I lost a car to thieves once, and it was a strange experience – when I saw that my beaten Pontiac was gone from its spot next to my student apartment, my thoughts paralleled those of Ashton Kutcher in Dude, Where's My Car? The previous night had been a long one, and I had obviously misplaced the Pontiac somewhere along the way.
But the cruel truth was soon revealed – my Pontiac had been hot-wired and driven to a chop shop where a crew of tattooed thieves dismembered it like a slaughtered cow. (Thirty years later, it still hurts to think about it.)
So what's the best way to theft-proof your car? If you've got the money, you buy a late-model vehicle with an immobilizer system and park it in a solid block garage with an armed guard. But what if you don't have a garage? Or money?
Herewith, the poor man's guide to automotive theft-proofing:
Paint your car pink and install Hello Kitty seat covers.
Unless you live next to a reform school for criminal girls or a Japanese anime fetish shop, your painfully cute ride will probably be safe from thieves. (There is a Scion iQ that fits this description in Toronto – even though it is regularly parked next to one of the busiest streets in Toronto, no one has stolen it yet.)
Take the wheels off.
Parking your car on cinder blocks and removing the wheels every night renders your car virtually theft-proof. (Note: do not leave the wheels, jack and lug wrench nearby.)
Go with a firearms theme.
Who wants to steal a car from someone who may go all Dirty Harry? Proclaim your firearms fetish with a rear-window gun rack and prominently displayed NRA decals. Leave a couple of well-worn AK-47 magazines lying on the front seat in plain view (the magazines don't actually need to be loaded). For good measure, you can add some gun-rights stickers like "If you can read this, you're in range," "This vehicle stops at gun shows," or "Insured by Smith &Wesson."
Drive a Lada.
Brutal build quality and reliability issues doomed this Russian economy car to a short run on the North American market. But if you can find one, the Lada will render you virtually theft-proof, since not even the most desperate criminal will want to steal it (Ladas are hard to sell, and they're too slow to make a decent getaway vehicle). And should a thief should actually try to make off with your Lada, there's an excellent chance that it will either fail to start, or break down within a block or two.
Bolt a set of genuine steer horns on the hood.
You may not like the look of them (especially if your car is a German luxury sedan) but steer horns act as a multi-pronged (pun intended) anti-theft system: they decrease your car's black market value and suggest that you are a cowboy type who probably has decent tracking, shooting and lynching skills. As a bonus, few car thieves will chance driving off in a car that is instantly recognizable to every police officer in town.
Put on military-style equipment and warning signs.
Install a large, ominous-looking handle on the hood with a label that reads "Deactivate before ignition – explosion hazard."
Order your car with a manual transmission.
Since only a small percentage of the population can now drive a stick shift, a manual transmission acts as a filtering mechanism, dramatically lowering the number of qualified thieves.
Use blocker cars.
It's hard to steal a car that's wedged into a parking spot by two others. Buy a pair of cheap cars that you can block your good car in with. The best technique: park your car, then position the blocker vehicles in front and behind, with their bumpers touching your car. If thieves want your car, they're going to need a crane. (Don't park near cranes.)
Buy a car with a crank starter.
Back in the age of the Model T, every driver knew how to start a car with a handle that projected from the front bumper. Today, almost no one understands the ritual, which involves setting the spark, priming the fuel system, and hitting the handle at the correct point in the combustion cycle. Most thieves will look at the crank and give your car a pass. But if you happen to get an enterprising thief who's willing to give the crank a try, there's an excellent chance they'll experience instant justice in the form of an arm-breaking kickback.
Turn your car into an art vehicle.
Gluing thousands of Dinky Toys or plastic soldiers onto your car will dramatically reduce its theft appeal. So will covering it in DayGlo fur or festooning it with golden mannequin heads. You have created a personal vision that only you will like. The downside? People will think you're insane. But never mind – your car will be safe.
Don't drive a Honda Civic SiR or a domestic four-wheel drive.
According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, these are the most-stolen vehicles on the market. Why tempt fate by driving a car that's a proven thief-magnet?
But if you insist on getting one, put on plenty of NRA stickers, get a pair of blocker cars, and remove the wheels every night. Or you could try painting your car pink and installing a set of pink Hello Kitty seat covers. Good luck.
For more from Peter Cheney, go to facebook.com/cheneydrive (No login required!)
Globe and Mail Road Rush archive: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-drive/car-life/cheney/