An illustration of a car parked under a streetlight combined with antitheft devices
Illustration: Matthew Hollister

Car thefts increased 9.2 percent last year, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, an industry membership organization. The NICB says economic stress due to the pandemic and social and public safety resource limitations may have helped drive the increase.

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Lt. Bruce Hosea, an auto theft specialist with the Los Angeles Police Department, tells CR that much of the increase in thefts they’ve seen involves cars deemed easy marks by criminals—older models without anti-theft technology and cars with keys or fobs left inside. At the same time, police say some thieves have become more tech-savvy, using electronic tools to steal vehicles without damaging windows, locks, or steering columns.

Below are tips on how to keep your car from becoming a target and how to save on car insurance in the process.

Practice Smart Parking

Simple habits can make a big difference. Never leave your unattended vehicle unlocked or running, and try to park in busy, well-lit areas. “The overwhelming majority of vehicle thefts and burglaries are a result of unlocked vehicle doors,” says Crystal Clark, a spokesperson for the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office in Florida. Double-check that you have the key or fob with you, and stow valuables out of sight to discourage smash-and-grab thefts.

Add a Lock and an Alarm System

Police say visible steering wheel locks, such as The Club and Disklok, work well as deterrents, and adding an aftermarket alarm system, which often includes a visible blinking red light, can be a good idea for older vehicles without a built-in system.

Auto security company Voxx Electronics Corp. says an alarm usually costs $300 to $700, plus $200 to $600 for professional installation, depending on features and the system. An alarm can also be added to a new car.

Install Lights at Home

Lighting can be an effective theft deterrent, especially if you park in your driveway, says Captain Martin Rodriguez of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. He recommends motion detection lights, which can startle a would-be thief and alert those at home.

Doorbell cameras, such as Google Nest Hello and Ring, can help police identify suspects. Also remember to store keys in the house. Never leave them in the car or garage. (See the best video doorbells of the year.)

Track Your Car

Aftermarket tracking systems won’t prevent theft, but they can help find your car after the fact. Some basic GPS devices plug into your vehicle’s computer port, but they can also be easily removed. More complex, integrated systems, such as LoJack, require professional installation. Some recent car models provide tracking through subscription-based services. For example, GM’s OnStar offers a plan that costs $30 per month with stolen vehicle assistance.

Save on Insurance

Some insurance com­panies offer discounts for cars with anti-theft devices, usually up to 15 percent off comprehensive coverage. The discount can vary based on where you live and the insurer, says Loretta Worters, vice president at the Insurance Information Institution. Worters says outfitting your vehicle with an alarm, GPS tracking, and a hidden ignition kill switch that prevents the car from starting, even with a key, can often qualify you for a discount. (Find out which are the best car insurance companies from CR's exclusive ratings.)

Editor’s Note: This article also appeared in the September 2021 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.