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Deterring car thieves
5 Tips: Make it harder for thieves to get in or drive away.
By Gerri Willis, contributing columnist

NEW YORK ( - Buying a car is one of the biggest investments you can make. People today spend $30, $40 or $50 thousand dollars on their set of wheels.

In today's top Five Tips we're going to tell you how you can protect that investment and keep your car safe from thieves.

1. Understand their M-O

It's not about the cherry red Lamborghinis or Vipers. Your average car thief wants a popular model that's at least 10 years old and has a lot of interchangeable parts.

Car thieves also tend to target imports over domestic brands. In fact, the most frequently stolen car is the Honda Civic, followed by the Toyota Camry, the Honda Accord and the Dodge Caravan.

To see the top ten stolen vehicles in your state, check out the National Insurance Crime Bureau's Web site at Car thieves are having the most luck in California. Seven cities in California made the top 10 list of places with the highest vehicle theft.

2. Etch the VIN number

Your car's vehicle identification number is like your car's thumbprint. And thieves want to remove all of these traces. A car that can be traced is not very desirable to chop shops.

You can have the VIN number etched on the windows of the car or other parts. (Thieves won't replace the windows) Some insurance companies and local police departments offer free VIN etchings. Cars that have been VIN etched have a 64 percent lower theft rate than non-etched cars. And a VIN etched car has a more than an 85 percent chance of recovery if it is stolen, according to

3. Stick it to them

A decal that advertises you have a car alarm may be more effective than the alarm itself, says Dan Fisher of A decal can be purchased for a few dollars.

And even if you don't have any kind of alarm at all, you'll want to pick up a sticker. This is especially true if you live in an urban area where car alarms go off frequently. Ask your local auto parts retailer where you can find these decals.

4. Devices of frustration

If a thief wants to get into your car, he will. But if it takes more than 10 minutes, chances are, he won't. A professional thief can break into your car in a matter of seconds.

So your best defense is to make the break-in a longer process, says Jim Cadigan of the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

A good deterrent is a wheel lock. Basically it's a long metal bar that fits over your steering wheel and prevents it from getting turned. You can get a wheel lock for about $40 at any auto parts store. It also acts as a visual deterrent to thieves, and protects air bags from being stolen. which is a pretty big problem.

Keep in mind, this isn't foolproof and these devices can be disabled fairly quickly, according to Dan Fisher of the But if they don't have the tools they need, the thieves may just move on.

Another frustrating device is an armored collar that fits around the steering wheel column. Collars range between $30 on the low end to $180 and they can be purchased at any auto parts store.

5. Immobilize 'em

On the higher end of car security you may want to invest in devices like the kill switch. These devices can cost about $125. If a thief is able to break into your car, they won't be able to even start the engine.

That's because a kill switch stops the flow of electricity of fuel to the engine, making it difficult to start. Of course, the trick is that the switch must be well hidden and the owner of the car has to remember to engage it whenever they turn the car off.

A big word of caution here: don't install a kill switch until you check your warranty. You could void your warranty since some policies prohibit installation of these devices.


Gerri Willis is a personal finance editor for CNN Business News and the host for Open House. E-mail comments to 5tips@cnn.comTop of page

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