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 spicing two wires together to start the engine are gone, right? The key lock on your steering wheel prevents theft. What’s to worry?
In 2018, more than 86,000 vehicles were stolen across Canada. 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 on your car insurance premium.
Old bangers were once the most popular cars to steal; a slim jim and some tinfoil is all it took. As sophisticated as antitheft technology is, thieves are keeping pace, not just in their tactics, but in their business models. Now, thieves are targeting expensive cars in high-end neighbourhoods to sell them to unsuspecting consumers, or even ship them abroad, according to the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC).
Vehicles from the Ford F-Series pickup family are far and away the most stolen in Canada. If you rule out pickup trucks and just look at cars, various Lexus models and the 1998 Honda Civic Si two-door coupe rank among the top 10 for most stolen vehicles in 2019.
Given that auto theft in Canada is trending upward after hitting a low in 2014 (though still well down from its 2003 peak), what’s a driver to do to protect a vehicle?
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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 quickly pop into Tim Hortons. Park in well-lit areas, 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 and is installed by a reputable shop. Immobilizers come in various shapes and forms: smart keys, kill switches, wireless authentication and fuse disablers are some. 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, according to the Toronto Police Service.
- Layer 4: Tracking Devices. Technically not a theft prevention device, tracking systems can help retrieve a car after the fact. Global positioning systems (GPS) and wireless technologies send a signal to a system that gives up the location of the vehicle, 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 premium right away – depending on the insurance company and the discounts that are offered. But there may be other savings as well; in the event that 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 insurers may also offer discounts for anti-theft devices other than immobilizers, such as vehicle tracking systems, but 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.
The 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 won’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.