Auto theft is a cancer on modern society. In the old days, they hung horse thieves. Nowadays, car thieves serve little time behind bars, even if they are caught (which few are). Apparently, society does not consider auto theft a serious crime. It's glorified in video games and movies, and many people think it is a nonviolent crime. Tell that to anybody who has been carjacked. I say bring back the noose!
Almost a million vehicles a year were stolen in the U.S. back in 2008 (956,846 in 2008 according to the FBI). Thanks to improved anti-theft measures in new cars and keyless smart fobs, auto thefts have declined by over 30 percent to around 600,000 cars a year (2016). Yet few auto thefts result in an arrest. The cops can catch speeders and people who turn right on red without coming to a complete stop, but they don't have much luck catching car thieves.
There is hope. Today's anti-theft systems with coded smart keys and keyless push start fobs make it very difficult if not impossible to hot wire a car. So car thieves simply look for older vehicles that do not have as sophisticated anti-theft systems. Or, they look for vehicles where the owner has left the keys in the car. Or, they stick a gun in your face and carjack you at a stop light or filling station. Or, they cruise around in a tow truck with their shopping list and simply snatch your vehicle right out of your driveway or a parking lot often in broad daylight. The bad guys always seem to be a step ahead.
There have been recent reports that car thieves are using miniature radio receivers to intercept and record the signals between the vehicle and a remote keyless entry fob or smart fob. After you have walked away from your vehicle, they use the code to unlock the doors and hack the computer with a laptop via the OBD diagnostic connector to start and steal the vehicle.
We all pay for auto theft with higher insurance premiums (though auto premiums have supposedly come down a bit in recent years due to declining theft rates). We also pay with more complicated keyless entry systems and smart anti-theft systems that are designed to foil thieves, but can cause starting problems and can be very difficult and expensive to diagnose and repair.
The only way to prevent auto theft is to drive a car nobody wants to steal. Maybe that's why I have never had a car stolen. No expensive luxury cars or SUVs. No expensive sports cars, performance cars or classic muscle cars. No cars with hard-to-find or expensive parts that make them valuable to car thieves. No vehicles that corrupt officials in Eastern European, Asian or South American countries would covet or want to drive as a status symbol. That doesn't leave many choices. I think maybe a 10-year-old used Kia with some body damage might be theft-proof.
The only foolproof way to prevent car theft is to not own a car. But since a vehicle of some sort is an absolute necessity for most people who live in this country, that is not an option for most of us.
A locked garage offers reasonably good protection, but once you leave your premises you are vulnerable to having your car stolen or carjacked.
Aftermarket Anti-Theft Solutions
There are all kinds of aftermarket anti-theft systems that can prevent your vehicle from starting if somebody attempts to steal it. Some of these are professionally installed systems, some are DIY systems you can install yourself, and some use smart phone apps to help you thwart would-be car thieves. The smart phone apps typically send you a text or email alert if somebody makes off with your vehicle. Many of these apps allow you to track your vehicle (useful for spying on family, teenagers and ex-spouses). Some apps also allow you to remotely lock and unlock your doors from anywhee in the world (assuming you can get a connection) and to even remotely start your engine. The car anti-theft apps typially sell for $100 or less.
One of the simpliest and least expensive devices to prevent theft is a batteery disconnect switch. The switch goes on one of the battery cables where it connects to the battery. But there are a couple of disadvantages with these devices. One is that you have to open the hood and manually disconnect the switch when you park your vehicle. All a thief has to do is open the hood and switch it back on, assuming he takes the time to look for such a device. The other is that disconnecting the battery on many late model cars causes a loss of memory in various modules, which may prevent some systems and accessores from functioning normally even when the battery is reconnected.
Another option is to have an anti-theft system installed that can track your vehicle if it is stolen. These include hidden mini-transponders that use GPS to track and locate your vehicle.
WARNING! DO NOT attempt to recover a stolen vehicle yourself. Let the cops handle it. Confronting a car thief can turn ugly real fast.
One professional system that has been around for a number of years is LoJack. This is a profesionally installed system (often by new and used car dealers, but also independent shops) with a one-time charge of several hundred dollars. The LoJack system hides a small radio transmitter inside your vehicle that is remotely activated if you report your vehicle stolen. The transmitter sends out a homing signal that the police (not you) can use to track and hopefully recover your vehicle. It works almost anywhere, including inside a concrete garage or a steel shipping container.
A LoJack device will NOT prevent your vehicle from being stolen, unless you have a sticker in the window that says "Protected by LoJack." Even then, a determined thief may take your vehicle, then park it somewhere for a cooling off period to see if the cops are tracking it. Or, they may use a radio scanner to check your vehicle for a beacon signal coming from the hidden LoJack transmitter. Or, they may try to find and remove or disable the LoJack transmitter. Yet in spite of such efforts, LoJack has racked up some success stories. Here are some of the highlights from a LoJack press release:
From LoJack Press Release (December 2009):
U.S.: LoJack System Helps Police Bust Massive Global Theft Ring
A California-based Lexus dealer who had installed LoJack units on the cars in his lot notified police that a vehicle was fraudulently purchased from his dealership. Authorities activated the transponder in the vehicle and within three hours located the car inside a cargo container at the Port of Los Angeles. The detectives also recovered a second container with two more vehicles and determined that two additional containers had already left the country. The two containers at sea were recalled and four more high-end vehicles worth approximately $400,000 were recovered. After a lengthy investigation, authorities found eight vehicles, made five arrests and have several warrants pending. Most important, they managed to dismantle a theft ring that had been responsible for the theft of 67 high-end vehicles worth approximately $4.5 million as well as 300 other vehicles stolen from across the country over a three-year period.
