Every 45-seconds a car is stolen in the United States! That’s a staggering statistic! And here, in Southern California, there’s definitely no exception.

Just think of how many Brainiacs we watch “Live” on the local news who somehow think they’re actually going to escape the police; their cars, helicopters, dogs, and spike-strips. (Which actually begs a few questions about us as a society – but that’s an entirely different topic. Why are we so fascinated by that spectacle?)

This week’s iDSC Podcast focuses on useful tips to protect your vehicle from theft and keep you safe out there, on those crazy streets of America. Click Play below to find out how to prevent auto-theft, how thieves think and what they’re looking for.


Recorded July 11, 2018, Los Angeles, CA

A Car is Stolen Every 45-seconds!

Doug Shupe: A vehicle is stolen every 45 seconds. You know, thieves are actually looking through parking lots. They’re looking for you to make a mistake, leave something valuable in your vehicle. Always lock your vehicle and close the windows. Don’t leave them half open. Never leave belongings out in plain view

Tom Smith: Welcome to iDriveSoCal, the podcast all about mobility from the automotive capital of the United States, Southern California. Tom Smith here with Doug Shupe, the Senior Public Affairs Specialist of the Auto Club of Southern California. Most of us know them by AAA. Doug, thanks for joining me again.

Doug Shupe: Thanks, Tom, for having me.

Tom Smith: The topic that we’re covering today is, as it gets hotter out, and we’re out on the roads, for some reason, more carjackings, more issues on the road. Is that a typical stat? Is there a seasonality to it, or is that just something that maybe is perceived?

Doug Shupe: Well, when it comes to vehicle theft, we typically see those on the rise, you know, when a lot of people are out on the move. They’re parking in different places that they wouldn’t normally park. But a vehicle is stolen every 45 seconds here in the United States. I mean, that’s incredible.

Tom Smith: Every 45 seconds?

Vehicle Theft is Still a Very Common Crime

Doug Shupe: Every 45 seconds, there’s a vehicle stolen in the United States. And although the auto theft rates have declined in recent years, car theft is still a very common crime. And it’s a crime of opportunity. If you give a criminal the opportunity to steal your car, they’re going to take.

Tom Smith: Now, we have … Let’s categorize it. There’s stealing my car, but then, there’s also breaking into my car.

Doug Shupe: Yes, they’re very different.

Tom Smith: Those are the two, right?

Doug Shupe: Auto theft. There’s auto theft that we see.

Tom Smith: Right.

Doug Shupe: There is auto burglary, and you know. And auto burglaries happen when people leave stuff inside of their vehicle-.

Tom Smith: Right.

Doug Shupe: … in plain sight. And it’s very, you know … It’s appealing to a thief.

Tom Smith: Yup.

Doug Shupe: This happens a lot of times during the holiday season when people were out there shopping, and they’ve got shopping bags.

Theives Take Advantage of Opportunity

Tom Smith: So then, it’s not necessarily … So, I have … And that’s what I was trying to get in the beginning. I have a perception that, “Okay, summertime, it seems to happen more.” But that’s just my perception. It’s not necessarily a summertime thing. There’s not a seasonality to it. Yeah?

Doug Shupe: It happens every day.

Tom Smith: All the time.

Doug Shupe: Unfortunately. And auto theft, really, is what we were talking about. Every 45 seconds, a car is stolen.

Tom Smith: Car is gone.

Doug Shupe: Right. And vehicle burglaries happen all year long, but they tend to peak during those times when you have a lot of people that are in the holiday season-

Tom Smith: Sure.

Doug Shupe: … for example. And they’re just not being mindful that, you know, thieves are actually looking through parking lots around the holidays. Believe it or not, they’re looking for you to make a mistake, leave something valuable in your vehicle, and they’re just going to pop that window real quickly, and get whatever it is they want. You know, something as simple as change, you know, that could be enticing, believe it or not, cost you a lot of money, you know, to-

Tom Smith: $3.50 worth of change-

Doug Shupe: Right, right.

Tom Smith: … $350 window broken.

Hide Your Belongings from Sight

Doug Shupe: Your car charger. Remove the car charger. Hide that.

Tom Smith: Yeah.

Doug Shupe: Shopping bags. You know, the laptop case. Anything in your vehicle that’s in plain sight, it could be tempting for someone out there.

Tom Smith: You know, we have a park around where my wife and I live, and it’s a decent area. And there’s a farmer’s market there twice a week. And then, there’s always some kind of activity because it’s a large park, right. So, my wife goes for exercise classes with our son. And it’s moms and toddlers or infants at the exercise classes and the farmer’s market. And there’s been recent rash of break-ins in the parking lot in a relatively nice area.

Tom Smith: And, I guess, that’s where my perception comes from. It’s like, “What? Really? I mean, for what? You’re going to take advantage of moms that are taking care of their children, and working out, or, you know, people that … I mean, this is like Monday through Friday of farmer’s market and, you know, events at the park. It’s like,”Come on,” but-

Doug Shupe: It’s unfortunate, you know.

Tom Smith: Yeah, retirees at the farmers market-

Doug Shupe: Yeah.

