10, but you may need a professional to install them.

6. Vehicle tilt and glass-break sensors

Glass break and vehicle tilt sensors 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 smartphone.

Cost: Around $40 for a tilt sensor and $17 for a glass break sensor.

7. Battery disconnect switch

A battery disconnect switch is another anti-theft device for cars. This simple device allows you to disconnect your automotive battery's power, so thieves cannot drive away with your vehicle.

Many people use these devices so they can quickly turn their auto’s battery power on and off when they are working on the vehicle. But some of these devices also allow you to turn off the power and disconnect the knob so thieves can’t reconnect the power source.

Best of all, this type of switch typically costs less than $15.

8. GPS trackers

You can use a GPS tracking device to keep track of your car's location. If your vehicle 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 smartphone. 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.

9. Remote locks

Car thieves love unlocked vehicles. So, remote locks are a great anti-theft car lock. If you walk away from your car and forget to lock it, remote locks let you turn to your smartphone. You can lock and unlock your vehicle from the phone if it's equipped with remote locks.

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

Cost: Standard on some vehicles and starting around $200 for others.

10. Vehicle recovery systems

Unlike GPS, LoJack theft prevention uses radiofrequency 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. This security device for cars allows law enforcement to track the silent signal from your vehicle as long as your vehicle is in a LoJack coverage area.

Cost: The basic system is $695. An upgrade that notifies you if your car is moved without your Key Pass present is $995.

11. Smart keys

These keys have a radio pulse generator that communicates with antennas inside the car to lock, unlock or start the vehicle. 

Car and Driver say these devices help deter theft because they do not send the same frequency signal each time. Instead, the keys deliver a new encrypted signal every time a door is unlocked or a trunk is opened remotely. That means even tech-savvy thieves will have trouble getting past this deterrent.

Cost: These often come standard on new cars and can be added to other vehicles with cost depending on self-install or hiring a professional. 

Does car insurance cover theft?

Many drivers assume that car insurance will cover the theft of their vehicle. But this is not necessarily the case.

Most states require you to carry liability coverage, which covers you if you injure another person or damage someone’s property. But it is comprehensive coverage – which is usually optional for policyholders unless the vehicle is financed – that covers your auto's theft. If you choose not to carry this coverage, the insurance company will not reimburse you for your vehicle's theft.

Car insurance, even comprehensive coverage, does not cover the theft of personal property inside of a stolen vehicle. If you have personal property stolen inside of a car, check with your renters or homeowners insurance policy to see if you have coverage. But remember, if your homeowners insurance deductible is higher than the value of the items stolen, it is best not to file the claim.

How to get an anti-theft device discount on your car insurance

You should always ask your insurance company about discounts it offers to drivers who have anti-theft devices installed in their vehicles.

Many insurers offer such price breaks, but the amount of the discount varies widely among companies. So, it pays to shop around for your insurance and compare quotes to see who offers the best discounts.

In some cases, whether you get such a discount may depend on the type of device you have installed or the state where you live. Some insurers also may require you to provide proof that you have such a device.

Auto insurance companies with anti-theft discounts

Many insurance companies offer anti-theft discounts for drivers who have anti-theft devices in their vehicles.

For example, Geico says you can get a discount of up to 23% on your premiums when installing an anti-theft system.

Nationwide also says it offers discounts for both factory-installed anti-theft devices and devices that are installed after you buy your vehicle. However, these price breaks may not be available in all states, and savings vary based on the state and the type of device.

Other insurers that offer discounts include:

  • Allstate
  • State Farm
  • Liberty Mutual
  • USAA

Which locations are worse for car thefts?

Metropolitan areas are known for higher rates of car thefts. Here are five metro areas with the highest rate of auto theft, based on 2019 NICB data.

  • Bakersfield, CA
  • Albuquerque, NM
  • St. Joseph, MO
  • Modesto, CA
  • Odessa, TX

Which vehicles are the most stolen?

According to the NICB, the ten most stolen vehicles in the nation in 2019 were:

  1. 2006 Ford Pickup (Full Size)
  2. 2000 Honda Civic
  3. 2004 Chevrolet Pickup (Full Size)
  4. 1997 Honda Accord
  5. 2007 Toyota Camry
  6. 2015 Nissan Altima
  7. 2018 Toyota Corolla
  8. 2001 Dodge Pickup (Full Size)
  9. 2018 GMC Pickup (Full Size)
  10. 2001 Honda CR-V

The verdict on the best anti-theft devices for cars

Not only can auto anti-theft devices protect your car, but they also may save you some money in auto insurance costs.

Which is the best auto anti-theft device for you? It depends. Before purchasing one, contact your insurer to determine which types of devices are most likely to net you the biggest discounts.

Then, select the item that works best for you and that best fits your budget.

Even if you install one of these devices, don’t let it lull you into a false sense of security. These devices are not foolproof, so make sure you take other sensible steps to deter auto theft. These include:

  • Keep your keys with you at all times
  • Have your vehicle identification number (VIN) etched into the windows and windshield of your vehicle. 
  • Park in well-lit spaces with a lot of vehicle and foot traffic
  • Do not leave valuables visible in the vehicle (i.e., purse laying in a seat or the floorboard)