How to foil car stereo theives?
June 14, 2005 11:42 AM   Subscribe

Help me secure my car: For the seventh time in two years, I'm buying replacement window glass for my car. For the third time in two years, I'm shopping for a new stereo. For the second time in two years, I'm wondering what in the heck petty thieves want with my car registration and insurance forms.

I really have 2 questions:

1. Should I get an alarm or some other method of securing my car? I've had blinkenlights and stickers on my car to intimate the presence of an otherwise non-existent alarm, and this has not deterred theives. I remove the face plate from the stereo every time I leave the car unattended. This practice also has not deterred the thieves. Are there other options?;

2. Is the theft of my registration forms and insurance cards more than a nuisance? Will the insurance card and registration theft be a prelude to car or identity theft?
posted by u2604ab to Law & Government (31 answers total)
I can only speak to question one: Find a factory orginal stereo for the car at a pawn shop, ebay or dealer. After too many breakins, I gave up and installed the oem stereo, and haven't had a problem since.
posted by tumble at 11:56 AM on June 14, 2005

Are you parking in areas known to have problems? Sometimes a move of one block can make all the difference. There is one parking lot at the local university that any Honda will have roughly a 75% chance of a break-in (or at minimum vandalization) but other cars are almost always untouched. The other lots at the university don't seem to have this problem (important to me, I have a Honda). It's odd, but sometimes it works that way.
posted by mystyk at 12:01 PM on June 14, 2005

All the thefts have taken place in front of my residence. Until 6 months ago, this was in the SoMa neighborhood of SF; We lived in a part of the neighborhood where theft of car stereos wasn't super-surprising.

The last two break-ins, though, have happened in our newer-safer-kid-friendly neigborhood. Last night the thief stole my stereo and got as far as breaking the window of a car down the street before being scared off by the neighbor's car alarm. FWIW, I don't know if he hit my car first or second, but it's not a big jump to suspect the same thief for both break-ins.

So I don't think the actual parking location is easily adjusted. Tumble's suggestion of putting an OEM unit in the car is tempting. All I want at this point is basic tunes that won't be stolen. I have gone several months in the past with no stereo in the car, and with no stereo in the car, it was never broken into.
posted by u2604ab at 12:16 PM on June 14, 2005

I can only speak to question one: Find a factory orginal stereo for the car at a pawn shop, ebay or dealer. After too many breakins, I gave up and installed the oem stereo, and haven't had a problem since.

Might as well profit from cartheft once :P

Seriously a real alarm might be more helpful. You can always test for the presence of a real alarm by molesting the vehicle.
posted by delmoi at 12:19 PM on June 14, 2005

If it's the car stereo, perhaps you can put the OEM unit in where it belongs, lengthen the cables, and place a new unit in the glovebox or another inconspicuous area?

Not sure if that's been done before, but if your area is being hit with this much crime, I'm willing to bet a car audio shop would know how to fix this problem. :-)
posted by shepd at 12:21 PM on June 14, 2005

It would be interesting to just leave the hole in the dash and just install a new stereo in an unusual and hidden spot like the glovebox. The car is1994 Corolla w/200k miles; Aesthetics aren't a huge consideration anymore, but the car seems to have many miles left as it runs strong and does well on the freeway.
posted by u2604ab at 12:38 PM on June 14, 2005

On the car audio front, I'm not sure what type of stereo you want/need, but back in the day when I had a supercool car (ah, memories) I had the CD changer installed in a hidden place inside the car (it had a liftable "hatch" with recesses in the back) and had the changer's controls installed inconspicuously on the console (behind the five-speed shifter, between it and the parking break). Left the OEM stereo intact. No one ever bothered my car. Also, the windows were slightly tinted, which I think helped "conceal" my additions to the car audio experience.
posted by Medieval Maven at 12:39 PM on June 14, 2005

After a break in, I got an alarm and haven't had a problem since. An OEM radio would help too. My brother has some device on his ipod that plays through the car radio so you wouldn't have to worry about finding a CD unit if they aren't common for your car if you have an ipod.

