Gone in Sixty Seconds

Auto theft is accelerating, and has been for a hot minute. If you’re the owner of a Kia or Hyundai vehicle made between 2011 and 2021, you’re likely acutely aware of this phenomenon. A certain social media trend that has been spreading among the youths double—nay, triple—dog-daring them to steal cars with only a screwdriver and the somehow perfectly-shaped end of a USB cable has contributed to an incredible rise in car thefts across our city, not to mention the entire country.

As I’m sure even recent residents of the Crescent City are well aware, we can barely rely on officers of the law to show up in a timely manner when anything has gone awry, much less recover any stolen property after the fact. The most productive way to deal with this rapidly increasing problem is to communally protect each other and deter these thefts before they happen, instead of dealing with the aftermath.

Know Your Neighbors

Let’s start with the most free of the options on deterring car thieves: Always have someone watching over your vehicle. Most advice about discouraging theft will tell you to park your car in a well-lit location. This, in theory, should dissuade any high plains drifters (see Beastie Boys circa 1989) from stealing your car since it’s much more likely they will be noticed. These days, however, these Kia kids are stealing cars in only a few minutes in broad daylight.

The more people in your community who know you and can associate you with the car you drive, the higher likelihood that one of those people will notice someone who is not you near or in your car. So talk to your neighbors and get to know them, if you don’t already. Find out what cars they drive and keep an eye out for them too.

If you own one of those particularly easy-to-steal cars, consider baking everyone on your block some cookies and leaving them on the doorstep. Include some photos of you and your car and a cute note about how much your car means to you, with simple yet specific instructions on contacting you directly if they see something unsavory going on. Engage your neighbors in conversation and figure out the optimal places you could park your car in order for it to be easily visible in their windows should something happen. Put a sticker on your driver side door that cheerfully declares to smile for surveillance—you could do this even if you don’t have neighbors to monitor your vehicle as a cheap deterrent. It certainly is safer than investing in a security camera yourself which could be tapped by the police.

Connecting with folks in your community means you can also leave your car with your friends or neighbors when you go away on vacation. Not only will your buddy without wheels be overjoyed at the prospect of having a new whip for a few days, you get some peace of mind that someone will be watching over your precious vehicular investment while you are gone.

Kill Switch Engage

Although leaving a copy of the 2004 album The End of Heartache prominently displayed on your passenger seat may be considered a theft deterrent by many, what I’m referring to is a device that can be installed in your car to prevent it from starting unless disengaged. You can discuss the finer points of exactly what type of kill switch would be best for your vehicle with your friendly neighborhood mechanic, but usually the easiest and cheapest ones to purchase and have installed will be an ignition kill switch.

You can have this switch installed in an obscure or hidden place, which will also have the bonus benefit of making you feel like James Bond when you go to start your daily driver. Just remember to engage it every time you leave your vehicle parked. If someone does happen to get inside your car and attempt to start it, they will likely think your battery is dead and move on to the next car, rather than search every crevice for a kill switch they don’t even know exists.

Now if you’re really handy and confident with wiring, you can figure out how to install one of these babies yourself along with an instructional internet video or two. If you’re not quite that handy, and you can’t afford the time or the money for a custom device, you can just disconnect the negative terminal of your car battery every time you leave your car parked as a sort of crude kill switch. Remember to tuck the cable end somewhere where it won’t touch the positive terminal, and of course follow all other safety precautions when working around your car battery.

No Key, Slight Problem

If you have one of them newfangled 1998-or-newer vehicles with keyless entry, which allows you to press a button on a key fob to unlock your door without using a physical key, your car may be more at risk for potential break-ins than one without this once-premium option. But in reality, the ability to unlock your car using your own key fob is kind of an involved process requiring expensive technology and advanced knowledge of coding. If you have a high value or new car with keyless entry and start capabilities it’s something to be aware of, but no one is out here hacking their way into your granny’s late ‘90s Toyota Corolla.

If your car key fob makes you anxious and you want to do something about it to get better sleep at night, just be mindful of where you keep it when you are home. Keeping your key fob far away from your front door is a good first step, but if you’re trying to stop all radio frequencies you can keep your key fob in the fridge. If you don’t have access to a fridge, wrap your key fob in a sheet of aluminum foil. If you are still concerned and don’t want to look like you’ve made your car key a tin foil hat to protect it from aliens, you can invest in a Faraday pouch. It’s a case that can block any radio frequency signal—basically a slicker, cooler version of a tin foil hat.

Give It The Boot

If you are going to purchase any theft deterrent device, I highly recommend only spending money on one of those old-school steering wheel locks. Pick one that is brightly colored, like yellow or orange, so it stands out even in the dark, and plan to spend no more than $40 on it. These classic, even nostalgic devices are time-tested and proven to not only deter, but also make it physically impossible to drive your car even if someone was to figure out how to open and start it. It’s also fairly inexpensive and remarkably easy to use.

If you are feeling extra you can purchase a wheel lock device, also called a wheel boot. This is a great option if you are trying to protect an alternative vehicle like a motorcycle, scooter, or golf cart. The only slight downside of this device is if someone does somehow attempt to drive away with the boot still attached, it could dent or ruin part of your vehicle. But a cosmetically damaged vehicle is still better than not having a vehicle at all!

Stick It To The Man!

The last piece of advice I have for deterring theft is possibly the least practical to accomplish, however I think it deserves to be mentioned. As time marches on, vehicles with manual transmissions are disappearing along with people who have the knowledge to drive one. If someone can’t drive your vehicle away, they can’t very well steal it either.

Although seemingly impractical, acquiring and learning to drive a stick shift vehicle gives you a lot of benefits which may not be apparent at first glance. Not only does driving a manual car make you more attentive to what is happening around you, it also makes you a lot more in tune with your car, which helps you maintain your vehicle in the best shape by noticing small changes in how the engine sounds. Driving a manual transmission car requires both hands, which will cure you pretty quickly of any phone addiction you may have.

Even if you cannot commit to purchasing a manual transmission car, at the very least find a friend who can teach you the basics. In an emergency situation, being able to operate more than one kind of vehicle will come in very handy. Honestly, being a deterrent for car thieves is almost at the end of a long list of benefits that come with saving the manuals from extinction.

Community Support

According to WDSU, so far this year there have been over 400 vehicles reported stolen in New Orleans alone. This is a shockingly high number considering that’s already 10% of all the cars stolen over the entirety of last year. For a lot of us our cars are our lifeline to basic necessities these days. Having one thing go wrong can set you back significantly if not completely render you stranded on the street. This is why it is so important we look out for each other above all. When our community members feel safe and supported, a real cultural shift is possible and we can start thinking about productive and creative solutions to a problem instead of making decisions steeped in fear and anger.

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illustrations by Deanna Larmeu

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