Smash and grab for nothing
November 12, 2015 12:03 PM   Subscribe

How do I stop people from breaking my car windows?

Once again some random person in the night has employed the most lackadaisical way possible of breaking into my car - by smashing one of the windows. This is the second time this year that I've had this happen. Each time the would be thief has made off with little to no possessions of value - cheap sunglasses, a ten year old book of burned mix CDs, an old rain jacket - and I am left with glass to clean up, a repair job to coordinate, and a smaller savings account.

Some background: I have a ten year old four door Honda Civic. I never keep anything of value in my car (except last night, left my iPod in, but the thief missed it! Thankfully). I live in the inner southeast neighborhood of Portland, Oregon, right across the bridge from downtown. I always keep a bulky, visible club lock on my steering wheel at night to deter would be car thieves. I'm an apartment dweller, and usually park my car in my building's first come first serve lot. Last night it was on the street, but the first time this happened it was in the lot, a way back from the sidewalk, so I'm not sure if this makes a difference.

Every time this happens I get very angry, not so much at the idea of someone trying (and failing) to burgle me, but at the mere thought of someone so carelessly messing with my property for basically no gain. Also I'm in my mid twenties, on the lower end of the economic class spectrum, and really can't afford to keep replacing my windows (side note: perhaps I need better car insurance). Are there other steps I can take to stop this happening again, besides the security measures I already take? Do I just have really bad luck this year?

I really like my location despite these incidents, and would rather not move just because of this. I have also notified my building's landlord, and put signs up in my building's lobby to alert my neighbors.
posted by aspenkf to Society & Culture (39 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
SE Portland is terrible for this exact thing. A friend of mine used to live off Division and after a couple window smash incidents just started leaving his doors unlocked. That's probably not what you wanted to hear.
posted by lilnublet at 12:09 PM on November 12, 2015 [13 favorites]

Have you tried to just start keeping everything out of site? I've heard that in places where car theft is common, even leaving a worthless item like a folder sitting on the seat, is enough to attract a break-in. It doesn't matter if you leave cheap sunglasses or a rain jacket in the car, thieves see stuff and quickly steal it -- they don't press their face up against the glass trying to figure out if the sunglasses are $10 or $500.

How often do you use your car, by the way? I walk often and I only need to drive once in a while so I've started using Metromile, which is way cheaper per month. Could at least be worth a look. If you use your car often, might not help you though.
posted by AppleTurnover at 12:10 PM on November 12, 2015 [6 favorites]

Leave absolutely nothing in your car and leave the doors unlocked.
posted by desjardins at 12:10 PM on November 12, 2015 [31 favorites]

First of all, keep literally nothing visible in the car - not a jacket, not a phone charger - nothing. Ever. I have a similar Civic and I think you can lock the trunk lever such that it can only be opened with your key. So, only ever leave anything in the trunk.

Other than that, I had a friend who grew very frustrated with a similar problem and he ultimately left all his doors unlocked and any compartments (e.g., the center column) open, with nothing in them either. I think people did stop breaking in, but then a homeless guy slept in his car once.

Ultimately it's very location-specific a lot of times so it might just keep happening until you move.
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 12:12 PM on November 12, 2015 [5 favorites]

Another vote for NOTHING in your car and all the doors unlocked.
posted by fiercecupcake at 12:20 PM on November 12, 2015

Agree with leaving nothing visible, ever. If this is happening to other tenants- which is likely, maybe you can band together to improve the situation? Is there any way to improve security for the lot- motion or flood lights, cameras, and signs? I had a problem with people hanging on a stoop and motion lights cut it down greatly. If you can get enough car owners to pitch in a little, perhaps you can go to the landlord and work with him to improve the situation.
posted by TenaciousB at 12:22 PM on November 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

nthing here: leave the doors unlocked - that's what I had to do when I lived in Memphis.
posted by dawkins_7 at 12:30 PM on November 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

(I don't think I was very clear: Metromile is car insurance based off how much you drive, rather than just paying a flat rate. So if you don't drive much, it's cheap.)
posted by AppleTurnover at 12:30 PM on November 12, 2015

The only people in my neighborhood who never have their car rifled through are people who have absolutely nothing in their cars, including wires and cords. I was president of the block club and heard every incident and everyone said, like you, all I had was CDs, a coat, etc...
posted by Riverine at 12:33 PM on November 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

Never ever ever ever ever ever leave anything visible inside your car. Even if you think it's of no value. When I was in high school, I drove into New Orleans for the afternoon and parked on the street. It was my very first time driving into the city on my own.

At the time (this was like 1998?) I had an old cell phone which only had 911 service, had to be plugged into the car to use, etc. Really only useful if you were inside my car and there was an emergency. It was several years old, too, one of those early 90s brick phones handed down from a relative, nothing like the Nokia candy bar cells that were popular at the time. So I didn't think it was important to hide away, since who'd break into a car just to steal a piece of obsolete tech they couldn't even use?

