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Car thefts are up across the US. A recent Council on Criminal Justice analysis found that 37,560 more vehicles were stolen in 2022 than the year before.

While vehicle thefts plummeted for several decades prior to 2020 thanks to an increase in anti-theft technology, that trend began to reverse starting in 2020, particularly in major cities.

Thief trying to break open window of a car
Car thefts may be on the rise, but there are many steps you can take to help prevent yours from being stolen.

Rise in Auto Thefts Due to “Kia Challenge”

This increase in car thefts is in part due to a nationwide TikTok trend called the “Kia Challenge,” in which teens steal certain models of Kia vehicles, as well as some types of Hyundai cars, and party in them before trashing or abandoning them. It’s gotten so bad that Kia and Hyundai owners nationwide have filed a class-action lawsuit against the car manufacturers.

According to attorneys representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, these cars are easy targets because they lack engine immobilizers, a technology used by most major car manufacturers to prevent theft.

These models use a physical key slot rather than a push-button start system. The slot has a USB interface, so a thief only needs to strip away part of the steering column and insert any USB cable into the exposed interface to start the car. Lawyers say this can be done in “less than a minute” and it requires only “a trivial amount” of effort, and it usually doesn’t trigger the car alarm to alert the owner.

How to Prevent Your Vehicle From Being Stolen

Of course, it’s not just Kias and Hyundais being stolen — all cars are vulnerable depending on the circumstances. Car theft is often a crime of opportunity, and thieves will take advantage if you make it easy for them. Here are some of the best ways to prevent your car from being targeted by thieves.

  1. Always lock your doors and keep your windows closed.
  2. Do not leave your key fob in the car.
  3. Use a steering wheel lock and/or gear lock. A steering wheel lock is a device that attaches to the steering wheel of your car, making it difficult for thieves to steer the car away. A gear lock can also be used to prevent your car from being able to be moved.  Particularly if you own one of the older Kia or Hyundai vehicles that are often targeted, a steering wheel and gear lock can be a good deterrent for thieves and make them reconsider even attempting to enter your car.
  4. Install a car alarm if your car doesn’t have one.
  5. Get a remote car starter — but only one that doesn’t require your key fob to be in the vehicle. Many remote starters have GPS trackers, so you can use that to find your vehicle if thieves ever move it.
    person using cell phone to turn on remote car starter
    A remote car starter allows you to start your car without having to leave your keys unattended in the vehicle, which helps avoid putting it at risk of being stolen. [Image: Compustar]
  6. Use a tracking device. If your remote starter doesn’t have one, a tracking device is a smart addition that can help you recover your car if it ever goes missing. Many car manufacturers now offer tracking devices as standard equipment or as an optional add-on, and it’s definitely worth the cost. This inexpensive tracker can send an alert to your phone when your vehicle is moved, when the engine starts, if unusual vibration is detected and even if the device is disconnected. It also features precise GPS tracking so you can monitor where the car is at all times.
  7. Consider a security camera for your car. A security camera can alert you of any motion, people or other suspicious activity in your car. These come equipped with two-way audio, so you can scare off any potential thieves by communicating to them if you see them near your car. This alert can help you contact law enforcement immediately if there is a threat to your vehicle. The camera also captures video for you to provide to police if a crime is committed, and the GPS tracker allows you to monitor your vehicle’s location.
  8. Park in well-lit, busy areas. Thieves are less likely to target cars that are parked in well-lit areas that have a lot of foot and/or vehicle traffic. If possible, park your car in a garage or in a spot with good visibility, such as under a street light.
  9. Don’t leave anything valuable in your vehicle, and hide items if you must leave them. A privacy cover for your trunk can serve as a deterrent by hiding anything you don’t want thieves to see, making it less enticing for them to break into your car in the first place.
  10. Use window decals and/or etchings. Window etchings are a permanent identification mark on the car’s glass, which makes it difficult for thieves to sell a stolen car. It also makes it easier for the police to identify and return the stolen car to the rightful owner. Products like this VIN etching kit allow you to etch your vehicle identification number onto your window, which will permanently mark all of your auto glass and make it extremely difficult for thieves to sell this car to a shop for parts or transport it out of the country. According to the Instaetch website, VIN etching reduces car theft by over 74%, and many car insurance companies will reduce your policy premium for installing such kits. Check with your car insurance company to find out if you’re eligible for a discount.
  11. Get an immobilizer if your car doesn’t already have one. An immobilizer is an electronic device that prevents the engine from starting if the correct key is not used. Most new vehicles have them, but as we discussed, some recent models of Kia and Hyundai vehicles do not, making them vulnerable to “hot-wiring” to start the car. If your vehicle doesn’t have an immobilizer, we highly suggest installing one like this.
  12. Avoid sharing car details and photos online. You never know who can come across your information, and providing your location and car details could make it easier for a thief to steal your vehicle.

Steps To Take If Your Vehicle Is Stolen

If you’re the victim of an auto theft, there are several steps you can take to increase your chances of recovering your vehicle. Here’s what to do if your car is stolen.

  1. Activate your tracking device. If your car has a tracking device, turn it on ASAP. Even if the device comes deactivated, it will be helpful for tracking the car to a location that may have gotten more videos of the vehicle to help provide clues about its future location. The activation of the device could also scare off a thief and encourage them to abandon the car in order to avoid getting caught with it.
  2. File a police report immediately. Time is critical!
  3. Call your insurance company. Provide your insurance company all of the details so they know you’re not currently with the vehicle and ensure you aren’t liable for potential issues.
  4. If you lease your car, contact the leasing company and report it stolen.
  5. Check your security camera footage. If you have any security footage of the car being stolen, provide video and/or photos to the police as well.
  6. Alert neighbors and friends. Check to see if neighbors have any video footage of the theft on their home security cameras, and let local friends and family know so they stay on the lookout.
  7. Ask local businesses for surveillance footage. These nearby businesses may have footage that could help identify the thief or the location of the car if you aren’t able to track it.
  8. Use social media to spread the word. Post on local social media groups for your town and encourage group members to let you know if they see the car anywhere around your area.
  9. Consider offering a reward for your car’s retrieval and alerting local taxi companies. A reward can be a good motivator for people to get out and look for your car, and taxi drivers in particular may be more likely to find it given that they are constantly out driving around.
  10. Check impound lots and tow yards. Many stolen vehicles are abandoned illegally and end up in an impound lot, so it’s definitely worth checking.
  11. Check your city’s transportation website for a parking violation. If your car was abandoned illegally, a police officer may have issued a ticket for a parking violation. The website will show you where the vehicle was parked when it received a ticket. If this is the case, contact the police ASAP.
  12. Check online marketplaces for your car and/or parts. Thieves may use websites like Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, and local buy and sell groups to sell your car or its parts quickly, so it’s important to check the latest listings shortly after your car is stolen. If you see your vehicle, report it to police immediately–do not attempt to meet up with the thief.

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