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Easy ways to prevent auto theft

I was asked to appear on CBC television this week, to talk about car theft and safety after two studies were released that named the most vulnerable and most protective vehicles.

  • Car queue in the bad traffic road. Selective focus.

I was asked to appear on CBC television this week, to talk about car theft and safety after two studies were released that named the most vulnerable and most protective vehicles.

But I couldn’t get to the studio on time — somebody was busy trying to break into my car.

It could have been worse. The person was just helping after I locked the keys inside my 2000 Saturn, when I brushed a thumb against the lock button, then got out and shut the doors and all the locks clamped shut.

The worrisome part was that he got into the car in just a couple of minutes with a screwdriver and a long piece of wire.

At least that was better than when my wife locked herself out of a new Jeep Cherokee a couple of years ago, and the CAA guy broke into it in less than 20 seconds.

“You can buy all this stuff at Canadian Tire,” he said of his tools at the time, though Canadian Tire does not sell tools specifically for breaking into cars.

The truth is that it’s pretty easy to steal a car in Canada, and there are many different ways to go about it. Some 160,000 vehicles were stolen last year, and many others broken into for their airbags, or for valuables left on the seats.

When the doors can be opened and the car hot-wired — because it’s not fitted with an electronic immobilizer chip in the key that must be read by the ignition — then the vehicle quickly becomes a statistic.

Truly determined thieves, of course, will probably steal your car if they really want it. There’s always a way to beat a challenge and keys can be obtained through fraud and unscrupulous means.

One car thief in Florida apparently stole a succession of Ferraris from the same owner over a period of time.

Eventually, the owner installed a high-tech security system in his garage that included laser beams and Rottweilers outside and four iron clamps cemented into the floor to which he could lock each wheel of his car.

The story goes that he opened the garage one morning and found the car securely fixed to the clamps — facing the opposite direction. A note left on the windshield by the cocky thief let him know that he’d be back for the car when he felt like it.

The most extreme — and effective — form of car theft is armed carjacking, which is increasing in the United States. It’s been common in the developing world for many years, but fortunately is still unusual in Canada.

There are legal and easy measures you can take to help deter vehicle thieves.

“We recommend a layered approach,” says Rick Dubin, vice-president, Investigations, for the Insurance Bureau of Canada. “The more inconvenient you can make it for a thief, the less attractive your car becomes.”

The first stage is to ensure that your vehicle is fitted with an approved immobilizer. Sixty per cent of Canadian new cars come so equipped, and you can check the IBC’s web site at for a list of those vehicles.

If your car doesn’t have one, it can be fitted as an aftermarket item.

Then there’s the really simple advice of not leaving your keys in the ignition — 20 per cent of auto thefts last year were apparently such crimes of opportunity, which spike in cold weather when drivers leave their idling cars to warm up.

As well, a simple Club locked to the steering wheel is an effective deterrent to the casual thief who might walk on to the next vehicle that’s less protected.

Etching the various parts of your car with its VIN makes the vehicle considerably less attractive for chopping for its parts.

The most effective of all is a GPS tracking system, such as the Boomerang that I tested for Wheels a couple of years ago and which found my hidden car in less than half-an-hour. It’s expensive, starting at $700 plus an $8.95/month subscription, but it works.

I’ll bet the owners of Blue Line Distribution in Milton, who parked an Aston Martin Vanquish outside the office for 24 hours earlier this month only for it to be stolen, wish they’d installed such a tracking device.

Police believe the thieves got into the quarter-million dollar car and towed it quietly to a container, where it would have been parked for a few days to see if a tracking device was installed and its owner would come looking.

But the Vanquish, for all its security systems, had no tracking device. It hasn’t turned up and police assume it’s still in the container, somewhere on the ocean heading far overseas.

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