Sweet summer child...

Anyway, my window was broken, the phone was stolen, and the whole thing was a gigantic pain in the ass. Going on 20 years later, I never leave anything visible on the seats of my car, even if it's not valuable, I'm valet parking, or I'm coming right back in a few minutes.
posted by Sara C. at 12:34 PM on November 12, 2015

Either leave nothing or everything in your car. Like, if you have a ton of papers and children's art and no visible valuables, people don't want to sort through your junk for ten minutes to see what's there. I've also seen good results with a friendly note in the window.
posted by corb at 12:40 PM on November 12, 2015

We had a Jeep back in the day in the LBC and one night someone CUT through one of the plastic back windows to reach in for an old hoodie. Those Jeep windows are ZIPPERED in to the rest of the softtop. It would have been easier just to unzip the window rather than cut it.

After that, we employed the same strategy as advised above. Nothing of any value whatsover and the doors and glove box unlocked. Heck, during the summer we rarely bothered to put the top up. Still, every once in a while some goof would take the time to rifle through the napkins and old registration papers in the glove box and spread them around the front seats.
posted by notyou at 12:52 PM on November 12, 2015

Empty The Car Yourself


Before I drive my car to an area where this is an issue, I print out notes (in the language of the day) for all sides and tape them onto the windows from the inside:
"There is absolutely NOTHING in this car, so spare the windows please."
No idea if it's this or something else, but I have not had any windows smashed (yet).
posted by Namlit at 1:03 PM on November 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

A friend of mine from Vancouver who parks in a private garage still has to take extreme measures to avoid the lazy thieves, who smash the windows if they have any inkling whatsoever to snoop... sometimes they won't even check that the doors are unlocked.

He leaves the car unlocked, windows rolled down, absolutely nothing in the car, all the compartments left open and demonstrably empty, trunk unlocked too. Not even a spare tire.

He even does this in my town when he comes to visit, out of sheer habit and paranoia. Poor guy.
posted by lizbunny at 1:08 PM on November 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

I don't recommend leaving your car unlocked - a previous roommate in Portland found someone sleeping in hers.
posted by momus_window at 1:09 PM on November 12, 2015 [4 favorites]

Nothing in your car. ~Nothing~ not even little paper scraps or stuff in storage compartments. Not even a single coin. A note in the window doesn't hurt, but I've never seen an unlocked door make a difference. Thieves will break a window of an unlocked car. Leaving the door unlocked can invite people to use your car as a bed or a bathroom.
posted by quince at 1:12 PM on November 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm an apartment dweller, and usually park my car in my building's first come first serve lot.

Complain to the building owners and insist that they install at least one visible security camera in the parking lot.
posted by w0mbat at 1:19 PM on November 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

A friend who lived in Norfolk, VA had his car broken into via window-smash. He covered the window with a plastic garbage bag while he waited to get it fixed. Someone else broke into the car a few days later by pulling down the plastic bag, got angry at the lack of items to steal, and took a bottle of sunscreen from his glove compartment and squirted it all over the front seats of the car, taking care to write out "Fuck you" in sunscreen on the dash.

Talk to your building owners and get better security. That is the only thing that stopped my friend's run of thieves.
posted by chainsofreedom at 1:25 PM on November 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

I had out-of-state license plates the first year I lived in SF and got my windows smashed in three times. The last time I took to leaving the glovebox open and empty and taped a sign to the passenger side window "NOTHING LEFT TO STEAL." No one broke in again.
posted by spamandkimchi at 1:29 PM on November 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

I lived in Portland for 15 years, in that neighborhood. Never locked my car. Lived in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Same. Now live in Richmond, VA. Never locked it. Never had a problem. Just my anecdata.
posted by orsonet at 1:41 PM on November 12, 2015

3M makes protective automotive window film to protect against break-ins, unfortunately while it may delay a thief and keep broken glass from getting everywhere you'd still have to replace a window.
posted by eatcake at 1:51 PM on November 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

Nthing putting everything of value into the trunk.

I had a smash and grab with a rental in Methuen MA. What they didn't take: my ipod and 2 bottles of liquor. What they stole: an EMPTY backpack.
posted by brujita at 2:06 PM on November 12, 2015

Uhhhhh to counter the idea of leaving your doors unlocked, I will remind folks that people will also pee and poop and sleep in an unlocked car. Lesson learned from our neighbor's Subaru Outback.

Do people really do this? It seems insane in a city of any size.