Here is a really nice setup for a hidden stereo in the glove box. This guy did it so he didn't have to cut his Chevelle's dash for a modern stereo but you could do the same thing to prevent theft. He even set it up so the remote works even with the glove box closed. The hidden stereo would be very cheap to do yourself but probably pretty expensive to have someone else do the work.

Keep the glove box locked if you can.
posted by 6550 at 12:46 PM on June 14, 2005

Best protection for stereos is a slide out unit. You've got to have the will power to actually slide the unit out but if you do there is no way it'll be stolen from your car. I'm not sure if they even make them any more, I've got an ancient Alpine CD head unit, but an alternative is a mobile bracket. Popular for CB radio and I think I've seen them for radios on boats.
posted by Mitheral at 12:47 PM on June 14, 2005

Disclaimer: I haven't googled this question.

Years ago (early 1990s) car stereo manufacturers sold units that were designed to be completely removed from the car as a theft deterrent. This design was supplanted by detachable face stereos. Since the detachable face isn't such a deterrent, does anyone know if the completely removeable stereos are still around?
posted by u2604ab at 12:48 PM on June 14, 2005

2. Is the theft of my registration forms and insurance cards more than a nuisance? Will the insurance card and registration theft be a prelude to car or identity theft?

I don't know, but I would be uncomfortable with those kind of people knowing my name and where I live. AFAIK, California does not mandate that you keep those things in your car, so don't.
posted by sageleaf at 12:55 PM on June 14, 2005

removing the faceplate seldom does anything to discourage break-ins.

most people remove the faceplate and stick it in the glove compartment when leaving their car unattended. so if a thief looks in the window and sees a head unit with a faceplate missing, there's a pretty good chance he can find the faceplate in the glovebox and get away with an entire head unit. and even if he doesn't find the faceplate in the glovebox, the faceplate is the cheapest part of the HU--on a $300 HU, a new faceplate may cost $90-$100. so if a thief breaks in, he'll make it worth his while by stealing the other $200 of your investment and still cause you hundreds of dollars in damage alone.

and also, just having an aftermarket HU visible usually indicates that there is other good stuff in the car. surely if you spent $500 on a pop-out dvd player, you purchased some decent speakers and subs to go with it. and if you have that much money, you might have a $300 radar detector somewhere in there.

your best option is to leave the OEM HU installed but not hooked up, and hide an aftermarket HU in the glove compartment or somewhere else. make the car look as stock as possible. window tint helps, but only get it dark enough so that someone can't easily make out details from the outside. getting 5% tint usually implies that you're hiding something, which will both thieves and police officers.
if you need ideas for electronics concealment, look at's listings for your car--plenty of ricers have come up with hundreds of creative ideas for concealing expensive stuff--in gloveboxes, under seats, in compartments, etc.
posted by Ziggy Zaga at 1:14 PM on June 14, 2005

Just out of curiosity, why isn't the detachable face much of a deterant?

It dosn't seem like a sterio would be worth much without its desplay, especialy now that they have all these lights, graphical displays, etc. I mean when you buy a $600 radio with a full color, high-resolution you're mostly just paying for the display.

(or do they just sell them to people who've had them stolen :P)

it seems like you could put most of the advanced tech in the face itself, and only leave an amplifer in the box still in the car...
posted by delmoi at 1:14 PM on June 14, 2005

Here in Vancouver, auto break-ins have been a chronic problem for a few years.

My car was hit 6 times in one year. It didn't matter where I parked (underground, well-lit etc...) they managed to get in.

I recently heard a police officer, on a local radio station, say that you should never leave your insurance or registration in the car, for the very reason you mention -- identity theft. I don't know if your papers have your address on them but that alone would be reason enough to keep them safe.

I've basically given up, I leave nothing in my car, except the original stereo that has never been taken. I leave my doors unlocked and glove compartment ajar too, so they don't have to smash my windows and can see that I have nothing of value in my car.

