BOISE – July is Vehicle Theft Prevention Month, and AAA is reminding drivers to protect their cars from theft and damage.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more than 1 million vehicles were stolen in 2022 – a 25% increase over the past few years. A car is stolen every 32 seconds in the United States, to the tune of $8 billion in losses last year.
Just 56% of missing vehicles are ever recovered, but of those that were stolen, about half of the thefts could have been prevented.
“Most vehicle thefts are crimes of opportunity. Simple steps can help prevent the headaches that come with police reports and insurance claims,” says AAA Idaho public affairs director Matthew Conde. “Your goal is to make your car as unattractive a target as possible.”
AAA offers these tips to help prevent vehicle theft:
- Park in well-lit areas. If needed, enhance dark areas with motion sensors, additional lighting, and video surveillance.
- Close and lock doors and windows when you park.
- Hide valuables out of sight.
- Don’t leave keys in or near your car, including spare keys.
- Don’t leave your vehicle running, even for a quick errand.
In some cases, it may be wise to invest in additional security devices for your car. Steering wheel and brake pedal locks, anti-theft decals, and audible alarm systems can serve as effective deterrents, and smart keys, fuse cut-offs, kill switches, starter or fuel pump disablers, and wireless ignition authentication systems can help stop thieves in their tracks. Tracking devices can also be used to remotely monitor a vehicle’s location.
“All 50 states require liability insurance, but comprehensive coverage – which addresses vehicle theft – is optional, unless you financed the purchase of the car with a bank loan,” Conde said. “Visit with your insurance agent to find out how to cover your car in the event that it goes missing.”
According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, the top ten locations for vehicle theft in 2021 were Colorado, District of Columbia, California, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington, Missouri, Nevada, Oklahoma, and Texas.
Catalytic converter theft
Catalytic converters are devices that use precious metals to reduce vehicle emissions and improve air quality. They’re required on all new vehicles since the 1970s, and while every car has one, some have two or even three.
The rising cost of precious metals and the ease of stealing a catalytic converter make them an attractive target for thieves, who can sell them in their original form or for scrap. With the right tools, it can take less than five minutes to remove the catalytic converter from the exhaust system. All thieves need is enough ground clearance under the vehicle and enough time and privacy to remove the device.
“You probably won’t see any immediate signs that your catalytic converter has been stolen, but you’ll definitely hear it – your exhaust system will be extremely loud the moment you turn the key,” Conde said. “When you step on the gas pedal, the noise will get even louder.”
Other tell-tale signs include a dangling exhaust pipe or one that appears to have been sawed off.
“The same rules apply for catalytic converter theft as for vehicle theft prevention – parking in areas that are well-lit with security cameras and high foot traffic will probably incentivize most would-be thieves to move on,” Conde said. “Etching your VIN number in various locations on the converter will also make it easier to return your stolen property to you if it does go missing. Otherwise, you could be in for a troublesome claim and possibly, an expensive repair bill.”