Most people in the United States are heavily reliant on their motor vehicles for most of our transportation—getting to work, traveling to stores for things like groceries, and other everyday tasks depend on access to a car. It’s only in towns and cities with extensive public transportation systems that most people can consistently travel by other means!
So if you’re a driver, the thought of having your motor vehicle stolen might understandably fill you with a feeling of dread or even fear. Unfortunately, this incredibly expensive, destructive form of theft is Crime in the United States, 2017—more than 770,000 drivers experience car theft every year.
Car Theft Statistics in the United States 
- 773,139 vehicles were stolen in 2017
- Nearly 41% of locally stolen cars are never returned to their rightful owners
- Roughly $6 billion worth of cars were stolen in 2017
- More than 75% of the vehicles stolen were cars
- Almost 50% of vehicle thefts occurred as a result of mistakes made by their drivers
- The majority of vehicles are stolen in the summer (especially July and August)
- The most-stolen car in 2017 was a Honda Civic
- California experienced the most car thefts in 2017 (this makes sense, as it’s a large and very populous state)
These may seem like some seriously grim statistics. But luckily, we’re here to tell you that there are quite a few steps you can take to lower the risk of this happening to you. Keep reading to learn what tangible steps you can take to protect your car from theft.
What else do thieves steal?
Besides the entire car itself, thieves may also steal just about anything that they can take and resell. This can include car parts like airbags, radios, transmissions, and even engines. It can also be electronics and personal items like GPS systems, smartphones, computers, handbags, and so forth.
How to Prevent Car Theft
Basic, no-cost steps to take when parking
First off, always be extra careful when you’re parking your car somewhere and leaving it, especially for more than a few hours. Before you leave, take a moment to make sure you’ve done everything you can to protect the vehicle. Make a habit out of it.
Always lock all of the doors and close all of the windows (this is a good idea, too, in case it rains). You may want to leave the windows open during the summer, so the car doesn’t end up feeling like a sauna next time you get in, but know that any open window is a vulnerable entry point for thieves. Better to blast the air conditioning when you first get into your hot car, than to have it stolen and end up with no car at all.
Never leave any car key (not even a spare) in the car, under your wheel-well, or elsewhere on your car; always take them with you. This is an incredibly easy way for car thieves to get into your vehicle—so much so that when you go to the police about your stolen car, they’ll ask if you have all your car keys. Likewise, don’t lend your car keys out if you can avoid it; when you do have to lend it out to someone, make sure you ask them to return it ASAP.
On that note, too, never leave your car running when you’re not in it! This kind of careless oversight is a common cause of vehicle thefts and is easily avoided with the most basic effort.
Choose the safest parking spots possible. First, select brightly lit parking spots whenever possible—thieves tend to target dimly lit areas to avoid getting caught. Additionally, you should try to park in sight of security cameras and near entrances to buildings to lower the risk of theft even further.
Finally, don’t leave high-value items in your car if you can avoid it, particularly if they’ll be visible through the car windows while you’re gone. Leaving your laptop on the front seat, for instance, is an absolute no-go. And if you absolutely must leave something valuable in your car, hide it in your trunk. (Even this is pretty risky—a thief might see you place the item in there before you leave, defeating the purpose of hiding it.)
Adding anti-theft devices and systems
There are several main types of anti-theft devices that work either by making the theft itself harder or by making the process of locating your stolen car easier. For instance, immobilizing devices make it impossible for thieves to “hot-wire” your car, by having computer chips in your ignition key or stopping fuel/electricity from running to the engine.
Additionally, there are audible and visible anti-theft devices: some use sounds to raise an alarm when a car is at risk of being stolen; a horn alarm is an example of one such device. And visible devices function as visual deterrents—e.g., flashing lights, window etching, Anti-theft decals, and steering wheel locks.
And finally, vehicle recovery systems do precisely what their name says: they help you and law enforcement officers to locate your car by transmitting their location electronically. The OnStar system, for instance, employs GPS to send your vehicle’s location to law enforcement.
It’s a great idea to use anti-theft devices and systems when possible. It can even save you money, because you may get a discount on your car insurance premium for doing so (almost half of the insurance companies have such offers).
Vehicle theft can be prevented
Don’t despair! Although vehicle theft is regrettably common, it doesn’t have to happen to you. If you take the above steps, thieves are more likely to ignore your car in favor of choosing one that’s easier to steal. And if you include a vehicle recovery device, and the car ends up being stolen, they can make it much more likely that you’ll be able to recover the beloved, important vehicle that you rely on for everyday transportation!