Foiling Auto Thieves

Tracking the Car if You Can’t

More than one million cars—of all ages and models—are stolen in the U.S. every year. You can take simple steps to make your car a less-likely target:

Free measures first. Start with steps that don't cost anything—obvious but not always observed. Lock your car and park it in a well-lit place, and never leave your keys in your car while doing errands, even if you're just gone for a minute.

Discourage thieves. Many car thieves are looking for the easiest target, so they pass by vehicles that look problematic. To deter them, you can try a steering wheel lock or a tire claw, which will keep one wheel from turning (both available at theclub.com). Also, consider installing an alarm that goes off when the door is opened without the key.

Keep the car from moving. If an alarm doesn't deter a thief, you can make sure the vehicle won't start with professional installation of a kill switch. This disrupts the ignition circuitry so the car will not start unless that switch is turned on.

LoJack. LoJack (lojack.com) is the best-known tracking service. A device is installed in your car that gives off a radio signal when activated by police; if you report your car stolen, police can pick up that signal if it's nearby. For an extra fee, you can also get notification by phone, e-mail, or text message if the car is moved without your permission. The big drawback: LoJack isn't available everywhere—just in heavily populated areas of 27 states (check at lojack.com).

OnStar. Most recent GM models come equipped with OnStar technology (onstar.com). If you report your car stolen, OnStar can locate the car using cell phone and GPS technology—then tell the police where to find it. With some 2009 and later models, OnStar can send a signal disabling the accelerator—slowing the car and avoiding a high speed chase.

GPS car trackers. With these devices, often marketed to parents of teen drivers, you can locate your car from your computer at any time. For someone who can afford more serious teen-tracking, devices such as the Viper 200 GPS notify you by cell phone or e-mail when your vehicle is being driven above a certain speed, say 80 mph. This plan also will give you early theft warning if your battery is disconnected or the car is being moved without the ignition turned on—for example, moved by a tow truck.

 

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