Avoiding auto theft

Program warns residents to be vigilant, keep vehicles safe

Sunday Times Newspapers

After a recent rash of car break-ins and thefts, Downriver residents are warned to be vigilant.

In Melvindale, three parked vehicles were reported damaged last week and Allen Park residents also reported attempted theft of their vehicles last week, after finding their driver’s-side doors and ignitions pried off.

Riverview police posted tips on their Website in response to at least two car thefts and numerous cases of theft from vehicles.

The Website lists a variety of precautions residents can take, including parking in a well-lit area, locking all vehicle doors, and not leaving any valuables in the vehicle.

Terri Miller, executive director of Michigan-based Help Eliminate Auto Theft, or HEAT, said protecting a vehicle usually comes down to common sense. Car theft can be avoided most easily by keeping a car in the garage, she said.

“We tend to keep our junk in the garage and our expensive cars in the driveway,” Miller said. “Really, it should be the other way around.”

HEAT advises car owners use a layered system of protection, the first layer covering “common sense” tips like keeping valuables that must be in the vehicle inside the trunk.

Global Positioning System units should be removed from the vehicle, along with the brackets that hold them in place, Miller said.

“A thief might see it and say, ‘Maybe (the GPS) is in the console or the glove box,’” she said.

She also said never to assume that a neighborhood is safe enough to leave a car unlocked or running, even to warm up the vehicle or to run into a store.

The second layer of protection HEAT recommends includes things that signal to a potential thief that a vehicle is protected. An alarm system with a flashing light or a steering wheel lock can help, Miller said.

“They are not foolproof,” she said, “but they might slow a thief down. They might look at it and say, ‘I’m gonna steal the car next to it.’”

A third tier of protection can be offered by an alarm that automatically starts when a vehicle is unoccupied or a kill-switch, a device installed by a mechanic that can shut off the vehicle remotely, she said.

The final layer of protection HEAT recommends is a system like OnStar, or LoJack, which can help recover the vehicle once it is stolen.

Miller also said that many owners of older-model vehicles feel a false sense of security, but in reality, their vehicles are stolen much more than newer, more expensive cars.

“The most-stolen vehicles are late ’90s and early 2000s Chrysler vehicles,” Miller said. “That’s because the manufacturer did not build in a lot of anti-theft devices. Thieves know they are easier to steal.”

Vigilance is also an important factor, she said. HEAT runs a confidential hotline for people who have any information about car theft. Information leading to an arrest can result in a reward of up to $10,000.

All tips are passed on to and investigated by local law enforcement. HEAT then supplies the reward to tipsters who helped in the arrest.

“We don’t ask you to be detectives,” MIller said. “Just tell us what you know.”