Tom Smith: … and moms. I mean-

Safe Neighborhoods are Targeted Too

Doug Shupe: It’s unfortunate, but that’s where they know, the thieves know that they can get something out of the vehicles because they know that people are going to … There’s going to be a lot of people there, parked there. You mentioned gym parking lots. They know a lot of people are coming straight from work. They may have a laptop-

Tom Smith: Sure.

Doug Shupe: … in the back of the vehicle.

Tom Smith: Yeah.

Doug Shupe: That’s where they target, gyms, shopping malls, grocery stores, you know. And there could be a lot of traffic nearby, a lot of vehicles in those parking lots. But these thieves are professional at being very … going under the radar, and being able to look through these vehicles to see what it is that they want to get, and quickly smashing out those windows. Really though, a lot of this happens because people leave their vehicle doors unlocked. They leave them unlocked in the driveway.

Tom Smith: In Southern California?

Doug Shupe: Yes, it happens all the time. People leave their car doors unlocked.

Tom Smith: It’s got to be an accident.

Doug Shupe: Yeah. Well, it could be an accident.

Tom Smith: But I suppose, if you’re a thief, you’re going through the parking lot, and just suddenly, you know, check in what’s open.

Stay as Safe & Secure as You Can

Doug Shupe: Quickly check, yeah. You just check those doors real quickly. And many times, they’ll find a door that’s open.

Tom Smith: I had a good one once. And this is a personal situation where my car charger, I left my phone in the car charging, but the charger was plugged into the ashtray, and the phone was under the seat. So, all you could see was the wire, right. And this was back in the day when it was just a wire charger. It wasn’t the curlicue thing. So, it was very subtle.

Sure enough, I get back from where I was, and windows broken, phone’s gone. I was so mad. I called my phone. Like I don’t know what I was thinking. I’m going to call the phone, and what? I’m going to yell at the person that stole my phone? They answered the phone. I can’t remember what they said, but it sounded like a young girl. And she answered the phone, whatever it was, the name and the company, but it was like, “X, Y, Z Window Company. Can I help you?” I was just like, “Oh, that’s good. You just broke my window, stole my phone. I’m calling my phone-

Doug Shupe: Wow.

Tom Smith: … and you’re the window company. That’s fantastic.” She laughed at me and hung up.

Doug Shupe: Yeah, I mean, it happens. You see, that was a perfect example of how it didn’t take much. Just that small phone cord.

Tom Smith: Yeah. And that’s what it was. It’s barely-

Doug Shupe: That’s all it was.

Don’t Expect Theives to Act Rationally

Tom Smith: But that was back in the day. I mean, that’s all 10 years ago. It was not obvious that it was a phone cord. But like you say, I’ve also had another situation where I left — This is also back in the day — case of CDs, big case of CDs. They broke and stole the CDs. I had $300 worth of sunglasses in the center console that they didn’t touch. They didn’t think to go through because the CDS were out in plain sight. So, that’s the moral, right?

Doug Shupe: It doesn’t take much.

Tom Smith: Hide everything.

Doug Shupe: Yeah. Before I started at AAA, when I was a TV reporter, I left my car in San Antonio, Texas with just maybe a $1.50 of change in the side of the door.

Tom Smith: And somebody came in after that?

Doug Shupe: And my window was smashed over $1.50. So, yeah, it doesn’t take much. And that’s why we really encourage people to get everything, hide it, put it in the trunk, or don’t store it in your car. You know, talk with your insurance agent about the type of coverage that would cover auto theft, and make sure that you’re covered.

Park in Well-Lit High Visibility Areas

Auto theft is covered under the comprehensive section of an auto insurance policy, and the theft coverage applies to the loss of the vehicle, as well as the parts of the vehicle, including the airbags. Always lock your vehicle and close the windows. Don’t leave them half open. Never leave belongings out in plain view. Never leave keys in your vehicle. You know, a lot of people will try to leave a spare key in a magnetic box underneath the vehicle. Not recommended at all because, unfortunately, thieves know to look for those clues.

And so, you also want to … Where you park is important. Always park in very well-lit areas. Make sure when possible, you’re in a parked garage, if you can. Consider installing motion activated floodlights that will illuminate the place where you park at home. Use an anti-theft for automatic tracking device if your vehicle is not equipped with an alarm or a hidden tracking device.

Tom Smith: Is that the LoJack that you’re saying?

Doug Shupe: Yes, exactly. Yeah. Consider that.

Tom Smith: I’m sure there’s a competitor out there, but that’s one that we all know.

Doug Shupe: There are a lot of them out there. You might want to consider that.

Tom Smith: But what about the theory, you know, “Hey, someone steals my car.” And I’ve never had LoJack personally for this reason.

Take Precautions for Tracking Down Your Stolen Vehicle

Someone steals my car. I don’t want it back because it’s going to be trashed. They’re not going to drive it well, right. Or maintain it. They’re not going to take care of it. I guess, from an insurance perspective, I haven’t been in that situation. Maybe the way that it all shakes out, you really do want your car back because it winds up costing you a lot of money if you don’t get it back. But my thinking has been, “But I don’t want it back.”.

