Key to foiling thieves: Lock, take and hide

Would you rather keep your car unstolen? Good luck to you, pal, because there's no place tougher than Southern Nevada to keep your car out of the hands of hoodlums.

You might have seen the headline on the front page of Tuesday's Review-Journal: "LV the car theft king." That was based on a National Insurance Crime Bureau study that found Clark County had the nation's worst auto-theft rate last year, when more than 22,000 cars vanished.

Odds are roughly one in 100 that you'll head out the door one day to find your ride has ridden off without you. It's a lousy bet in a gambling town, that's for sure.

So, what to do?

Besides making sure your auto insurance is up to date or keeping a rabid pit bull in your passenger seat, there are some factors that make your car more stealable than others parked nearby. And there are things that make your car less of a big fat bulls-eye.

Following such tips won't make your car theft-proof. No car is. But thieves prefer a sure thing over a challenge.

"Thieves are cowards. They want to do it one of two ways," said Lt. Robert Duvall, who heads the auto-theft detail for Las Vegas police. "They want to do it fast, or under the cover of something."

Duvall breaks car swipers into two groups: "You have the professional thieves and your transportation thieves."

The former group steals cars for parts that are resold on the black market, or resells the car after wiping out vehicle identification numbers, known as VINs.

"Anybody who steals for profit," Duvall said.

Transportation thieves steal cars for joy rides, or to use as a getaway car while committing other crimes. "The guy who steals a car to get from Point A to Point B."

Believe it or not, some folks steal cars just for their daily commutes to work or school. For those thieves, easy marks can be found outside convenience stores or gasoline stations every day.

Roughly one of every five cars stolen around here is unattended but with the engine running or keys in the car, according to Duvall.

"People think they're only away for a minute. It only takes two seconds to steal a car," Duvall said. "People who are filling their cars up with gas, their concentration is on the pump. They run in to get their change, and they leave their keys in the car."

Thieves also look for the cover of darkness or anonymity, striking residential areas at night, especially in poorly lit neighborhoods, and places where you'd expect people to be wandering about, like parking garages, outside movie theaters and supermarkets, and the like, Duvall said.

"People are in and out of there all the time," he said.

The most basic advice, echoed by cops and insurance experts alike, is lock, take and hide. That is, lock your car, take your keys and hide any valuables inside your ride. Roll up windows, put packages and valuables in the trunk, and don't assume tinted windows mask the interior.

"That's it," Duvall said. "That reduces by 15, 20 percent the chance of your car being stolen. We can't make it easy on the thieves. Too often, we do."

Likewise, an obvious and visible deterrent can make a thief skip your car and look for easier targets. Such deterrents include club-style steering wheel and brake pedal locks, or car alarms with blinking red lights.

Sure, a bad guy hellbent on taking your car can probably foil those deterrents. But that takes time and draws attention. And if your car is parked among 150 other less-protected cars in a lot, why would a ne'er-do-well bother?

"If you are a thief, would you want to walk around with a bolt cutter big enough to cut a club?" Duvall said. "Make it harder and don't get your car taken in the first place."

There are also devices that foil a theft-in-progress, like switches that kill your car's ignition if the original keys aren't used, or tracking devices like "Lo-Jack" that allow cops to track a stolen vehicle.

When picking where to park, finding a place that's well-lit, busy and easily seen by passers-by is a better bet than choosing a secluded spot.

"Park it where there's the most visibility, even if you have to walk a couple of steps," Duvall said. "The worst thing you can do is park it where no one can see it."

You might be inclined to park far from other cars, so your doors don't get dinged. That may protect from dents, Duvall said, but it increases the risk of a drive-off.

Believe it or not, fancy wheels and rims raise your risk.

"A lot of cars are stolen just so the thieves will have time to take the wheels off it," Duvall said. "The wheels are very popular. That is a huge target right now."

And just because you drive a clunker or some sort of cheap ride, don't assume your car is unwanted. You'd be very wrong.

According to the NICB, in 2006 the most stolen cars were 1996 Honda Accords, 1995 Honda Civics and 1990 Toyota Camrys.

"If you steal a high-dollar Mercedes or Jag, you're taking a hell of a risk. You're drawing attention to yourself," Duvall said. "You drive a white Honda down the middle of Sahara (Avenue), nobody will notice it. Common cars are under the cover of anonymity. There's so many of them."

In the end, what you do beforehand might help you keep your car afterward. It's not fair, but that's how it is.

"Nobody ever has it coming. In a perfect world, we should be able to leave our car running and still find our car out there. But we don't live in a perfect world," Duvall said.

Nope. We live in Vegas.

If you have a question, tip or tirade, call the Road Warrior at 387-2904, or e-mail him at or Please include your phone number.