CARS.COM — It can happen even to the most cautious car owner, and the scenario is becoming increasingly common across the U.S. The morning starts off like any other, but the day quickly takes a turn for the worse when you walk outside and catch a glimpse of your car. Shock sets in as you suddenly realize you're going to miss that morning meeting because the wheels of your trusty ride are nowhere to be seen.
It's not a scene from a movie, but a real-life scenario for the thousands of U.S. vehicle owners who have become the victims of wheel theft. Theft of motor vehicle accessories, a crime category that encompasses tires, hubcaps and wheel assemblies, was up 2 percent in 2016 compared with the prior year, according to the most recent full year's worth of FBI statistics available.
Despite motor vehicle thefts taking a 30 percent dip from 2007 to 2016, it seems thieves are intent on grabbing anything of value from vehicles. Law enforcement agencies across the country recorded more than 366,000 cases of car-accessory theft in 2016, for an average loss of $541 per incident, according to statistics for that year.
Even Cars.com staffers aren't immune to thieves, particularly those with a preference for the Honda Fit's versatile alloy wheels. Jennifer Newman, Cars.com editor-in-chief, awoke one morning in 2013 to find the newly purchased wheels of her 2007 Honda Fit Sport missing from the Chicago block she parked her car on. A couple of years later, thieves stole the wheels from Cars.com's brand new 2015 long-term test car — also a Honda Fit — while it was parked on the street in a North Side Chicago neighborhood.
Because wheel thieves work in groups during the overnight hours, they make off with the goods in a matter of minutes, usually going unnoticed by sleeping car owners, according to Frank Scafidi, spokesman for the National Insurance Crime Bureau.
"The best defense is to make your vehicle less of a target, but if someone really wants your wheels, they're going to do whatever it takes," Scafidi said.
Here are five ways to help prevent your wheels from being stolen, as suggested by the NICB and the Tire Industry Association:
1. Park in High-Traffic Areas
If you don't have a garage, try to find parking on busier streets with more traffic and a heavier pedestrian presence. Criminals prefer to work under the veil of night and with the added confidence that no one will walk by.
2. Lock Your Wheels
Remember the trusty anti-theft steering-wheel lock, The Club? Well, for the uninitiated, they make locking devices to protect wheels, too. Kevin Rohlwing, a Tire Industry Association spokesman, says vehicle owners worried about wheel theft should try locking them with the devices, which are similar to a lug nut but require a special key tool for installation and removal.
"Wheel locks are popular because they are very difficult to remove without the key," Rohlwing said.
3. Park Close to the Curb
Parking your vehicle as close to the curb as possible could help deter thieves, according to Rohlwing. Jacking up a car to remove the wheel assembly requires space, so thieves are more likely to move onto the next target if the tire's proximity to the curb is too tight. Turning the steering wheel toward the curb when parking will also make the wheels harder to remove.
4. Car Alarms
If you buy a car alarm, opt for a version equipped with sensors attached to the wheels. The sensors will go off if the wheels are tampered with.
5. Talk to Your Neighbors
Develop bonds with people who live on your block to increase the odds of someone seeing something unusual and calling police.
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