The month of July is more known for its Independence Day celebrations and for being prime time for summer vacations than for the fact that it is also one of the hottest times of year when it comes to auto theft in the United States. In order to help raise awareness about how car owners can protect themselves against having their vehicle stolen or broken into, the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) has spent the past several years promoting July as National Vehicle Theft Protection Month.
According to the NICB, most car theft occurs during July and August in the warm weather that blankets the United States. In 2008 (which represents the latest car theft data available) close to half a million automobiles were stolen and never returned to their owners, the highest tally in two decades. In partnership with LoJack, the stolen vehicle tracking service, the Bureau has put together an up to date information campaign designed to help car and truck owners ensure that their vehicles are always right where they left them when they return to their parking spots.
Some of the information provided by the NICB falls under heading of common sense, including tips such as keeping doors locked, windows rolled up and the keys out of the ignition when away from the vehicle for any length of time. While these words of caution might seem obvious, a surprising number of thefts occur due to lapses in awareness or caution on the part of automobile owners lulled into a false sense of security due to the routine of their daily driving habits. Other no-no's according to the Bureau include hiding a second key somewhere on the vehicle itself (easily discoverable by a professional thief) or leaving items such as cash, electronics or purses in view when parked. The latter can invite a 'smash and grab' style theft where criminals break a window in order to gain access to the interior for the brief amount of time required to snatch up these valuables.
Some of the recommendations made by the organization are more insightful when it comes to dealing with professional car thieves. Suggestions such as turning a vehicle's wheels all the way to the curb, even if parked in the middle of a lot are designed to help make it more difficult for tow trucks or flatbeds to whisk away a vehicle under the auspices of a legitimate operation. This type of theft has become more popular as time goes on, with cars either stolen to be shipped out of the country and resold in foreign markets or vehicles being stripped for parts. Given that even older vehicles can present significant value to an illegal body shop or parts supplier, there is little safety in assuming that a car is protected from theft due to its age.
The NICB also recommends the installation of theft prevention devices (alarms, ignition locks, kill switches) as well as a vehicle tracking system to help make it easier to recover a vehicle should it be stolen. While the partnership with LoJack might raise some eyebrows regarding that final recommendation, it is hard to deny that in many cases a vehicle tracking system - such as that provided with most GM OnStar-equipped vehicles - does help law enforcement to locate a car or truck which has gone missing.
The non-profit organization has made a number of resources available to vehicle owners curious about how they can best protect themselves from the heartbreak of car theft. Most of these can be accessed by visiting the NCIB website.