Although auto thieves took some time off due to Covid restrictions and lockdowns just like many of us, the number of stolen vehicles in Canada is on the rise again. Police departments across the country are reporting increased rates of vehicle theft and warning of new methods thieves are using to find and steal vehicles. With that in mind, here are some ways to help protect your vehicle.
Those new methods thieves are using don’t actually help them take vehicles, but they make it more convenient. For crooks to steal your ride, they need to find it first. Where do they find large groups of cars and trucks so they can pick out the ones they want to steal? Busy parking lots.
But parking lots aren’t great places to steal cars from because they’re highly visible and full of people, so instead, as York Regional Police in Ontario reports, thieves have started using everyday consumer tracking devices like Apple AirTags or Tile tags, which use Bluetooth and an accompanying app to track down misplaced items, typically stuff like keys, wallets, or even pets. Thieves stash a tracking tag somewhere on your vehicle, under a bumper or in a trailer wiring cover, and then you drive home none the wiser. Later, they can check online where the vehicle ended up, likely in a driveway somewhere, where they can go to steal the vehicle in an environment that’s quieter, darker, and less public.
Here’s how to make your vehicle less appealing to thieves in general, and that even if they use this new tactic, it will make it a bit more difficult for them to actually steal your vehicle.
Lock Your Car
Yes, this is the obvious one, but especially in rural parts of the country, it’s still an important one. The first step of stealing your vehicle is getting inside, and just pulling the handle is a lot easier (as well as less noticeable) than smashing a window or forcing a lock open. This one protects your valuables, too, though you shouldn’t leave valuables in your vehicle, especially not in plain view. Having your interior rummaged isn’t the same as the whole vehicle being taken, but many of these tips can help prevent both.
York Regional Police say that most vehicles are stolen from a driveway, so they recommend parking in a locked garage. That could be an underground secure lot or it could mean it’s time to clean out your garage and use it for your vehicle instead of as a storage locker. A vehicle inside is out of sight and better protected against theft.
Use a Steering Wheel Lock
It sounds comically dated in 2022, but police are once again recommending the favourite anti-theft device of the 1980s. These metal bars that fit inside your steering wheel and stop a thief from being able to drive your car can be defeated by a thief, but the idea is to make your vehicle more inconvenient to steal than another one. A thief is less likely to want to create a scene trying to take your vehicle by cutting through the steering wheel or the wheel lock and more likely to move on to easier pickings. Shifter locks and pedal locks are also available to make work tougher for crooks.
Buy a Car with a Manual Transmission?
It’s usually said as a joke, but there have been reports in the past where car thefts were prevented because they had a manual transmission and the thieves just simply didn’t know how to use one. Driving a vehicle with a manual transmission is becoming a lost art and it’s true that most people, especially in Canada, simply never learned, so there might be some merit to this.
Digital Tracking and Immobilization
GM’s OnStar was the original, but today, nearly every automaker offers a connected telematics system that connects your vehicle to the internet. These systems offer varying levels of vehicle control from accompanying apps, but almost all allow you to remotely locate your vehicle and many allow remote immobilization, often in collaboration with local police. So if your vehicle is stolen, you can tell police where it is (it’s not safe to retrieve it yourself) and have the vehicle shut down so that it can’t be driven away. Many of these services require a subscription, though, and can be disabled by disconnecting the car’s battery or parking the vehicle in an area with no GPS or cellular reception.
If you don’t like your vehicle’s built-in satellite tracking, aftermarket solutions are available that will also track your vehicle. They can work even if the factory system is disabled and let authorities know where to find your ride.
Don’t Hide a Key
Stashing a key somewhere on your vehicle, like under the bumper or along the frame, is still common for people worried about losing their keys and getting locked out. These hidden keys are easy to find (and frequently fall off of the vehicle anyway) and make stealing your vehicle a snap for even the least sophisticated thief. If you’re worried about a lockout, use your vehicle’s app instead.
Lock Your Ports
Police say that crooks are using high-tech tools to access the onboard computer systems of modern vehicles and hacking them to make the vehicle accept a new key or a remote. Every vehicle since the late 1990s has had this diagnostic port located in the cabin, and removing it or even moving it is a very bad idea. Instead, police suggest purchasing a diagnostic port lock that puts a metal locking cover over the diagnostic port. Crooks can’t access the port without spending precious time picking the lock or risking destroying the port by prying off the lock. As with many of these measures, that’s enough to get them to move on to the next victim.
If you park outside but in front of your home, a visible security camera can be an excellent deterrent to thieves. A working camera with a high-resolution feed and night vision is the best way to get a good shot of the person who has taken your vehicle, but ideally, they’ll notice the camera first and simply move along to another target. Like many of these measures, the goal is ultimately to make your vehicle a less attractive target, rather than making it completely theft-proof.
Mind the Bollards
This is a device we’ve seen popping up in driveways in some nicer suburbs around North America: a removable bollard that physically blocks the entrance to your driveway so a vehicle can’t be removed. These metal and concrete posts anchor into the ground, just like the barriers you’ve probably seen around propane exchanges at the gas station or in front of supermarket doors. Unlike those posts, however, these driveway versions can raise and lower, either manually or mechanically, physically blocking a car inside your driveway. Is it extreme? Maybe. Is it effective? Most definitely. Just remember to move it before you try to back out. This can stop a crook even if they have your keys, as long as you don’t keep the bollard key in the same place as your car keys. A gate will work too, but is usually more effort and takes up more space.
With many thefts the work of organized crime, stopping the most determined thief won’t always be possible. Following these steps, though, can help make your vehicle a less attractive target and harder to take, as well as increase the chances you get it back after a theft.