It's not the most desirable option, but so far it has worked.
posted by btwillig at 1:16 PM on June 14, 2005

Virginia state police have a program called HEAT (Help Prevent Auto Theft) that has some good tips.
posted by geeky at 1:21 PM on June 14, 2005

I recently paid $775 in tickets for NOT having my registration and proof of insurance in the car. (True, these started out as fix-it-tickets that I didn't fix, and they caught up with me...) I think that's way both pieces of paper have text on them to the effect of "Keep this copy in your car."

I'm wondering more specifically, though, if there are any examples that MeFites know of wherein stolen registration papers were used to later abet the theft of an entire vehicle.

Also: This car and the stereo have very low "bling" quota. The car is 11 years old with 200k miles, and I've never paid more than ~$150 (new) for a stereo / head unit. I don't need nothin' nice, but I sure miss music when I drive without a stereo in the car.
posted by u2604ab at 1:39 PM on June 14, 2005

Ziggy Zaga, a $300 stereo will sell for like $50 on the street. I don't see how a $90 faceplate makes it worth their while. Also, since the point of the faceplate is theft deterrent, shouldn't manufacturers be reluctant to issue new ones without some kind of assurance that they're dealing with the rightful owner?

I like the hidden stereo idea. I'd also say, leave your doors unlocked because for me, it cost $700 to repair the door and window that got smashed. Fine, take my $150 stereo, but don't fuck up my car. (It appears that the dude swung a crowbar at the window and missed, putting a hole in the door. Then they smashed the window too, hence the high repair cost.)
posted by knave at 1:43 PM on June 14, 2005

The back of my California registration card says:

"This to be kept in the vehicle for which issued. This requirement does not apply when the vehicle is unattended."

So as long as you can hand it over when you're in the car, you don't need to keep it in the car while the car is vulnerable to thieves. I've never been busted for pulling my registration or my insurance card out of my wallet.
posted by sageleaf at 1:50 PM on June 14, 2005

What I meant was keep your papers with you, wether in your car or out of it. Don't leave them at home.

On preview, what sageleaf said.
posted by btwillig at 2:00 PM on June 14, 2005

This is getting pretty far off topic, but:

With two drivers of this "second" car (the first car being the car with the baby seat) it's impractical for either my wife or I to carry the insurance/registration documents on our person, as the driver of this "second" car is whoever is not taking care of the kid at the moment.

I guess we could each carry a photocopy, since the original documents probably aren't necessary. What a pain, though. Still, I guess better than identity/car theft. Man, though, there's gotta be a better way.
posted by u2604ab at 2:00 PM on June 14, 2005

I mean, my wallet is already too thick without carrying insurance and registration cards for the 2 cars I routinely drive.
posted by u2604ab at 2:02 PM on June 14, 2005

You could hide them in the car, somewhere not obvious, under a matt in the trunk for example...
posted by btwillig at 2:07 PM on June 14, 2005

I don't lock my Miata for the reason knave mentions - if you think a $200 window is upsetting, try replacing a $350 convertable top, not including labor.

That said, I have seen claims of people who had their top slit even though they'd left the doors unlocked. At some point there's nothing more you can do against the slings and arrows of outrageous assholes beyond sleeping in comfort knowing they will either spend the rest of their days at the fry machine or get their punk asses shot off by some other dirtbag.

On preview: if you don't mind opening your trunk for an officer you can just keep your documents in there.
posted by phearlez at 2:08 PM on June 14, 2005

Another vote here for the hidden stereo idea. I used to live in an insanely high crime city and I stopped break-ins to my car by leaving the OEM in (hooked up and working even!) and putting the aftermarket in the glovebox.
posted by Cosine at 2:09 PM on June 14, 2005

Without too much trouble, the faceplate of an OEM head unit can be removed and used as a surrogate faceplate for another, aftermarket head unit. You have to be a little handy with your screwdriver (a shop would also oblige you). Since there isn't power to the unit, it looks completely functional and the car looks stock. You simply swap the stock faceplate for the aftermarket one when you leave the car.

