Cold Theft Auto: 6 Tricks to Fend Off Car Thieves this Winter
Watch any high-octane, car racing flick where auto theft is part of the plot line – Gone in 60 Seconds, The Italian Job, or even the dreadful Need for Speed movie (based on the fantastic game series) – and you’ll notice something. You won’t find a scene with snow in them. These movies give people the impression that car theft only takes place in tropical locales or in summer weather. But it’s not true.
Auto theft is as a big problem in winter as it is in summer, and seasoned thieves couldn’t care less what time of the year it is. So don’t get the wrong idea – cars get stolen in the cold months too, and you need to protect your ride.
An article published in early 2013 in the Globe and Mail detailed the story of a man who witnessed a car theft on the morning of New Year’s Eve, inconspicuously. He had parked his car at the parking lot of a gym he exercised at, in a position he describes as “kitty-cornered” to a light blue minivan. He noticed two men, wearing thick winter coats and dark toques, climb into the van nonchalantly with smiling faces.
Within ten minutes of the encounter, gym-goers and staff members began mumbling about what had taken place – a light, blue minivan was stolen. The two men who jumped in were car thieves. The owner of the minivan frantically rushed to police who arrived on the scene. The writer of the article pointed out, a startling truth revealed to him about these kind of occurrences, “It happens sometimes. They steal a car and drive it until it’s almost out of gas. Then they just dump it in a lot and try to find another”.
During the winter of 2013 – 2014, a string of car thefts took place in Winnipeg, from the months of December to February. At least 162 of the thefts occurred because of keys left in the ignition. It’s likely that drivers had left their cars running in a misguided attempt to warm their cars up, and unwisely, walked away with the keys inside. These reports prompted Winnipeg police, CAA Manitoba and Manitoba Public Insurance (MPI) to warn drivers against leaving their cars running and unattended. Not all the stolen vehicles were unsupervised, suggesting other security breaches may have been present.
Car Thieves Don’t Hibernate
Auto stealing aficionados are on the prowl while the rest of the world goes hiding when the snow falls. It could be forty below. It could be slushy and slippery. If there’s an opportunity to nab a vehicle they deem as valuable, they’ll go for it. In fact, it’s safe to say that the winter is a great time to do it, because people tend to let their guard down at this time of the year. There are habits that people get into, or practices they simply ignore which make them sitting ducks. And any thief worth his or her salt will capitalize on that.
Time to Get Defensive
So how do you stop them? There’s no thief-repellent you can spray on your car that will “shoo” a thief away. However, with the right combination of tools, habits and practices to avoid, you will shield your vehicle from the meddling hands of thieves. After reading this list, it will be clear if your defenses are pretty solid, or if there are improvements to make. Since most winter robberies occur because of bad habits, it’s worth considering what not to do first.
1. Leave your car running and unattended – The hotwiring seen in movies isn’t the biggest reason why car thefts take place. It happens because drivers allow it to happen. A car that’s left running and unattended is the most common reason why cars get stolen. All a thief needs is a quick window where they can slip in before the driver returns, and that window may only need to be a minute or two. So here’s the lesson to you: NEVER leave your car unattended! Even if you need to step back in the house for just two minutes, turn it off. You might reason that you want your car to stay toasty on a cold day, or that your neighbourhood is safe. But like many of the drivers who’ve had their cars stolen, the day a thief strikes could be the day you’d least expect it. Don’t take any chances.
2. Keep valuables in your car – Generally, a thief who sees an item of interest in a car will just go for that particular thing. So if they see a tablet or piece of jewelry, they’d smash a window, take the item and run with it. However, some criminals “escalate rapidly”. The sight of a valuable object in a car might motivate a thief to steal that particular car, especially if they were looking to drive off with a vehicle in the first place. That’s why you should always keep valuables stowed out of sight, or with you at all times.
3. Park in notorious or “sketchy” neighbourhoods – Even the most modern and beautiful cities have bad neighbourhoods. Ideally, you won’t want to spend too much in them if you don’t have to since the risk of running into crime is higher. In some city areas, auto theft is so rampant, it would be better to avoid driving to these places in the first place. If you have to visit an area that’s infamous for crime or that’s recently experienced a string of car thefts, don’t park there. This is important for the winter months, because fewer people are outdoors to witness illegal activities on their streets.
1. Install anti-theft features & tracking devices (if not already present) – 2016 is at our doorsteps and thankfully, meaning that many anti-theft features are now standard with cars. But many of you are driving in vehicles that don’t have these tools. So if you’re missing anything that resembles an alarm, steering-wheel lock, mechanical or electronic immobilizers (for those without) or GPS tracking systems, buy or install it! These devices can stop car thieves in their tracks, or limit how far they can go if they somehow break into your vehicle.
2. Etch your VIN onto windshield – To a thief, a VIN plastered on a windshield is like walking up to a store window that says “No Debit, Cash Only”. It is uninviting for two reasons. First, auto buyers won’t purchase car parts that have VIN numbers stamped on them. A carjacker would have to replace the windshield – a task they’d rather avoid since the costs for doing so are high. Second, an openly displayed VIN acts as an SOS call for a driver and police officers looking for that car. It’s safe to assume that no thief wants to leave a trail.
3. Park your vehicle in a secure area – As illustrated by the gym “heist” and stolen cars in Winnipeg, car thefts can happen anywhere. However, most thieves aren’t so brazen, and target vehicles in places they can sneak by undetected. If you’re going to park away from home, for example, look for an underground parking space that’s well-lit with security guards and cameras on patrol, rather than an isolated one. It may cost more, but it could save you from an even costlier experience of auto theft.
Don’t Let Winter Deceive You
Winter can be a season of deception. You could look out the window, marvelling at the cloudless blue skies and bright sun, not knowing it feels like minus 30 degrees celsius. You might also assume that the masses of hibernating people glued to their TVs and fireplaces would put a damper on activities such as car theft. Unfortunately, that’s just not the case.
The phrase, “there’s no rest for the wicked” rings true in the cold months, and it should come as no surprise that auto theft is rampant in the winter as well. So remain vigilant against thieves. Make an effort to cut out the habits that could draw them to your car in the first place, and start embracing the tools and practices that will keep your vehicle safe. After all, there’s plenty of things to hassle with in the cold months (such as winter driving prep) already, and a stolen vehicle shouldn’t be on the list.