Given the progress in automotive technology, you’d be tempted to think that it’s almost impossible to steal a car. After all, the days of splicing two wires together to start the engine are gone, right? The key lock on your steering wheel prevents theft. What’s there to worry about?
According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC), more than 86,000 vehicles are stolen across Canada every year. And while Quebec was once Canada’s wonderland for car thieves, the mantle has recently been taken up by Ontario and Alberta, which account for 55% of auto thefts between them. Taking preventative measures to protect your car from theft can potentially make a difference in your car insurance premium.
As sophisticated as anti-theft technology is, thieves are keeping pace, not just in their tactics but also in their business models. Old bangers were once the most popular cars to steal; a slim jim and some tinfoil is all it took. Now, thieves are targeting expensive cars in high-end neighbourhoods to sell them to unsuspecting consumers or even ship them abroad, according to IBC.
The 2018 Honda CR-V (four-door, all-wheel-drive model) is the most stolen vehicle in Canada. In fact, the 2017 and 2019 models also rank among IBC's top 10 most stolen vehicles in 2020.
Despite country-wide and international increases in catalytic converter thefts, there were 8,890 fewer motor vehicle thefts in Canada in 2020 compared to 2019. While technology is the main catalyst for the downward trend, drivers can take additional steps to avoid becoming victims of theft.
Take a layered approach to theft-proofing your vehicle
Theft prevention devices fall into two broad categories: active and passive. Active devices must be manually activated — a door lock, a steering wheel lock, or a car alarm system. Passive devices automatically monitor your car 24/7.
The National Insurance Crime Bureau in the U.S. advocates a layered approach to auto theft prevention:
- Layer 1: Common sense. Even if you’re only stopping for a moment, remove your keys and lock your doors. Many a vehicle has been lifted when someone left the car running to pop into Tim Hortons quickly. Park in well-lit areas, and near the booth in public lots if possible.
- Layer 2: Warning devices. These are aimed at warning thieves, not you, telling them your car is protected. For example, steering wheel locking devices are consistently lauded as one of the best theft prevention devices. Wheel locks also show would-be thieves that you mean business.
- Layer 3: Immobilizing devices. The auto immobilizer is the king of the passive systems. The immobilizer cuts off current to the starter motor, the ignition switch and the fuel pump. It’s so effective that insurance companies may offer you a discount on your policy if it’s an approved device installed by a reputable shop. Immobilizers come in various shapes and forms: smart keys, kill switches, wireless authentication and fuse disablers. According to the Toronto Police Service, a caveat: More sophisticated thieves targeting higher-end vehicles have developed the technology to bypass some of these systems by cloning fobs or using radio frequency amplifiers.
- Layer 4: Tracking devices. Technically not a theft prevention device, tracking systems can help retrieve a car after it's been stolen. Global positioning systems (GPS) and wireless technologies signal a system that gives up the vehicle’s location, making it easier to find and recover.
With proof that you have installed an approved anti-theft device in your car, you may start saving on your insurance premium right away – depending on the provider and the discounts that are offered. But there may be other savings as well; if your car is stolen, some providers may offer a reduced deductible on the claim if the anti-theft device was defeated by the thieves.
Other insurance providers may also offer discounts for anti-theft devices other than immobilizers, such as vehicle tracking systems. Still, an immobilizer remains the most effective method of protecting your car against theft. Ask your insurance company what their policy is on anti-theft device discounts. Many drivers are not aware that they could be getting a discount for protecting their car.
Items left in your car can attract thieves
Sometimes, thieves don’t really want your wheels. They just want that juicy stuff you left on the front seat. This doesn’t require sophistication; if a slim jim doesn’t work, a rock through the side window will. Items stolen most often from parked cars include:
- Personal electronics (laptops, tablets, etc.)
- Work tools
- Credit cards and identification
- Cash or change
- Car parts or accessories (for example, car stereos)
- Garage door openers
If you have comprehensive coverage as part of your auto insurance policy, does it cover items stolen from your car? No. Those items are covered by your home, tenant, or condo insurance policy (depending on the policy). If you don’t have a home or condo policy, you won’t be compensated.