Leaving car doors unlocked or keys in the ignition are invitations to theft. Everyone knows that.
But there are a host of less obvious mistakes that also might make your ride easy prey for thieves.
Following are some dumb moves that put our cars — and the contents inside — at risk.
1. Leaving valuables in sight
Leaving valuables visible inside your car is like creating a store display for thieves. If they see what they like during a little “window shopping,” it takes only a moment to smash the glass, grab what they want and flee.
Even if you are only wandering from the car for a few minutes, always lock your valuables in the trunk, says the Los Angeles Police Department. If that’s not an option, hide them under the seats, in the glove box or in other compartments.
However, remember that some items just shouldn’t be left in an unattended vehicle under any circumstances, as we detail in “9 Things You Should Never Leave in a Car.”
2. Thinking crooks won’t target your ‘old’ car
On the surface, this makes sense. Why would thieves pass by a gleaming, late-model sports car just so they can get their hands on your junker?
Marc Hinch, an auto theft investigator and creator of stolen911.com, explains the appeal of older cars to Reader’s Digest:
“In the 2000s, most vehicles started to come equipped with more advanced ignition systems such as chipped keys that need to be in proximity to the dash for the car to start. Many of the vehicles prior to this time are easy to start if you know how to manipulate the ignition.”
Your friends and family may make fun of that old rust-bucket, but car thieves know better. That’s why they target cars like the 2000 Honda Civic.
So, don’t lower your guard just because the mileage on your ride is a bit high.
3. Buying cars with cloth tops
If you love your convertible or jeep, this might be a tough one to swallow. But thieves view cloth tops as a prime target. As Nationwide Insurance says:
“Obviously, it’s easier to break into a ‘rag top’ than a sheet of reinforced metal. For a thief, convertibles can be an easy target.”
A heavy-duty knife can quietly cut through a cloth top like butter. From a criminal’s perspective, what’s not to love?
4. Parking on dark, quiet streets
As with cockroaches, thieves like to do their dirty work in the dark. Whenever possible, park your car in a well-lighted place with lots of foot traffic.
Choosing the right parking space is also important for your personal safety. According to the police department in Boulder, Colorado:
“Avoid parking near trucks, vans, dumpsters and other objects that obstruct visibility and provide hiding places. Avoid parking or walking near strangers loitering or sitting in vehicles. Check that no one is hiding around your vehicle before you get out.”
5. Keeping your car running unattended
If you’ve ever spent a winter in a city like Boston, Minneapolis or Buffalo, New York, you know the temptation to leave the car running unattended on a subzero day while you wait for it to get nice and toasty.
But doing so — even if you have a spare key and you lock the doors — can turn your car into the easiest target a thief will ever find.
Don’t believe us? A couple of winters ago, Minneapolis police reported that about 82% of car thefts involved vehicles that were left running.
6. Imagining parking lots are a safe zone
Having dozens or hundreds of cars surrounding your vehicle in a giant parking lot might give you a feeling of safety. What are the odds that a car thief will choose your vehicle?
But thieves love parking lots. Seeing all those vehicles — near a store, at the airport or outside a stadium — is enough to evoke a Pavlovian response from shady car crooks.
For example, thieves in San Francisco have stolen catalytic converters and wheels from scores of cars parked in lots associated with the area’s BART public transportation system. And that tale plays out countless times in lots across the nation.
So, remember that there is no reason to think your car won’t end up in a crook’s crosshairs.
7. Hiding a spare key inside the car
Think you found a great place to hide a spare key? Maybe you tuck it deep into the glove compartment, bury it in the center console or slide it into a change tray.
Steve Fuller — a former car thief — is aware of all those tricks. And he’s used them to his advantage. As ABC News reports:
“Fuller said 90 percent of the vehicles he’s stolen came from him just scoping out the vehicle, finding the keys, and taking the vehicle.”
8. Making things easy for you — and thieves
Are you a driver who likes to back into spaces so it’s easier to drive away later? Remember that the same thought occurs to thieves looking for vehicles that offer them a quick getaway.
So, reconsider backing into that spot. Also, when you park on the street, turn your wheels in toward the curb. It may sound silly, but every little thing you do to make your car less appealing to thieves helps.