Bait Cars are frequently used by police departments to catch would-be thieves and are so popular even victimized private citizens are getting in on it as a means of reducing car theft in their neighborhood. That said, Bait Cars come with their own set of controversies. Do they qualify as entrapment? Do they catch hardened thieves who send their goods to chop-shops or do they end up targeting shiftless teenagers who see easy, low-hanging fruit for their boredom? Is it in fact too much of an obvious and easy target for the most problematic thieves to be tempted by? Or for that matter, is there a statistical chance that said car thieve would actually go for the Bait Car - and not yours?
Regardless, it's best to try to tip the statistics in your favor and ensure at least a few basic security measures deter thieves from breaking into your ride.
How Car Thieves Operate (And How to Use This to Your Advantage)
Whether the local car thief really is a bored, shiftless teenager or a professional looking to stock the inventory of a chop-shop, most of them have one thing in common - they commit these crimes based on principals of convenience and speed. For the average working citizen, time may be money - but for car thieves, it's also freedom. Every extra second spent trying to jimmy a door open is a second that could bring the rightful owner to attention, a second that could bring a patrolling cruiser onto the scene, a second needed for an alert Neighborhood Watch resident to complete a 911 call. Therefore, thieves are more likely to target cars they think will allow a speedy getaway. Speed takes precedence over clean, which is why they don't think twice to knock out windows.
Therefore (and perhaps unfortunately) the best way to secure your car is not necessarily to make it theft-proof, but to make your car look less attractive for theft than the other cars in the neighborhood. Perhaps you've heard of the old adage about escaping a bear: The idea is not to outrun the bear, the idea is to outrun the slowest person outrunning the bear. Just like the hungry bear, car thieves stop at the targets they can steal the fastest. Individually, each measure of theft protection may do very little to keep your car in your driveway, but when added together they add valuable seconds and even minutes to what it would take to steal it - hopefully, too much time for a would-be thief to consider investing in.
Hiding Valuable Possessions
image from ShopChevyParts.com
Not every thief who breaks into a car is looking to steal the car itself. This should be a no-brainer, but sadly far too many people fail to realize how attractive they make their cars look to thieves of every variety.
The easiest means to defeat this kind of thief is to take your belongings with you. If that's impractical, hide your possessions wherever you can - in the glove box, in storage consoles, or in storage bins under the floor. I even go so far as to get an extra sunshade and use that to hide things with the black side up (so that it looks more like an empty floor to a casual passer-by). Using a sunshade for its intended purpose also makes it harder for would-be thieves to peer inside.
What if you have a very large object, like a TV, that's simply too big to hide? Do the best you can do, but also remember that exceptionally large and heavy objects lend their own security - being so big and heavy they take valuable seconds or minutes to make off with. You should still exercise all the security measures you can think to implement, but people in a heavy traffic area are likely to notice if someone is trying to pull a boxed TV through a broken window.
Steering Wheel Locks
image from the City of Modesto Police Department
They may look stupid. They may be as easy to defeat as cutting the thin, foam rim of a steering wheel. Individually, it may not stop a car thief, but when paired with other measures it will make your car look like too much effort for what it's worth. If you use a steering wheel lock as shown above, try to ensure that thief will have to cut the wheel at the 9-10 or 2-3 positions in order to free it (as illustrated in the picture above) - never install the lock in the vertical (12-6) position, or below the wheel supports.
Better yet, get a device that locks both the steering wheel and the brake pedal (or clutch pedal). Turn the steering wheel so the lock is as close to the 9-10 or 2-3 position as you can get it. If a thief looks into your car and sees the only possession being this thing blocking the way, that person is likely to move on.
Yes, they've become a nuisance for even innocent citizens and so ubiquitous that most people simply ignore them. That doesn't make them useless. When paired with other security measures, they cause more novice thieves to panic and decrease the time it takes for other people to notice.
Speaking of which, you have to ensure people will notice in the first place.
Park in Well-Lit, High-Traffic Areas
As I said, people notice when thieves are messing with someone else's car, and people will call police. A streetlight makes it easy for a thief to see - but also easy to see what that thief is obviously doing. Parking in an area with heavy foot traffic (doesn't necessarily have to be in front of the store) means you have a sort of accidental "Mechanical Turk" of a surveillance system watching your car for you as you shop. The most important thing is that witnesses (or yourself) must have a clear line-of-sight between them and the car, so keep that in mind.
LoJack and Insurance-Sponsored Methods
Sometimes you just have bad luck and nothing can prevent your car from being stolen. LoJack will at least help track it down so you can get it back, and if nothing else insurance makes the loss hurt less. Inquire if your insurance company also has programs or other suggestions on how to make your car more theft-proof or take some of the pain from property loss.
The Ever-Useful Dashcam
If your car does get stolen and recovered, dashcam evidence can go a very long way towards ensuring that thief is unable to steal again.
Lock Your Doors!
This might seem like another no-brainer, but it still happens. There's a reason why Bait Cars are usually left unlocked and running. Lock your car every time you exit the vehicle. You'd figure remote locking should eliminate any last excuse