Doug Shupe: It depends on how long it’s gone, what’s done to it in that amount of time. Obviously, you know, that’s the best thing is to prevent it from happening. If law enforcement can recover it quickly, you know, you may not have that much damage to it. The Auto Club actually offers free VIN etching events.

Tom Smith: VIN etching events.

Doug Shupe: Vehicle identification number etching, right. And what that is, is car window VIN etchings are very small but visible to deter thieves. It’s your vehicle identification number etched into the windows, every single window of your vehicle. It helps law enforcement recover. It also helps deter thieves because what they want to do is they want to sell parts of the vehicle. When they see that VIN etching on there, they know they can’t sell those parts, so they may go on to the next vehicle.

Window Etching w/ AAA Auto Club

Tom Smith: But wait a minute. So, you take the VIN number.

Doug Shupe: We take the VIN number.

Tom Smith: Vehicle identification number. I think, everybody knows what it is. It’s a number that identifies your specific vehicle. Cars rolling off the assembly lines will have a VIN number. And what you guys do is etch that VIN number.

Doug Shupe: Into the windows.

Tom Smith: Into the window. So, all the windows?

Doug Shupe: All the windows.

Tom Smith: So then, your car gets stolen. The thieves just can’t sell those windows.

Doug Shupe: They can’t sell those windows. But a lot of times, what it does is because they want to sell all parts of the vehicle-

Tom Smith: Right.

Doug Shupe: … it deters them from stealing that vehicle because they already see that. Now, a lot of vehicles come with those windows VIN etched already from the manufacturer. But if you don’t have it, it’s a good idea to get the vehicle’s windows VIN etched. It’s about, you know, if you pay for it, about $200-$250. But, again, the Auto Club does offer free window VIN etchings at various locations throughout the year.

Tom Smith: Is that right?

Be Diligent – Would-Be Thieves Are 

Doug Shupe: Yeah. We do that for free. We do that for the entire community, whether you’re a member or not. And we team up with local law enforcement because it’s great to work with them. They help us actually etch the windows, and we do this-

Tom Smith: You guys do that in Southern California?

Doug Shupe: In Southern California, yeah.

Tom Smith: Okay.

Doug Shupe: We do it about four or five events every year.

Tom Smith: Okay.

Doug Shupe: And we try to, you know, sporadically put them all around various locations of Southern California.

Tom Smith: So, we’ve covered keeping your car safe at home, keeping it well-lit, parking in well-lit areas. What about driving and a carjacking, which is, for me, being a new dad, and being a protective husband, and a protective father, this is a very scary thing. When I was a single guy, I was invincible. I didn’t care. Not an issue. Now, it’s like I try to avoid certain neighborhoods just because I’m a paranoid dad.

Doug Shupe: Yeah. The reality is it could happen anywhere.

Tom Smith: Right.

Doug Shupe: But it’s frightening, you know. I mean, when you hear about it on the news, stealing a car or a truck by force, it does capture headlines in local news. But, statistically, your chances of being a carjacking victim are very slim. When they happen though, they do make big headlines.

Avoid Becoming a Statistic

And so, you know, really taking the actions to prevent it really is best. No one really knows for sure why someone would lead to do that. A lot of times, it’s a crime of opportunity, a thief-

Tom Smith: Sure.

Doug Shupe: … searching for a vehicle then to go commit another crime using that vehicle. Unfortunately, for some young people, it’s like a rite of passage or a status symbol. Believe it or not, cars, especially luxurious ones, can provide quick cash for drug users, unfortunately, and other criminals.

Tom Smith: How do you prevent it?

Doug Shupe: The best thing to do is make sure that, you know … The best thing to do to prevent carjacking is make sure that you’re walking with purpose, and you’re staying alert when you’re walking to and from shopping centers-

Tom Smith: Sure.

Doug Shupe: … or grocery stores. Always approach your vehicle with your key and hand, look around, and inside the car before getting in. Be wary of anybody who’s asking you for directions, or they’re trying to hand out flyers next to your car. And trust your instincts. If something makes you feel uneasy, get into the car quickly, lock the doors, and drive away.

Use Common Sense

Now, when it comes to when you’re on the road, always keep your doors locked, and your windows rolled up, at least, part way, you know, if it’s hot out, and you don’t have any air conditioning. When you’re coming to a stop, leave enough room to maneuver around other cars, especially if you sense trouble, and you feel like you need to get away. And then drive in the center lane to make it harder for would-be carjackers to approach the car. And, you know, if you can avoid driving alone especially at night.

Tom Smith: Gotcha, okay. Well, Doug Shupe, always a pleasure. Thank you so much. Senior Public Affairs Specialist at the Auto Club of Southern California. Again, most of us know you guys as AAA, those helpful folks that come running with an extra gallon of gas when I absentmindedly run out in the middle of wherever I am. But thank you again, Doug.

Doug Shupe: You’re welcome.

Tom Smith: Always a pleasure. And we will talk again soon. For iDriveSoCal, I am Tom Smith. Thank you for listening.