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Auto Theft

Alarms and immobilisers:
If you have a new car, the chances are it already has a car alarm or an immobiliser fitted.

But if it doesn't, we've outlined some of the options open to you below.
Perhaps the single biggest reason for the drop in thefts of newer cars in recent years is the standard fitting of alarms and immobilisers to all new vehicles. Alarms are an effective deterrent to both car theft and theft from your vehicle, and electronic engine immobilisers are highly effective as they prevent the engine from actually starting. In combination, they are enough to put most car thieves off, and nowadays you can even fit combined alarm and engine immobilising systems to older cars as well.

If you already have an alarm but no immobiliser, don't worry. Engine immobilisers can also be fitted on their own and your alarm can be upgraded to "category one" if it isn't already. It is also important that alarm and engine immobilising systems are fitted properly to your car. If you already have one or more security device, or you are thinking of securing an older model vehicle it is worth checking your car security rating to see if you meet the necessary standard.


Breakdowns:
When your car breaks down you can often feel very vulnerable, especially if you are on your own and you are somewhere dark and isolated. We've got advice to help you feel a little safer.
Prevention is always better than the cure, so it is recommend that you carry out weekly maintenance checks on your car's oil, water and other engine fluid levels. In addition, you should check your tyre pressures before long journeys, and alter them if you are carrying heavy loads. Another essential safety measure is to make sure you have enough petrol at all times, and stopping to fill up well before your gauge is running low.

In most situations it is recommended that you remain in your car and await assistance when you breakdown, however, on a motorway it is suggested that you get out of the vehicle on the passenger side and wait. You are at more risk from being struck by another vehicle when sitting on the hard shoulder than you are from being attacked while waiting there, so road safety experts recommend you stand away from your car.

Always carry spare petrol in a proper portable tank and never keep it in the passenger compartment, and plan your journey before you set off and make sure you have a map and, if possible, a mobile phone with you.
Turn on hazard warning lights if you break down and carefully assess whether it's safer to stay in the car or to get out. In general it's better to get out, but if you're alone and feel vulnerable, get back in the car, and if someone approaches, lock your doors and speak through a small gap in the window.


Car key crime:
Car thieves are increasingly turning to new methods of car crime, particularly "key crime".
Key crime means stealing the keys to the car first, rather than having to break in and then start the car manually. In some cases, this form of vehicle theft has led to carjacking attacks on individuals while out in their car; however these are actually a rare form of key crime. Far more common are thefts of keys from bags or pockets, or from people's homes. Never leave your keys in your car even for a second. This is especially important when loading or unloading your car, or at petrol stations. Look after your car keys the same as you would your other personal possessions, such as cash or credit cards.
Make sure your keys are kept in a secure place at home and at work. Burglars have been known to break into houses and offices just to steal car keys. And at home, don't be in the habit of leaving your car keys close to the front door where they can be seen. This might make life easier for you, but it's also very handy for a car thief.

Things in your car:
Any valuable possessions you leave in your car are at risk from being stolen. Never give a thief the reason to break in and steal your belongings - they will take any opportunity you give them. Apart from car stereos, the most common items stolen from a car are clothes. In addition, CDs and tapes, tools, laptop computers, mobile phones, bags, briefcases, sunglasses and credit cards are all frequently stolen, and the reason these items are taken is usually because they are left in plain view for all to see.
If you don't hide things away in your car, you're tempting a thief to break-in, so never leave anything in view. Although stereos remain the most frequently stolen items, even shopping bags, cigarettes and loose change can encourage a break-in. As you can't hide your stereo out of sight, here are some tips to prevent it getting stolen.

Many modern in-car entertainment systems have security built in, for example removable faces on the stereo itself. If yours has this feature, use it. Remove the face and take it with you, even if you're leaving your car for just a short time. Another modern feature is a built-in security code. If the stereo is removed and fitted to another car the code is needed or it won't work. Keep the note of your code number somewhere safe in your house and never anywhere inside your car. Also keep a note of the serial number of the stereo somewhere safe in your home.
With some older stereos you can remove the whole unit. Although it might not always be practical to carry the unit around with you, do so as much as you can, especially when leaving your car overnight or when you're at work during the day. Etch the vehicle identification number and your postcode onto the stereo and mark it invisibly with a ultra-violet pen. Around 150,000 tax disks are taken from cars each year. These can be tampered with and sold on to someone else. You can protect your tax disk with a tamper proof disk holder, available from the Post Office. This could save you the hassle of a broken window or having to buy a replacement disk.


Parking your car:
Where and how you park your car can be important for your own security, and that of your car. On average, car parks that have implemented certain measures in order to achieve the standard, such as better lighting and surveillance, have managed to reduce car crime by 70%. If you can't find a secure car park, for your own safety and security, park somewhere that is quite busy and that is well lit at night.
If possible reverse into the parking space so that you can get away quickly in an emergency, and if using a multi-storey car park, choose a space that is close to the exit and away from pillars if you can.
When returning to your vehicle have your keys ready and quickly look at the back seat just to make sure no one has climbed in, and choose a car park that is well supervised with restricted entry and exit points and CCTV cameras. Consider fitting security lights outside your home to light up the space where you park at night.

Other security devices:
Even if you don't cherish your car as a member of the family, chances are you would miss it if it was stolen.
Time for some added security? There are many car security devices available from shops and workshops. Some fit across the steering wheel while others attach to your gear stick, handbrake or pedals, and some drivers even use wheel clamp, or a combination of all these devices. This is fine as a deterrent, but it is worth noting that in security tests many of these kinds of car security devices can be unlocked or removed in seconds.
That's not to say that some aren't highly effective and won't put a thief off, but how do you know which are effective and which aren't? Other devices worth a mention are spare wheel locks, security posts for your drive, locking petrol caps, side screen protection film (to stop smash and grab theft), and deadlocks for your car doors. All of which add to the general security of your vehicle.

Vehicle tracking systems:
One of the biggest advancements in car security in recent years has been the emergence of the vehicle tracking system. Want to know more? These systems operate using radio or satellite positioning to locate a car after it has been stolen, and although they can be quite expensive, they are proving ever more popular with owners of executive or valuable cars.
Generally, the technology is fitted to a car "covertly", meaning it is hidden from view and there are no warning notices on the car to suggest that a tracking device is fitted. This makes a thief less confident about car crime and stops them trying to locate and remove the tracking system. If the car is stolen the system is activated to send out a unique signal that the police can follow.
Some systems are even capable of detecting unauthorised movement of your car and will alert the driver that their car may have been stolen. When combined with a satellite Global Positioning System (GPS), tracking devices can pinpoint the exact whereabouts of your car and relay the information to police.
Most police forces are now equipped with systems to track vehicles fitted with this technology. So if you're determined to prevent your car from being stolen, it might be worth spending those extra pounds to get this pretty sophisticated piece of security equipment.