Remove the alarm stickers and flashing LED: this tells thieves you've got something to protect. And place a box of Kleenex on the back window, granny-style. Also, a holy bible in the front seat.
posted by luckypozzo at 4:00 PM on June 14, 2005

Why not leave your glovebox open whenever you're not in the car? If the theif can see that there truly is nothing worth stealing they're less likely to bother breaking in to check.

Obviously, this means that you can't leave anything more valuable than a manual air pressure gauge in the glove box.
posted by Four Flavors at 4:15 PM on June 14, 2005

Regarding the paperwork, definitely look to store it somewhere less obvious than the glovebox, like under a seat, or even the trunk. Any cop will let you get out and get them if you explain why, and while I don't know how common it is for ID theft to happen from their theft, but you _really_ don't want to get stopped by a cranky cop and _not_ be able to produce them.

Also, the slide-out option is a really good idea. (I've heard them referred to as a "Benzi box", or something like idea why.) There are generic sizes that are available that most custom stereo units can fit into, so it's easy to find a match, and you can just slide out the stereo and toss it in the trunk whenever you want.

Finally, regarding leaving the doors unlocked, that's really the last thing car thieves are going to care about. A good friend of mine had a convertible, and he _always_ followed the rule of "Leave your doors unlocked, and nothing in the cabin that you would worry about being stolen." (He was the first guy I knew who had a Benzi box.) He must've had the top slit about 5 or 6 times before he finally got rid of it--he was almost at the point of putting a sign in the window that said "DON'T SLIT THE DAMN ROOF. THE FRIGGIN' DOORS ARE UNLOCKED--JUST OPEN THEM AND TAKE WHAT YOU WANT."
posted by LairBob at 5:22 PM on June 14, 2005

I live in SOMA and have had my car broken into twice. Both times inside a secure locked parking garage.

Through discussions w/ neighbors and my own experience here's what I've learned:

1. Leave NOTHING in the car. NOTHING.

2. Leave the factory stereo.

3. An alarm is a reasonable, if not foolproof deterrent.

My latest break-in was due to a bag of smelly gym clothes I left on the back seat. God knows what they did with those.
posted by vaportrail at 6:05 PM on June 14, 2005

Hubby's car-theft deterrent: leave boxes of spare parts (distributor cap, alternator, etc) in plain view on the dashboard. Nobody's going to fix your car before stealing it.
posted by Quietgal at 6:53 PM on June 14, 2005

Ziggy Zaga, a $300 stereo will sell for like $50 on the street. I don't see how a $90 faceplate makes it worth their while. Also, since the point of the faceplate is theft deterrent, shouldn't manufacturers be reluctant to issue new ones without some kind of assurance that they're dealing with the rightful owner?
posted by knave at 1:43 PM PST on June 14 [!]

that's assuming they sell it though. if it's a really nice unit (pop-out dvd player type things), they may decide to keep the deck and buy a replacement faceplate for it. or they may steal one.

i know one person whose (legitimately purchased) HU faceplate had a button that got jammed, and the warranty on the HU had expired. so he went to best buy's car audio section and covertly swapped his defective faceplate for the one on display.

the manufacturers may check serial numbers or something, i don't know, but obviously it isn't that difficult to obtain a faceplate to go with your stolen deck.
posted by Ziggy Zaga at 1:11 AM on June 15, 2005

for years i had an old set of car stereo wires draped out of the little panel that flips over my car stereo - to the cursory would-be stereo thief, it looked like i'd already donated. then somebody so desperate they weren't dissuaded broke in anyway...

i second the idea of leaving nothing visible in the car. thieves are taking a risk breaking in, they're going to want to maximize their chances of finding something. a lack of clutter does not bode well.
posted by io at 11:22 AM on June 15, 2005

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