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Help me protect my car from vandalism.
January 17, 2013 12:47 AM   Subscribe

Is there a practical way to keep someone from f-cking with my car?

I live in a neighborhood with a relatively high rate of break-ins. I had my old car broken into multiple times. Over the past couple of years, twice they've broken the window, and the one time I parked on the street, somebody had the gall to succesfully crowbar my side passenger door open. If you want a characterization of the typical criminal in my neighborhood, I would generally say "crackhead" - one time, my car belongings were completely unended, all my change was stolen but my credit cards were left behind. I mean, what the fuck. I accept that each of these times there was probably something of value inside the car that visible from the outside. Anyway, that piece of shit car is history.

So now I have a much nicer car. I know, stupid. Now, my apartment building's 8-car parking lot, while physically removed from the street, is not gated, and there's nothing I can do about this. There are often vagrants going through the dumpster, and occasionally somebody will sleep back there. I know, crazy. The only "security measure" we have is a pathetic motion-detecting light that only half works, and only serves to help people who can't see in the middle of the night. Which is not great.

Is there anything I can do to stave off any potential intruders, or perhaps catch a criminal in the act?

My ideal would be to buy a light that turns on when motion is detected and instantly records and saves the video. Does such a thing exist? Or do you have any other tips on how to deter would-be criminals?

The only other comment I can think worth mentioning is that I would not have access to an outlet or power supply.
posted by phaedon to Home & Garden (38 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Don't leave anything in your car. Ever. It should be obviously empty at all times that you are not in it.
posted by flaterik at 12:55 AM on January 17, 2013 [13 favorites]


My ideal would be to buy a light that turns on when motion is detected and instantly records and saves the video.

I am sorry to say that this is a loosing battle for you. When I lived in high crime areas, even my shitty bicycle worth nothing got stolen. The same beater car was stolen- twice. (No one notices or pays any attention to car alarms.) My beater car had its window broken so many times, that I stopped locking the door, but then I would find someone sleeping in it.

What I did do was take off the distributor cap, remove the rotor and take that with me. I didn't get stolen after that - although someone tried.

I stopped worrying about it - the stress of worry about some possession wasn't worth it - but when I had enough money I moved the hell out of there.
posted by three blind mice at 1:02 AM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


But, but, but........ what do you think a light which recorded video of any attempt would do? If as you characterise those attempting to Fuck up your car is correct they are not going to be majorly put out over a light and won't give two shits who records their face for posterity. I doubt very much you want the hassle of taking it to the Police and getting action on it because while you're at the station someone else will be doing something else to your car.

have you fully investigated all the lock-up potential in your neighbourhood? even a neightbour in a nearby building who may not be using their gated parking space might come to some arrnagement with you for the cost of the equipment you were thinking of buying.
posted by Wilder at 1:18 AM on January 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


My husband has a Viper alarm with a fob that alerts him when something is happening to his car, it was expensive though.
posted by dottiechang at 1:29 AM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


sell your expensive car asap. buy a beater with no stereo. leave nothing of value in it, ever. live with the fact you're going to have to replace the window every so often regardless. i like the removing the distributor cap & rotor idea, i wish i had thought of that back in the day, though thankfully my shitty car never actually got stolen when i lived near the project crackhead zone. having a lousy, beat up car i didn't care about (other than needing it to get around) was the only way i managed to live comfortably in that neighborhood. once i got a raise and could afford to improve my living situation to a place with a garage, THEN i got a nice car.

tl;dr if you're suddenly coming into more money than you used to make, improve your living situation first, get a nicer car second. it's illogical to do it the other way around.
posted by messiahwannabe at 2:10 AM on January 17, 2013 [13 favorites]


You could put a small sign in the window that said "no valuables or money ever left in this car" and make sure you have nothing visible, no marks on the windshield where you stick a GPS, no coins, no food, no nothing.

You will also get more peace of mind by having a less expensive car. I wouldn't go so cheap that you get one with a crappy door locking system. It will cost less to repair if it gets damaged and you will feel less like it is a violation of your property and more like an inconvenience if something happens to it.

For crackheads, I don't think a light in the car would make much of a difference except give them something to see what they're stealing. When I lived in a really sketchy neighbourhood, the local car thieves would brazenly break into people's cars and sit there in broad daylight trying to nick the stereo.

You could also put up signs on your parking lot to the effect that it was under surveillance, although I think the effect would be minimal.
posted by MuffinMan at 2:21 AM on January 17, 2013


You could put a small sign in the window that said "no valuables or money ever left in this car" and make sure you have nothing visible, no marks on the windshield where you stick a GPS, no coins, no food, no nothing.

