Street Parking Survival Guide

Car thefts increased by 9.2 percent in 2020, according to a preliminary report by the NICB, with more cars stolen than in any other year in the past decade. The NICB says the economic downturn, loss of juvenile outreach programs, and limited public safety resources are probably contributing factors. Car thieves are opportunistic and look for vehicles that are easy to steal, so making it as difficult and slow as possible for them to boost your car could give you an advantage. Friedlander says installing anti-theft devices might qualify you for a 15 to 20 percent discount on the optional comprehensive portion of your auto insurance policy too.

Know if you’re driving a target. Take extra precautions if your car is listed on the NICB’s annual Hot Wheels report, which ranks the 10 most frequently stolen makes and models. Theft claims were nearly twice as common for Hyundai and Kia vehicles as a group than for all other manufacturers, according to a recent report from the Highway Loss Data Institute, which tracks insurance claims.

“Apparently, [older model] Jeep Cherokees are one of the easiest cars to steal because it’s easy to punch the ignitions,” Jen Martinez says. Her 2000 Jeep was stolen on Labor Day in 2020 with nothing but a screwdriver jammed into the ignition. “When I got my car back, I had to start it with the same screwdriver they used to steal it.” (In fact, Labor Day is the second most common holiday for car theft, after New Year’s Day, according to the NCIB 2019 Holiday Theft Report.)

Also a regular on that list is the Toyota Corolla, not exactly a sexy car, but its parts are in high demand. Rogers had his Corolla stolen in Syracuse, N.Y., and when it was recovered weeks later, all kinds of parts were missing and the hatchback had been replaced. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, vehicle thieves can make two to four times a vehicle’s worth by selling its individual parts.

Install a visible or audible deterrent. Alarms that disable the car, steering wheel locks such as the Club, and wheel locks communicate to thieves that your car is protected. None of these is 100 percent effective, but Milchtein says their presence alone can deter most thieves, who will often move on to something easier to steal. The first thing Martinez did when she got her Jeep back from the police? “I went and bought a Club,” she says. “I put it on every day.”

Stop thieves in their tracks (or at least slow them down). Immobilizing devices, including kill switches (hidden devices that inhibit the flow of electricity or fuel to the engine until a hidden switch or button is activated), smart keys (the car can’t start without them), and brake locks, can prevent thieves from driving off in your car. In hindsight, Mike Massucco of Oakland, Calif., says he should have protected his vintage Toyota pickup truck, which he knew people were eyeing before it was stolen. “Every couple of months, I’d find notes on the truck asking if I wanted to sell it,” he says. “I didn’t have a kill switch on it, so anyone with a slim jim and screwdriver could have stolen it.” (A slim jim, a locksmith’s tool, is a thin strip of metal with a hooked end that is slipped between a car’s window and the rubber seal to unlock the door.)