The sad truth about car theft: You can't prevent it

Car thief at passenger side door

Here's the sad truth about preventing someone from stealing your car: You can't.

If a car thief targeting your car knows what he is doing, he will steal it.

You can take some obvious precautions like always locking your car and never leaving the keys in it, but doing so really only minimizes the likelihood of a casual thief snatching it on an impulse.

A determined, experienced car thief can overcome these obvious precautions as well as most antitheft devices.

Easily seen prevention devices and products to prevent theft, such as steering-wheel locks and audible alarms, as well as immobilizers like smart keys, kill switches and fuel-cutoff systems, may discourage the random joyriding thief or even slow down a professional.

But they aren't foolproof.

Any antitheft scheme is better than none, but they can provide a false sense of security.

In 2003, I had a new Chevrolet Corvette stolen out of my driveway in south Florida that had both smart-key technology and an antitheft alarm system.

As far as the professional thieves who stole it were concerned, I might as well have left it unlocked with the engine running.

Every year, the FBI reports on crime in the United States. The most recent report available is 2009.

Nationwide that year, thieves snatched nearly 800,000 vehicles. That was down 31.5% from 2000 but is still an impressive number.

Three-quarters of stolen vehicles in 2009 were cars, not trucks. And since most vehicles are stolen for parts, the most popular models are often the most frequent targets.

Roughly 57% of those stolen vehicles were recovered, but some were wrecked and others stripped of valuable parts.

The loss was still a whopping $5.2 billion, or about $6,500 per stolen vehicle.

What can you do to try to protect yourself?

Install an immobilizing device. Although devices like kill switches and fuel-cutoffs won't defeat a determined professional thief, they will slow him down.

Invest in a tracking device. LoJack says about 90% of stolen cars and trucks equipped with its locator are recovered, and most are found within two or three hours of being taken.

That gives thieves less opportunity to strip or wreck your car before police locate it.

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