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How to prevent your car being stolen

A car is taken once every seven minutes in Britain. Here are some smart ways to protect your pride and joy

What are the best ways to stop your car being stolen?

While car security technology has come on leaps and bounds in recent years, unfortunately, criminals still find ways of getting into vehicles. In the UK a car is stolen on average every seven minutes, and there are few signs that things will improve anytime soon. Nevertheless, there are ways you can drastically reduce the chances of your motor being stolen - and some of them are remarkably simple. We run through them below, to take the stress out of your motoring fun!

Top ways to prevent your car from being stolen

  • Always lock your car when you leave it. No joke, plenty of people accidentally leave their cars unlocked overnight. It's remarkably easy to do - and thieves know it, as they'll often walk down streets trying every car door. If you've recently swapped cars, make sure you fully understand its locking procedure. Do its hazard lights flash? Does it beep? Or do its door mirrors fold in when you click the lock button, or walk away and let the car auto-lock? Understanding the process will prevent those 'is it locked?' moments.
  • Park in a way that makes it hard for thieves to simply tow your car away. If you drive a manual car, you can do this by securing the handbrake and also leaving the car in gear when it's off. If you're parked on a flat surface or with the nose pointing up a hill, leave the car in first gear. If you're parked on a hill with the nose pointing down, leave the car in reverse. This essentially 'locks' the engine and driven wheels, adding to the strength of the handbrake. For automatic cars, make sure you use both the handbrake and 'Park' setting. 
  • Hide valuables and gadgets from open view. It might seem obvious, but it's surprisingly easy to forget about a portable sat-nav or connected smartphone that's visible through the windows. Even if the item isn’t expensive to replace, it's just not worth the hassle. The cost of fixing the broken window will be, and you'll be finding bits of glass in the carpet for months. So hide - or, better, remove - those devices.

  • Use locking wheel-nuts to protect alloy wheels. Most modern cars have come with locking wheel nuts from the factory, but sometimes they don't. Or, sometimes, previous owners have removed them. A set of alloy wheels can fetch a handsome sum on the internet, so if they're not properly secured to the car, they are a popular way for thieves to make a quick quid. Worse still, thanks to them being removed in a rush, wheel theft almost always leaves damage on your car or its underside.
  • Don’t forget to close your windows and the sunroof. Even if you have a driveway, don't be tempted to leave your car unsecured. Thieves often patrol areas where car owners feel confident enough to leave cars with their windows, soft-tops or sunroofs open, so it's just not worth it. There are reports of open-top cars even being stolen from pub or restaurant car parks in the summer, when owners are dining. Criminals don't need much time if you invite them in.
  • Don’t leave your car idling to warm it. It's entirely understandable that some people are tempted to leave their cars idling each morning, especially when there's ice to clear from the windows and sub-zero temperatures to contest with. But not only is this extremely reckless, inviting thieves to simply jump in and drive away, but it's also bad for your car. An engine that is left to idle in the cold takes longer to heat up than one that's being driven. This means your engine spends more time running cold, which speeds up wear and tear. Oh, and this sort of idling is also illegal, because this cold running period is when a car emits most emissions.
  • Be very conscious of where you leave your car keys or fob devices. Don’t ever leave them in plain sight. Some drivers may put them on the car roof while loading shopping or on the fuel pump while filling up. These are all opportunities for thieves. Always try to keep them in a pocket or bag.
  • Even if your car keys are inside your house next to your front door, they are vulnerable. Thieves often fish through letterboxes for keys. They may even knock at the door and pretend to be tradesmen but are really looking for a chance to take keys. Take particular care in changing rooms at pools or gyms when you have to leave keys. They’re a common hotspot for opportunist thieves.
  • If it’s a keyless remote system, thieves can hack into it, open your car and start the engine. With a relay device thieves can pick up the signal from your remote key even if it is inside your house. The way to defeat this is simple though: keep the key in an electronic security pouch or box, sometimes called a Faraday pouch. These can be bought from motor accessory retailers for a few pounds.

  • Leave your car parked under streetlights or in busy, well-lit areas. For fairly obvious reasons, the vast majority of car thefts occur after dark in the evening or night. Keeping your car in a well-sighted spot will reduce the chances of a thief feeling confident enough to break in.
  • Car-jacking desirable cars is an ever-present problem. Especially in some urban areas, car thieves prefer to do their stealing out on the open road. Ensuring your doors are always locked when you're in the car is the most obvious solution. Some car jacking gangs deliberately bump into your car in a fake 'accident', before jumping in and driving off when you get out. Be sure to evaluate the situation and, if you feel under threat, call the police.
  • Sometimes a simple, old-fashioned physical device can protect you. They certainly can give a strong visual deterrent. Try a sturdy lock for the steering wheel, gearstick or pedals, or a brightly-coloured wheel clamp to deter all but the most determined thieves.
  • Have your VIN, the unique vehicle identification number, etched onto each of the windows. Some manufacturers do this from the factory, but if not, adding the numbers can ensure your car is identifiable even if it's been given new number plates.
  • Similarly, use a tracker system. It won’t prevent your car being stolen, although displaying the logo may stop some thefts. If your car is taken, a tracker will vastly increase your chances of getting it back. For most car thefts, less than three-quarters of owners ever see their car again, so a tracker vastly improves your chances.
  • Don’t keep all your vehicle documents like the log book in your car. It will make it easier for a thief to sell your car and perhaps even use them to make you a victim of identity fraud.
  • Finally, check you are insured. The basic legal minimum insurance cover is purely third party. This doesn’t cover you against car break-in or theft. It normally only costs a few pounds more to extend the cover to theft, so it's highly recommended.

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