Anti-theft Devices 101

A steering-wheel lock like The Club is one of the cheaper anti-theft options.

A steering-wheel lock like The Club is one of the cheaper anti-theft options.

By the time you finish reading this sentence, your car could have been stolen; in the U.S. alone, a vehicle is stolen every 43 seconds, according to the FBI's 2010 Crime Reports. Though there's no guarantee your car won't be a thief's next victim, there are some things you can do to improve your odds without spending a fortune.

Before you bolt your car down, here are some factors you should consider:

  • How much are you willing to invest? Establish a price limit before you start shopping.
  • Where do you live? Urban areas tend to be more crime-ridden, and you may need more substantial security there than if you live in the sticks. Port cities and cities along the border (mainly the southern border) also present a higher risk. Check out our list of Top Ten Hot Spots.
  • What type of car do you drive? Newer cars are visually more appealing but usually have more security, while older cars can be dismantled easily and sold for parts. According to the Texas Theft Prevention Authority, vehicle parts can be worth up to three times the price of the car. Check out our list of Top Ten Most Stolen Cars.

Your cheapest and most effective weapon against car theft is good old common sense. Be careful where you park, and don't leave anything of value — like wallets or MP3 players — visible inside the car. This may seem obvious, but never leave your keys in the ignition while the car is unattended — this is how many cars get stolen.

Though common sense will take you a long way, you should still consider investing in some anti-theft devices. The more security you have, the less appealing your car will be to a thief. Also, depending on what device you have installed, security measures can lower your insurance premium by as much as 30 percent. Think of these as investments:

  • Brand parts with your VIN (Vehicle Identification Number): Your VIN is a 17-digit serial number assigned uniquely to your car. You can find this number on the title of your car, your insurance and registration cards, and on the driver-side dashboard. Etch this number on the windows and all other important parts (under the hood, trunk door, battery, etc). Car parts with a visible VIN will be a lot harder for thieves to sell.
    Price: You can get it done by a professional, or buy a DIY kit for about $20.
  • Steering-wheel lock: Arguably the most popular of the lot thanks to The Club, these locks go over the steering wheel and completely immobilize it.
    Price: $25-$100, depending on the brand
  • Kill switch: When activated, this device shuts down part of the engine's electrical system. Some models have one built in; if not, they're relatively easy to install. Hide the switch in an unlikely spot so a thief can't find it and disable it. Also, check your car's warranty, as some do not allow installation.
    Price: $10-$125
  • Alarms: These are very effective at drawing attention. Make sure they're hooked up to a backup battery or invest in a hood lock, as an experienced car thief will know to unplug the battery, rendering the alarm useless.
    Price: $150-$1,000
  • Hood locks: These deter thieves looking to sell your car off for parts and prevent access to the battery.
    Price: $20-$50
  • Tire locks: Similar to the infamous "boots" used by law enforcement when you've parked illegally, tire locks are very visible, but a very big pain in the neck. These might not be the best option if you drive your car on a daily basis.
    Price: Your time + $80-$200
  • Vehicle tracking system: If you have a photo of your car on the mantle, you might want to consider this option, but prepare to shell out some big bucks for first-class protection. The two big companies currently in the market are LoJack and OnStar. LoJack works directly with law enforcement. The transmitter is hidden in the car (even from you) and is activated once a theft is reported. They boast a 90 percent return rate. OnStar is a similar system that comes standard on all of GM's new models, as well as brands like Acura, Audi, Isuzu and Volkswagen. It uses the same kind of tracking system as LoJack.
    Price: $695, or get the bluff version — you can buy the decal stickers for about $690 less.
  • Also worth mentioning: Gearshift locks and ignition/steering wheel column and crook locks.
© 5/1/12