How to Prevent Car Theft

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Rachel Bodine graduated from college with a BA in English. She has since worked as a Feature Writer in the insurance industry and gained a deep knowledge of state and countrywide insurance laws and rates. Her research and writing focus on helping readers understand their insurance coverage and how to find savings. Her expert advice on insurance has been featured on sites like PhotoEnforced, All...

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Leslie Kasperowicz holds a BA in Social Sciences from the University of Winnipeg. She spent several years as a Farmers Insurance CSR, gaining a solid understanding of insurance products including home, life, auto, and commercial and working directly with insurance customers to understand their needs. She has since used that knowledge in her more than ten years as a writer, largely in the insurance...

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Reviewed by Leslie Kasperowicz
Farmers CSR for 4 Years

UPDATED: Aug 4, 2021

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What You Should Know

  • With vehicle theft on the rise, owners should be sure to take appropriate precautions
  • Certain actions, like installing a car alarm system, can prevent car theft from happening
  • Vehicle theft can occur despite taking the proper precautions, so protect your vehicle with auto insurance

Your car is your mode of daily transportation, your ticket to freedom, and one of your most valuable assets. It goes without saying, then, that having your car stolen is one of the last things you want to deal with.

Even with insurance, the aftermath of car theft can be a messy, headache-inducing experience. And that’s before factoring in the cost. It’s in every car owner’s best interest to prevent vehicle theft any way they can—and we have the tips to help you do that.

We’ve built this guide with your safety and security in mind. Read on to understand the importance of vehicle theft prevention and how to protect your car from theft.

Vehicle Theft: By the Numbers

Knowing how to prevent your car from being stolen starts with the facts. Understanding the trends related to auto theft keeps you one step ahead of would-be thieves. Let’s break down some of the statistics around car theft in the US.

How Many Cars Are Stolen Each Year?

According to the FBI, there were around 720,000 cases of vehicle theft in 2019.1 That number translates to a rate of 219.9 thefts per 100,000 inhabitants. It’s important to note that the FBI includes ATVs and snowmobiles in these estimates; around 75% of recorded thefts pertained to automobiles.

Compared to 2018 numbers, 2019 saw a roughly 4% decline in vehicle theft. However, the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) estimated a 9.2% increase in theft for 2020.2 The takeaway here is that car theft happens every day—close to 2,000 times a day, in fact.

Which Cars are the Most Targeted?

Every year, the NICB releases its Hot Wheels report—a list of the most frequently stolen vehicles. In 2019, the most stolen vehicles were:3

  1. Ford Pickup (Full Size) — 38,938 thefts
  2. Honda Civic — 33,220 thefts
  3. Chevrolet Pickup (Full Size) — 32,583 thefts
  4. Honda Accord — 30,745 thefts
  5. Toyota Camry — 15,656 thefts
  6. Nissan Altima — 13,355 thefts
  7. Toyota Corolla — 12,137 thefts
  8. Dodge Pickup (Full Size) — 11,292 thefts
  9. GMC Pickup (Full Size) — 11,164 thefts
  10. Honda CR-V — 10,094 thefts

If you own one of the above vehicles, you may be tempted to sell it and buy something less prone to theft. However, it’s worth noting that these makes and models are some of the most popular vehicles in the US. Consequently, there are more of them available to be stolen. 

Still, owners of these cars should take appropriate precautions.

What are the Financial Ramifications of Vehicle Theft?

The Insurance Information Institute (III) reports that around $6.4 billion was lost due to motor vehicle theft in 2019.4 On average, the dollar loss associated with each theft was close to $9,000. Car insurance protects drivers from these expensive personal losses.

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Car Theft Prevention Tips

Though the above numbers may seem bleak, it’s relatively easy to minimize the risk of vehicle theft. Common sense—along with a few extra safety precautions—goes a long way. Here’s how to prevent car theft from happening ​​and increase car security.

Lock Doors and Close Windows

It may seem obvious, but locking each car door and closing windows is one of the simplest ways to thwart thieves. Car thieves have been known to go from car to car, trying to see if the door will open. Ensuring every door is locked before you step away from your vehicle only takes a second, and it could save you a lot of trouble later on.

Similarly, roll up your windows before you leave your car. While it can be tempting to crack the windows on a hot day, a car thief only needs a fraction of an inch to be able to reach in with an object and unlock your door.

Don’t Keep Spare Keys with the Car

Although leaving your spare key or key fob in the car may seem like a convenient option, it’s not worth the risk. Some drivers keep their spare in the glove box. Thieves know this and will often search for them during a break-in. Other drivers leave a spare key somewhere under the car, but this is another well-known tactic and should be avoided.

