These days, vehicle manufacturers go to great lengths to make their cars more difficult to steal.

However, motorcycles, cars more than about ten to fifteen years old and some more recent light commercial vehicles are still prime theft targets because of their limited security features.

Such vehicles are popular with car thieves looking for easy short term transport, or to make a quick dollar. They are relatively easy to steal and older vehicles can be easily disposed of due to demand for used parts, many of which are no longer available through legitimate sources. Older vehicles are also relatively easy to re-identify and sell, and even apparently low value vehicles can offer car thieves reasonable returns for little effort.

But if you think that your car isn’t worth anything or wouldn’t be attractive to a car thief, consider that a very high proportion of stolen vehicles are simply used for transport before being dumped, and often set on fire. Consider also that many older vehicles are not insured for this type of act, and even if they are, the payout is unlikely to cover the costs of replacing the vehicle or the inconvenience that results.

If you own an older vehicle, or one that doesn’t have a high level of security, regardless of its value, there are a few precautions you need to take to make it less attractive to car thieves.

What works?

  • Fit a quality self-arming engine immobiliser that complies with Australian Standard 4601, or an alarm system with immobiliser that complies with Australian Standard 3749.1.  Also, keep car thieves guessing by not advertising the brand of alarm or immobiliser fitted. 
  • Consider micro dots. They are an effective form of Whole of Vehicle Marking that allows either a whole vehicle or major individual parts to be traced back to a particular owner. Whenever possible keep your car out of sight by locking it in a secure garage. If only used occasionally, remove a vital component such as the rotor to make it harder to drive away. For added protection, consider installing an alarm system to the building. 
  • Secure car and garage keys. Accessing keys is almost the only method of theft still available for vehicles that have modern security features. However, as many thefts of older vehicles are opportunistic, easy access to keys must also be eliminated. Don’t leave keys in the ignition, even when the car is locked in the garage. Vehicles are often stolen during burglaries where keys have been left unsecured in the home. In such cases the vehicle provides a ready means of transporting goods from the home too. 
  • Consider installing and using a home safe to secure keys and other valuables. Consult a locksmith for a safe that meets your needs and budget. 
  • Wheel clamps are often used to secure trailers however, they can also be used on cars. The most common car application would be to provide additional security for a valuable vehicle parked in a garage or carport. Wheel clamps will assist in preventing a vehicle being towed or pushed away, but are only effective if actually used. 

What doesn’t work?

  • Steering wheel, gearshift, hand brake and pedal locks offer very limited protection at best. But they offer no protection at all if they aren’t used. 
  • Flashing dash warning lights and security labels may provide the illusion the vehicle is fitted with an alarm or immobiliser but will offer no protection against someone intent on stealing your car. Experienced car thieves know how to tell if a vehicle is fitted with an alarm, so such devices are not a replacement for an immobiliser or alarm. 
  • Battery master switches that disconnect the battery from the vehicle’s electrical circuit can be a reasonably effective security measure provided the thief isn’t aware of their presence.  However, they are really only suitable for vehicles that don’t have volatile computer memories that are lost when the battery is disconnected (This includes many later models). They can also be difficult to locate in an easily accessible but usable place. Significantly, they can only offer protection when they are actually used and the master switch key is removed from the vehicle. 
  • Theft resistant door lock buttons are claimed to make illegal entry more difficult, however they offer no protection against thieves who break glass to gain entry. 
  • Kill switches that interrupt the vehicle’s ignition circuit can be effective but they rely on the thief not being able to locate them. Unfortunately, they can be difficult to position so that they are both easy to use and difficult for a thief to locate. Again, they can only offer protection when the driver bothers to activate them. 

Other precautions to consider

  • Consider where you park. Parking in dark or out of the way places increases the risk of break in / theft attempts.  It could also compromise your personal safety when leaving or returning to your vehicle. 
  • Don’t leave valuables in the car. Leaving glove boxes and console lids open to show they contain nothing of value when parked can reduce the chances of the vehicle being targeted for a break in. 
  • Don’t leave documents containing your home address (including the segment of your registration papers containing your personal details) in the vehicle. 
  • Take extra care to remove any documents showing your home address when leaving your vehicle in a railway station car park, or similar, as this could provide a target for a burglar as well as suggesting that you may not be home for some time. 
  • Similarly, remove garage door remotes when the vehicle is parked away from home. 
  • Don’t put any identifier on your keys (such as your name, address, registration number etc) that could lead a thief to your home or car in the event your keys are lost. 
  • Remove sat-nav units and other portable electronic equipment when parked. 
  • Always lock your car, even if you are only leaving it unattended for a few minutes. This is a legal requirement. 
  • Consider fitting locking wheel nuts if you have high value wheels and tyres. 
  • Consider having the vehicle’s complete VIN number etched onto the glass. (Etching registration numbers or partial VINs on glass is of little value). 
  • Don’t advertise the presence of expensive stereo systems and other equipment. 
  • Keep a record of the vehicle’s VIN, engine number and serial numbers of stereos etc. in a safe place in case you need to make a police report. 
  • Fit security screws to number plates to discourage plate theft. (Talk to your local Crime Stoppers for a source). 

Motorcycles

Much of the information given above relates to motorcycles as well. However, motorcycles pose some unique issues that don’t apply to cars. For a start, even a large and apparently secure motorcycle can be loaded onto a ute or trailer in minutes by a couple of largish men. Secondly, a motorcycle can be dismantled very quickly, without the problems of disposing of large identifiable components such as a body shell or chassis. In contrast, a motorcycle frame can be cut up and disposed of in a matter of minutes. And there is a ready market for used motorcycle parts. Another issue that complicates recovery of stolen motorcycles is that many trail and agricultural bikes are unregistered and their owners can find it difficult to produce VIN or engine numbers for the police report.

Precautions to consider

  • Disc locks or a padlock through a brake disc can increase the difficulty of stealing a bike. 
  • Purpose-specific heavy duty chains and cables that loop through a wheel and around a frame member are similarly effective. Remember though that the quality and therefore the cost of such devices needs to be commensurate with the value of the bike you are trying to protect. Consider also that you need to be able to store whatever device you choose when riding. Chains slung across shoulders may look cool but are dangerous in a crash. 
  • Consider securing your bike to a solid, immovable object when parked. 
  • Secure or remove helmets and other accessories when the bike is parked. 
  • Consider the level of security the top box (if fitted) provides and the value of the items you leave in it. 
  • Consider the security of parking spots and avoid dark or out of the way areas. Parking in such places could also compromise your personal safety when leaving or returning to your bike. 
  • When at home, store your bike in a locked garage whenever possible. 
  • Secure keys at all times. 
  • Keep a record of the bike’s VIN and engine number in a safe place in case you need to make a police report. This is particularly important if the bike isn’t registered. 

Collector cars 

Collector cars are an increasingly popular theft target due largely to the value and rarity of their individual components. Vehicles of this type are often stolen to order, dismantled, and sold as parts.  Identification and recovery is therefore difficult.  The suggested solutions outlined in What works are applicable and should be considered. However, we’d also suggest that you keep detailed documentation and photos of the vehicle and components to record any unique aspects that may help identification of recovered parts.  Remember too, that unlike other forms of vehicle theft where those involved will simply switch to another target if it gets too hard, these persons have few other options and are generally prepared to put a great deal of effort into getting the car they want.  

The final word

Always report attempts to steal or break in to your vehicle to police, even if they have been unsuccessful. This information may assist other investigations.

For more information about car theft visit the Car Safe Website.

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