Leave the glove compartment open (and empty) and remove the parcel shelf (if possible) as well so people can see there's nothing valuable hidden in there.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 2:29 AM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Install an ignition kill-switch --- mine's a Viper; it has an alarm, but don't count on people paying any attention to alarms. I DO count on it disabling the car if someone tries to steal it: I figure I'd rather have a car with a busted window from an unsuccessful theft than have the whole car stolen.

Look, at one of my jobs, I format the weekly crime reports for a chain of local newspapers.... the most repetitive thing I see, week after week after interminal week, is theft from cars. People leave valuables visible, and then boom: break-in. (There have been people who LEFT THEIR WALLETS in unlocked cars parked on the street overnight, and then they say they can't understand why they got robbed..... Sigh.) Okay, you know about not leaving things visible, but it's better by far if you don't leave ANYTHING anyway (your credit cards --- really?!?). Don't leave a blanket, because thieves will think it's covering *something*. Don't leave your computer, your gym bag, an ipod or headphones; don't leave your GPS, and don't even leave the suction-cup ring from that GPS on your windshield --- thieves KNOW that means 'break in here!'
posted by easily confused at 2:39 AM on January 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


Empty the car entirely, open the glove box, open the centre console. Get a car alarm and a steering wheel lock. There are also a variety of battery operated motion-activated lights; I'd be inclined to look around and then select one to put in the car just to startle anyone who approaches. A 13-foot radius seems exactly right if it's placed in the centre of the car.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:40 AM on January 17, 2013


There are also a variety of battery operated motion-activated lights; I'd be inclined to look around and then select one to put in the car just to startle anyone who approaches.

Thanks, this is definitely the kind of suggestion I am looking for. I am definitely more concerned about dissuading smash-and-grab type criminals, not car thieves. The car already has a kill-switch and GPS locator built in. I mean, that and if somebody successfully steals my car, hats off to them.

I appreciate the suggestions to keep my car empty and I promise you I no longer put anything in it. Selling the car is also not an option. Thanks! This and this looks kinda promising!
posted by phaedon at 3:05 AM on January 17, 2013


Years ago a friend routinely left his convertible unlocked. He didn't post a sign, but explained it as "take whatever you want, just don't cut the top."
posted by jon1270 at 3:56 AM on January 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


What jon1270 said. Leave every door unlocked. The thieves will try a door handle, open it, go through it and leave. If they're good enough to steal a car, they're good enough to steal a locked car, so you're just preventing breakage.
posted by Etrigan at 4:00 AM on January 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


I think old, beat up cars are targeted more often because they're less likely to have an alarm. I've always had more break-ins with junkier cars than with nicer ones.
posted by orme at 4:20 AM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


My solution when I owned convertibles was to 1. do not keep anything in the car. Nothing, no spare change, no wallet, no phone, no laptop, no GPS, nothing. 2. Never lock the doors of the car.

Someone wanting to steal the car is going to break the window anyway, locking the door is not going to keep them out. Someone wanting to steal what's IN the car can open the door and look and find nothing. Someone wanting to vandalize your car is going to do that no matter what you do.
posted by HuronBob at 5:25 AM on January 17, 2013


Keep your car empty, have an alarm, keep it in a well-lit area, and you're most of the way there. If you want to keep it unlocked, you *can*, but it's up to you. I wouldn't keep a nice car unlocked because someone may hack it up trying to steal it, and may tear up the seats or something just for the fun of it.
posted by Slinga at 5:27 AM on January 17, 2013


My car got broken into once. There wasn't anything of value in it to take, but they smashed a window. Cost me 300 bucks that I didn't have.

Now I just leave it unlocked. It's been rifled through a few times (usually once or twice whenever I've moved to a new neighborhood), but since then it's really been left alone.

For me, leaving the car unlocked is a much more cost-effective damage deterrent than some motion detector camera.
posted by phunniemee at 5:43 AM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


phaedon: There are often vagrants going through the dumpster, and occasionally somebody will sleep back there.

I'd worry about someone sleeping in it if he left it unlocked. Can you talk to the property owner about installing some sort of gate?
posted by Rock Steady at 5:44 AM on January 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


Given that you've just bought a nice car, this probably won't work for you, but when my friend got sick of having her (old and crappy, but apparently macho in just the right way to appeal to wayward young men) car burgled and taken for joyrides, she covered the interior with hideous girly craft shop cruft. She covered the dashboard in purple fake fur, and stuck pink plastic 'jewels' all over the steering wheel. It was vile. Her car was never broken into again.
posted by hot soup girl at 5:46 AM on January 17, 2013 [12 favorites]


Lights and a blaring alarm is the way to go. Temporary.