South Africa: LoJack and "Wolf" Solve Carjacking
At a quiet intersection, four armed men opened fire on a woman driver and her male passenger in a Toyota Hilux, seriously injuring the driver and killing the passenger. The men pulled the occupants out of the vehicle and drove off. Within minutes of activation, authorities tracked the vehicle to a dark, secluded area where they found the car parked outside a house. Seeing the authorities arrive, the suspects in the vehicle fled on foot. The authorities blocked off the area and called in the dog unit where Wolf, a highly trained German shepherd, picked up a scent and quickly found one of the suspects hiding under a bush a few hundred yards away from the vehicle. The LoJack technology (with some help from Wolf) led to an arrest.
Spain: LoJack System on Stolen Vehicle Helps Police Bust Major Theft Ring
A Spanish rental car company installed a recovery system on its fleet. When a customer who had rented a vehicle for two months failed to return the car at the end of the agreement, the rental company called authorities to activate the system. Using LoJack's Pan-European network, authorities tracked the vehicle to a warehouse in Belgium where 12 other cars were discovered. The vehicles were all part of a massive theft operation involving more than 200 rental cars stolen from eastern Spain.
Italy: LoJack Helps Police Crack Cross-Border Theft Case
A BMW X5 was stolen in Spain, where wily thieves thought they would outwit police by removing the Spanish license plates and replacing them with Ukrainian tags. Unbeknownst to the thieves, the vehicle was equipped with LoJack, and although the vehicle was driven 1,500 kilometers from Spain to Italy, the vehicles was tracked and recovered within hours after the vehicle entered Italy.
Canada: LoJack SCI Helps Recover $2 Million Load of Merchandise
LoJack Supply Chain Integrity's tracking and monitoring solution helped Canada's Peel Regional Theft Task Force recover a stolen load of merchandise worth an estimated $2 million. Seven members of a known cargo theft gang who hijacked the driver of the tractor-trailer and were responsible for several other cargo theft incidents in Ontario were arrested in this case.
Argentina: LoJack Recovers Stolen Vehicle and 18 ATVs in Less than Three Hours
LoJack recovered a Mercedes-Benz vehicle and tractor-trailer in less than three hours. Thieves had stolen the vehicle and were on the run with the trailer, which was loaded with 18 Yamaha ATVs. Soon after, police found the vehicle and trailer with its contents perfectly intact.
Mexico: Recovery Leads to Chop Shop Bust and Resolution of Carjacking Case
A 2003 Ford-250 was stolen out of California and tracked to a repair shop in Tijuana, Mexico. There, authorities found seven other vehicles, six of which were stolen in the U.S. and then taken across the border. The vehicles were in various stages of being dissembled. One of the vehicles was a 1998 Dodge station wagon that had been used in a U.S. carjacking. The chop shop was dismantled and the shop owner was arrested.
UK: Recovery System Helps Find Stolen Generator�Hidden Behind Metal Sheets
A generator worth 4,500 pounds Sterling was stolen in London and tracked to a remote and isolated builder's yard across the River Thames. It was well hidden behind a building under heavy metal sheets, not visible to the eye. The Radio Frequency signal emanating from the generator was able to penetrate the metal, which enabled authorities to recover it.
Canada: Stolen John Deere Leads to Recovery of $500k in Construction Equipment
A John Deere tractor was stolen from a construction site in Quebec. Authorities followed the signal and located the tractor at a farm in a remote location 40 kilometers from the construction site. Along with the tractor, they recovered three other pieces of construction equipment including a Mack truck and two asphalt pavers valued at nearly $500,000.
France: Trucks Parts, Chop Shop and International Metal Theft Ring
A Mercedes truck was stolen and within three and a half hours police tracked the signal to a warehouse where they found the truck. Inside the warehouse, authorities found the parts of seven Mercedes trucks and a Nissan Patrol. The parts were carefully cut and sorted and placed in boxes for shipment to Africa. As a result of this recovery, police were able to dismantle a major international scrap metal ring.
GM Onstar Helps Thwart Auto Theft
GM's OnStar driver assistance program that is offered on late model GM vehicles has some helpful anti-theft benefits too. These include:
Stolen Vehicle Assistance - If somebody steals your vehicle, OnStar can use GPS to find its location so the police can recover it.
Remote Ignition Block - If you report your vehicle stolen, OnStar can prevent the engine from restarting when the thief turns off the ignition. The engine can't be started until OnStar releases the ignition block.
Stolen Vehicle Slowdown - No more dangerous high speed police pursuits. OnStar can remotely slow the vehicle to a crawl so authorities can catch it and bust the crook.
Theft Alarm Notification - This feature sends you a text, email or phone alert if your car alarm goes off after you have locked the doors. You can then notify the police as needed for further action.
The nice thing about OnStar is that is comes preinstalled in the vehicle. There is no installation fee and no transmitter or smart app to buy. OnStar is offered free for a trial period on all new GM vehicles, with a monthly fee (currently $25 to $35 per month depending on the plan and features) to continue the service once the free trial period expires. For details, go to OnStar.com
Related links:AutoTheft Info
AA1Car Automotive Diagnostic Help Center
Auto Repair Yourself
Carley Automotive Software
Scan Tool Help