The III reports that close to 230,000 cars stolen between January 1, 2016 and December 31, 2018 had the keys or fob left inside the vehicle.5 

Don’t become a part of this statistic—leave your spare keys at home.

Never Leave Valuables in the Car

Cash, electronic devices, tools, and more can all attract the attention of thieves. Leaving valuables in your car only gives car thieves an incentive to break in, which could lead to theft of the vehicle itself. The answer to, “Does car insurance cover break ins?”, depends on the type of coverage you have, so remove your belongings rather than leaving anything to chance. If you have to stash anything expensive in your car, be sure to keep it in the trunk or cover it with a blanket.

Install a Car Alarm System

Car alarm systems deter thieves in several ways:

  • A loud, audible alarms attract the attention of nearby people
  • Immobilizers keep thieves from driving away
  • Sensors alert you when your car has been struck or moved
  • Flashing lights illuminate the thief, even at night

There are various car alarm systems to choose from, and options start as low as $60. If you’re willing to spend a little more, you’ll be rewarded with handy features like 2-way communication, passive arming, and even smartphone compatibility. 

After purchasing the best car alarm system for your needs, you can choose to install it yourself or pay for car alarm installation. Some systems require accurate installation in order to function properly, so hiring a professional is a worthy expense.

Don’t Leave Your Car Running

A significant portion of vehicle thefts occurs when the keys are already inside the vehicle. Drivers will often leave their keys in the ignition when running out for a quick errand or warming up the car on a winter morning.

An idling car with unlocked doors is the perfect target for motor vehicle theft. Even if you keep your running vehicle in your sight, it only takes a moment for someone to come by and drive off with your truck. Turning your car off and locking the doors is always the safest choice.

Park in the Right Place

You can decrease your odds of car theft by parking in the right places. Look out for parking spaces that meet the following criteria:

  • Well-lit – Parking under streetlights or near illuminated businesses is an excellent way to deter thieves. The light makes any action near the car visible, so would-be joyriders are likely to find an easier target. Bright lighting is especially important if you plan to leave your vehicle overnight.
  • High traffic – The more people walking and driving by your car, the better. A carjacker is unlikely to steal a car in plain sight and will favor vehicles on quiet side streets and back alleys instead.
  • Indoors – Whenever possible, park inside a parking garage. With security cameras and only one or two exits, garages are difficult targets for car thieves. Many indoor parking spaces also come with a security guard for added protection. They may cost more than outdoor options, but the added safety is worth it.

Use a Steering Wheel Lock

Steering wheel locks have been around for decades, and with good reason. They’re affordable, easy to use, and, above all, effective. A steering wheel lock makes turning the wheel impossible, meaning that a joy ride is out of the question. If car thieves see one of these in your car, they’ll likely turn their sights on other, less-protected vehicles.

Etch Your VIN Into the Windows

Many car thieves steal vehicles intending to sell them or their individual parts. By having your unique VIN (vehicle identification number) etched onto the windows, selling the vehicle becomes much more difficult, as the thief would have to replace the windows before the sale. As such, if a thief sees your VIN etched onto the window, they will likely move on to another car.

You can have your VIN etched on professionally or purchase a DIY kit to do it at home.

Install a Home Security System

If you park your vehicle outside of your home at night, a security camera and motion-activated light can help to keep it safe. The light will turn on if someone comes near your car, leaving them exposed. A camera will help you identify the culprit if a break-in or theft does occur.

Install a GPS Tracker

GPS trackers may not keep your car from being stolen, but they can help you recover your vehicle after the fact. Additionally, when you’re panicking and trying to figure out how to report a stolen car, knowing that your car is being tracked will give you some peace of mind. They’re easy to install and relatively inexpensive. A GPS tracker greatly increases your odds of recovering your car after it has been moved from its original location, as local law enforcement can use the data to locate your vehicle.

Prepare for Anything with the Right Insurance

Even when you take all the possible precautions, vehicle theft can still occur. Thieves change their methods to keep up with changing technology, and sometimes you’re simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

That’s why one of the best ways to protect your investment is with auto insurance. A reliable car insurance plan may not keep thieves away, but it certainly makes the aftermath of a carjacking as straightforward as possible. Comprehensive car insurance will typically cover you in cases of break-ins and theft, so it’s worth spending the small extra premium for peace of mind.

If you want to find the best deals on all types of vehicle insurance, we can help you. At 4AutoInsuranceQuote, we search the nation’s top auto insurance companies so you can compare rates with ease.

Ready to get started? Enter your information in the search tool today and receive a free quote within minutes.


  1. FBI. Motor Vehicle Theft. 
  2. NICB. Auto Thefts Surge In 2020 According to New NICB Report.
  4. Insurance information Institute. Facts + Statistics: Auto theft. 

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