You might want to consider beefing up your vehicle security system if you live in California, where eight cities in the Golden State made the annual top 10 “Hot List” of metropolitan areas registering the highest vehicle theft rates, as compiled by the National Insurance Crime Bureau in Des Plaines, Ill.
Auto thefts in general were up by 1.3 percent during 2012, with 13 states in the western region of the U.S. (including Alaska and Hawaii) leading the pack with a whopping 10.6 increase over 2011 figures. Modesto, Calif. tops the list of the ten least secure cities in which to park a car, which is featured in the accompanying box.
The NCIB bases its rankings on vehicle theft data for the 2012 calendar year obtained from the National Crime Information Center for each of the nation's metropolitan areas (i.e. the top ranked Modesto, Calif. area includes the entire county of Stanislaus, not just the city itself). Because of the survey’s population-based methodology, a metropolitan area having a smaller population and a moderate number of thefts is often ranked higher in the NICB’s Hot List than an area that suffers more vehicle thefts per year but has a denser population.
If you own a particularly coveted ride and want to live where the theft rates are far lower, try one of the 10 relatively sleepy towns in the second list that, of the 381 metropolitan areas studied, were found to have the lowest auto theft rates for 2012.
Still, no major city reports zero cars stolen in a given year, so the NCIB recommends motorists adhere to four “layers of protection” to help guard against vehicle theft.
• Use common sense. Never leave the keys in the ignition when the vehicle is unattended. Keep the windows and sunroof closed, and don’t hide a spare key where a crook might find it. Never leave packages or other valuable items in plain sight within the vehicle.
If you have a garage, park inside it, not out on the driveway, and make sure both entry doors are closed and locked at all times. If you park in public, choose a well-lit spot, turn your wheels toward the curb and engage the emergency brake to make it more difficult to be towed.
• Use an antitheft device. An inexpensive steering-wheel lock like the popular “Club” can be as effective as costlier alarm systems to deter thieves. Meanwhile the latest high-tech security systems can alert owners remotely via text messaging if someone is tempering with your vehicle. The added bonus here is having an antitheft device will often garner a discount on your car insurance.
• Add an immobilizing device. Having a simple ignition “kill switch” installed in a hidden location makes it more difficult for a crook to start a car or truck and drive it away. Even better are starter, ignition and fuel pump disablers that require wireless ignition authorization.
• Install a tracking device. Advanced vehicle recovery devices like LoJack and General Motors’ OnStar system use global positioning technology to help police departments locate cars and trucks if they are stolen. They can be pricey and require a monthly subscription, but if you own an expensive high-profile car, the peace of mind they bring can be well worth the money.