Now, let's talk about the crackheads for a sec - this is the real cause for your neighborhood's condition. MeMail if you are looking for a way to resolve this underlying problem.
posted by Kruger5 at 5:58 AM on January 17, 2013


The problem with leaving your car unlocked is that, if your insurer somehow discovers you did so, any damage or recovery claim you file would probably be denied outright.

It sounds like, given your description of the area, your car will be violated, no matter what. Does everyone's car in the area get hit with such regularity?
posted by Thorzdad at 6:02 AM on January 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


A light/video is unlikely to help. By all means, have an alarm; the noise can't hurt. But crackheads aren't going to care if you might have them on video for this, and neither will the cops (and even if they did care and made an arrest, it wouldn't protect your car, it would just punish someone).
posted by J. Wilson at 6:08 AM on January 17, 2013


Two years ago, our 1995 Saturn was broken into (even with the door unlocked) in a low crime neighborhood, even parked next to much newer and much nicer cars (which were never broken into), even with motion sensitive lights, about 4 times in three months until we plugged the cigarette lighter back in. Our best guess is people were looking for the GPS they assumed was normally plugged into the cigarette lighter.

If you feel yours is getting hit more than other cars around you, there is likely something about your car that makes it look like it's got something valuable inside. Do you have a cigarette lighter plugged in? Do you have an anchor for an electronic device on your dash? Velcro on the window to hold your toll pass? Remove all those things; leave nothing on the seat.

some good resources in this ask.me indicate that car alarms won't deter theft or the vandalism of your car window being smashed.
posted by crush-onastick at 6:39 AM on January 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


After having his car broken into a few times, my old roommate started leaving his car unlocked, and the (empty) glovebox open.

Personally, I'd ask your landlord to install a fake (or real?) security camera in the lot, along with some "Property under video survailance" signs. Offer to split the costs.

Oh, and ask your car insurance company about adding glass coverage with a low deductible. A lot of companies now offer this for a reasonably low cost.
posted by schmod at 6:43 AM on January 17, 2013


In addition to never leaving anything of value, I recommend putting a note in the rear passenger windows, along the lines of "Nothing of value kept in car. Not even coins." Crack-heads are looking for fast cash, so they will do any amount of damage to your car to get your parking change -- no point in the risk if there's no reward.

I did this for many years with my last car, as I lived in a couple of generally safe neighborhoods that were suffering rashes of car break-ins. Before the sign, two break-ins; after, none. Your mileage may vary.
posted by acm at 7:01 AM on January 17, 2013


I remember something (maybe on boingboing? teh goog not coming thru today :() about outfitting your car to look like a fleet vehicle to help reduce theft. This might make the "no valuables stored in vehicle" signs in the window a little more believable. But then you'd have to sticker up your nice new car.
posted by disconnect at 7:04 AM on January 17, 2013


disconnect: "I remember something (maybe on boingboing? teh goog not coming thru today :() about outfitting your car to look like a fleet vehicle to help reduce theft."

I think that this is the guy you're thinking about.

Also, this is neither here nor there, but we may want to avoid using the phrase "crackhead," given that it's a pretty common racist dogwhistle. For the most part, the crack epidemic ended in the 1990s, and it may to be your benefit to learn more about the real causes/origins of your city's crime problems.

Here in DC, we have a few neighborhood listservs -- including a few that are officially endorsed and monitored by the police -- that are a great resource for collectively discussing and addressing occasional spikes in small-scale property crime. Maybe your city has something similar?

posted by schmod at 7:18 AM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


When I lived in DC, I usually left my (ratty) VW Rabbit unlocked. Someone tried to steal the radio once, but at least they didn't break the windows. On the flip side, someone I know who usually leaves their car unlocked to keep window-breakage down sometimes finds that someone has used their car as a place to sleep.

....And there's really a limited amount you can do to prevent this, short of keeping the car in a locked garage. My car got broken into last year even though the only things visible in it were an old window squeegee and filthy baseball cap, which the thief declined to steal. My neighbor's car, with his gym bag and dry cleaning fully visible in the back seat, was unmolested.
posted by rtha at 8:34 AM on January 17, 2013


I would rather park on the street, car empty and doors unlocked, than park in an ungated garage. At least on the street there are witnesses.
posted by crazycanuck at 9:14 AM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think people are less likely to try to break into a new, nice car than an old car because newer cars are harder to break into. Your new car is probably safer than your old car. My friends with shitty old cars have had numerous break-ins in the same neighborhoods where I've lived, and I've never had a problem.

