auto

Putting the brakes on auto theft

You should jot down your car's vehicle identification number, or VIN, and have it in your house, because the authorities will want that information, too. (If your car is stolen and you don't have it, your mechanic may have it stored in his computer.) And keep in mind, losing that paperwork to a criminal is also a great way to be a victim of identity theft. Burke also points out that a thief will now know where you live. If they like your car, maybe they'll love what you have inside your house.

Security the 'MacGyver' way
The odds of getting your car back increase if you have a security tracking system like OnStar, LoJack or one of the many other brands available. But not everyone can afford a security system, or feels that it's worth putting one into their trusty, dependable-but-aging car.

If you want security on the cheap, there are a couple methods to consider.

Rig up your own. This was the strategy taken by John Smart, founder of a Web hosting company in Eugene, Ore. "Several years ago, when I was driving an older car, I went to RadioShack and purchased a flashing LED for $4, a resistor pack for $2 and a 9-volt battery for $3. I put them together and had a flashing light in my windscreen, making it look like I had a car alarm."

Smart doesn't guarantee that his method kept thieves away -- "my car was not that great," he says -- but on the other hand, it was never stolen.

Take a piece of the car with you. Whenever Michael Schultz, a public relations professional in Westford, Mass., parks in a high-risk area, he pops up the hood and disconnects one of the spark plug connectors. "It's easy to put back in running order when I return," says Schultz, who had his car stolen when he was younger, and has adopted this strategy ever since, "but there's no way even an experienced thief will get that car started if they break in, and no car thief has the time to open the hood and examine the engine to determine why a car won't start."

Top 10 list of stolen cars
According to the National Crime Insurance Bureau, the following cars were the most stolen in 2006, the most recent national numbers available:
1.1995 Honda Civic6.1994 Chevrolet full size C/K 1500 pickup
2.1991 Honda Accord7.1994 Nissan Sentra
3.1989 Toyota Camry8.1994 Dodge Caravan
4.1997 Ford F-1509.1994 Saturn SL
5.2005 Dodge Ram pickup10.1990 Acura Integra
Find out which cars are stolen most in your state with this list from State Farm.

On the other hand, some sophisticated thieves have been known to use tow trucks, or maybe you'll be unfortunate enough to have your vehicle broken into by a thug with his own spare spark plug. If someone wants your vehicle badly enough, he'll probably find a way to take it, so no matter how you protect yourself, it's probably wise to brace yourself that sometimes a theft can happen to the best of us.

Geoff Williams is a freelance writer in Loveland, Ohio.

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