The first reported theft of a car in the world happened on this day in 1896. Baron de Zulyen had his Peugeot stolen in Paris. The vehicle was taken by a mechanic from the factory, where it had been brought in for repairs. The thief and the car were found in a nearby town.
Obviously that car probably was not equipped with a an alarm system or anti-theft device. Even so, who would expect one’s car to be stolen by an employee of the repair shop where it has been taken for maintenance? Especially in the day and age when most people didn’t know how to drive.
The short item about the Baron’s stolen car jogged my memory about the theft problem I had with my very first car. It was a red 1967 Camaro hardtop, that I had bought from dad, in 1971. I outfitted the car with aftermarket “mag” wheels, custom tires, and a quality sound system. The vehicle was stored in our family’s locked garage.
One morning, dad went to get the family car to drive to work, but discovered my car sitting on the floor without its tires. The police were notified, and they filed a report. On dad’s drive out of town to a job site, he saw a car ahead of him with my wheels in the partially closed trunk. Dad couldn’t take chase because he was driving a state owned vehicle, besides, he had no power of arrest. The incident became one of dad’s favorite stories to tell friends.
I had full coverage insurance, so I was compensated for the loss. I outfitted the Camaro with replacement wheels and tires of the same type, but this time I purchased locking lug nuts for each wheel. I drove the car without incident for several years afterwards.
I had one more serious encounter with theft. That time, my 1981 Datsun was broken into for a pair of nice stereo speakers. The thief took nothing else from the car, but left a broken window as a calling card. Following that incident, I installed a wireless, “silent” alarm on the car. Fortunately, there were no more theft problems with that car.
From that time forward, with one exception, I’ve only driven generic looking cars with no aftermarket accessories. Crime had taken the joy out of owning a tweaked car. I don’t want to worry about having things taken off or from my car or having the vehicle stolen.
That said, it turns out that the most stolen vehicles are common, run of the mill sedans like Honda Accords and Toyota Camrys. Sometimes I just want to kick myself.
First of all, I take the normal steps to prevent car theft by closing all the windows, taking the key from the ignition switch, and making sure the doors are all locked when parking. If I’m only going to be “gone for just a minute” at the post office or convenience store, I still shut off the ignition and take the keys.
One time I averted theft of my VW with just this precaution. A stranger had slipped behind the wheel while I was inside the post office checking for mail. When I asked him why he was inside my car, he claimed that he had mistakenly thought it was his; it looked just like his car. After I got inside and checked for missing items, I noticed the potential thief get into a rusty Ford that was parked on the street, nearby, and drive away in a hurry.
How many times have you walked by a vehicle and noticed a phone, a wallet, or some other valuable item sitting on top of the dashboard? It would only take a few moments for somebody to smash a window and grab a wallet or phone. Not only would the owner have to get the car repaired, but the credit cards and identity cards would be gone with the wallet; the loss of the phone would present its own complications. It’s better to lock these things out of sight, or better yet, take them with you. Take the same precautions with coats, jackets, and other garments and accessories.
I’m always careful about where I park the car away from home. I look for a spot that has good lighting and is in a high traffic area. It doesn’t matter if it’s a street location or a parking garage. I don’t want to give a potential thief “cover” by parking in an obscure place. This consideration is also important if nightfall occurs before you return to your vehicle. A well-lit, busy location will be a help for personal security, too.
If you must use an attended lot, be sure to give the attendent only the “valet key”. You don’t want to hand over your house and office keys. Don’t surrender any key marked with a key code. If you give more than the “valet key” you increase the risk of not only car theft, but even more serious crime.
By the way, don’t hide a key anywhere on your vehicle with one of those magnetic boxes or any other “hidden” device. One of the first things thieves search for are “hidden” key devices. Always find a way to keep a spare on your person, not your car. If your vehicle’s audio system has a security code, make a note of it and keep it at home, not inside your car.
At home, if you have a garage, use it as a garage, not a clutter storage building. The best place for your vehicle is your own, locked garage, not the driveway or the street.
Don’t forget security while you drive. Get in the habit of locking all the doors as you get underway. Some vehicles have an automatic locking feature, use it.
Whenever you stop at a traffic light or in traffic for any reason, keep enough room in front to allow escape, if need be. Don’t fall for anyone telling you to stop because you have a flat tire or some malfunction. Drive to a safe place like a gasoline station where you can examine your vehicle yourself.
If you encounter a disabled vehicle at the side of the road, stay inside your own car and contact emergency services on your mobile phone if the other motorist requests help. If you must speak with a stranger, only lower your window a crack.
These are just some of the basic, common sense precautions you can take. I know there are other problems like carjacking and armed robbery. If you think you’re at risk for these, you should ask experts about high risk security issues. In most cases, if you are confronted by an armed robber, don’t resist. Give up your car or cash. Call the police when it is safe.
Don’t sacrifice your life for your car or stuff.