Do you have a GPS? Put it in the glove compartment. Really - LEAVE NOTHING OF VALUE IN YOUR CAR! I live in Los Angeles, I've lived in areas with high rates of car break-ins, and I've never had a problem. For one thing, I have a Volkswagen, and no one wants to steal a weird German car for parts. And most importantly, my car is empty save for some obviously-trash detritus (a few coffee cups or whatever, embarrassingly enough).

Does your car have a blinking light anywhere? Even if you don't have on-star or something else like that, something that looks like an extra alarm is a good theft deterrent.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 9:34 AM on January 17, 2013


Oh, yeah. The only person I know who's had routine problems with break-ins and theft drove a 1996 Dodge Caravan. The thing got stolen, recovered, and repaired 4 or 5 times over the course of a year, before finally vanishing for good.

His roommate's Honda Civic and his replacement Toyota(?) have never been touched. I park my late-90s Audi (which looks newer than it really is, and features a flashing red light) in a demographically-similar neighborhood, and it's also never been so much as scratched.

I think that you're generally pretty safe as long as you don't leave obvious signs of a GPS in your car (including suction cup marks), or have a car that's known to be an easy target for thieves or chop-shops. Nothing short of a guard dog will protect you against a vandal that decides to smash every window on the block for no good reason.
posted by schmod at 10:29 AM on January 17, 2013


I think people are less likely to try to break into a new, nice car than an old car because newer cars are harder to break into. Your new car is probably safer than your old car. My friends with shitty old cars have had numerous break-ins in the same neighborhoods where I've lived, and I've never had a problem.

Anecdotally, I've had the same experience (... so far). My car just looks like it would sport all sorts of cutting-edge anti-theft tech right out of the factory (and it does), and I've parked in trouble spots, with evidence of electronics not fully hidden, without issue (... so far). The window-smash incidents I've been aware of have been older or cheaper cars or otherwise enticing targets.
posted by anonymisc at 11:56 AM on January 17, 2013


Could you rent a garage space from a neighbor? I was lucky to have a colleague who lived nearby and had more garage space than he needed. Worked out well for both of us.
posted by acorncup at 12:03 PM on January 17, 2013


I also have a faint suspicion that the american class system may be playing a role, as well or instead of it being just practical difficulty of newer cars - the perception that the justice system works for the wealthy, while the working class are largely powerless. An instinct that as long as working class people are the victims, no consequences will follow, but messing with a different class of people risks messing with a bigger response. I'm not sure how to get to the bottom of how real or imagined this is though.
posted by anonymisc at 1:24 PM on January 17, 2013


On the light issue: one of the overhead lights in my truck (one that points at each of the front two seats) does not work, because the last time someone broke into it they decided they didn't like the non-turn-off-able overhead light that turns on with a door being opened and tried to pry it off.

Lights are breakable. If they're breaking into your car, they're not going to be afraid to break your light.
posted by flaterik at 1:54 PM on January 17, 2013


By all means, have an alarm; the noise can't hurt.

Unless you want to stay on good terms with your neighbors.
posted by Rash at 1:59 PM on January 17, 2013


Anecdotally, I've had the same experience (... so far). My car just looks like it would sport all sorts of cutting-edge anti-theft tech right out of the factory (and it does)

My car looks like it has a fancy-ass alarm, and it does not. If you can afford some anti-theft/car recovery deal, go for it, but if not, just try to rig something up that will make your car look like a SWAT team will descent on anyone who tries to steal it.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 2:27 PM on January 17, 2013


You can buy wifi/IP cameras for under $100 that record to wherever on the internet you want them to record, and are activated by motion, and can trigger lights too. I would suggest trying to arrange an ok to install security camera(s) in the building. Not too difficult or expensive if you can DIY and have permission. More difficult if you want to do it on the sly or need someone else to do it. Consider solar-battery if you can't tap the mains that the existing motion-lamp is running off, though whether or not there is a convenient place to mount panels that will get sun... but if it gets to be too big of a project, the time and effort might be better "put in the bank" and saved for fixing a break-in, and just planning for it happening eventually.
posted by anonymisc at 4:30 PM on January 17, 2013


I had my car broken into three times in a month at an old apartment I had. They were trying to steal it by using an electric screwdriver on the door and ignition. After replacing both twice, my father got me The Club and I started using it. End of problem.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 7:26 PM on January 17, 2013


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