I'm all in favor of leaving the inside of your car looking completely empty except for the club lock. I mean not even leaving pennies in a cupholder.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 2:21 PM on November 12, 2015 [6 favorites]

Neighborhood Watch?
posted by amtho at 2:41 PM on November 12, 2015

Nothing to steal is the only option. You need to put this into the perspective of someone doing smash and grabs. As a car owner you think that it's not worth breaking into a car for an iPhone charger. A smash and grabber thinks, free iPhone charger! Unless they are caught by the police there is no consequence for them breaking your window. All the consequences are yours. When you think of it as they are grabbing whatever is free, it's much easier to understand them breaking in for trivial items.

That said, I would not leave a car unlocked unless you want people sleeping in it.
posted by 26.2 at 3:21 PM on November 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

You can also call your local police precinct and ask them to step up patrols in the area.
posted by Beti at 3:28 PM on November 12, 2015

I live in outer SE Portland and have experienced the same problem. One time I found my window smashed and three pennies on the front seat (I don't keep change in my car). Not only that, but the thief left two MC Hammer CDs (the audacity!) and an Austin Powers figure of Fat Bastard who said "Sorry, I farted!" when you pushed his button.

I started leaving my doors unlocked all of the time with nothing of value in the car. I've come out twice and found my glove box open with paperwork scattered on the seats, and both times I thought "I sure am glad I'm not replacing a window today."
posted by tacodave at 3:41 PM on November 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

I used to have a 3x5 card in each rear window that said "nothing valuable stored in car -- not even quarters" and then I followed through. I can say that I had two break-ins before that note and none afterward, but of course, that's small data. That was also back in the day when car stereos could be bought with removable face-plates, and I had one of those too. Pesky, but worth it.

Sometimes it's a couple of drug-heads hitting all the cars, so if the police can catch them, it will stop. But meantime, as you say, you just want them to CUT IT OUT!!
posted by acm at 3:46 PM on November 12, 2015

I got my window smashed once.

I haven't locked my doors since. Never had a smashed window again.

Every once in a while I'll return to my car to telltale signs that it has been rifled through, which just reinforces for me how glad I am I don't lock my doors. Nothing valuable in there to take (have fun with old receipts and boogery tissues, assholes!) so idgaf.

So I heartily endorse all the suggestions to leave your car unlocked. Door locks just keep honest theives out.
posted by phunniemee at 4:20 PM on November 12, 2015

Yeah, that's the MO, not locked, nothing in there. One time I forgot to take my twizzelers out and they were gone immediately. Ha.

I've even left notes like, " please close the door so my battery doesn't die", it worked well!
posted by stormygrey at 4:24 PM on November 12, 2015

As a counter to the leaving the doors unlocked thing, i once walked out to my partners(newer, pretty decent) car having all the doors just HANGING OPEN in the rain. The battery wasn't dead, but a couple months later all the door controls/electronics AND the power window on the drivers door failed which ended up costing like $800. I honestly would have rather they had smashed a window, as it would have cost half or even a quarter that.

I also know people who have had the hobo sleeping in car/pissing in car problem. That 100% happened to me at one point(UGH). I've also had people just fuck up the car or leave a bunch of trash in it.

The two things that have worked are leaving NOTHING visible, or parking out of my own neighborhood or out of the weird part of it and just busing/walking back to my house or where i was staying.

Another comment i'd make is that a part of this is probably that it's a honda civic. Those things are magnets for thefts and breakins. And even though they're magnets because they're easy to jimmy the locks and steal, somehow that magnetism has carried over to thieves knowing it's like "the car to break into, man". Everyone i've known who had one(or an accord) has had innumerable breakins and stupid shit happen to their car. Even if it wasn't nice looking, at all. Or was filthy and full of garbage.

My final cynical advice is get a shop manual, and learn how to change out the window yourself. I just changed a window on my friends corolla for $35(!!!!) to get a window from a scrapyard with the brackets on it and a couple hours of my time. I would rather have a thousand windows broken at that price than have someone piss in my car again. And really, it wasn't hard. It was about as complicated as a lego set, and was accomplished with a small enough number of tools that they fit in my back pocket. We even put a window from an automatic window-equipped car into a manual window car and just had to swap a couple washers/brackets from the smashed window over.
posted by emptythought at 5:29 PM on November 12, 2015 [3 favorites]

I am hesistant/skeptical about leaving doors unlocked. My strategy from here on out is going to be to completely empty out my car of anything and everything, and perhaps leave the glove box open. Might consider putting up signs in the windows too.

Also according to several anecdotes from friends and coworkers, as well as some research to back up their claims, it seems that Honda Civics are the kind of car most likely to be stolen/broken into/generally messed with. Oh well. Not a lot I can do about that at the moment.
posted by aspenkf at 6:01 PM on November 12, 2015

Tape a sign to the windows that reads, "Smile for the camera!"
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:19 PM on November 12, 2015

I used to have this problem and I'm sorry to say I found it basically unsolveable (until I moved somewhere with better security).

We tried leaving doors unlocked; we tried leaving signs on the windows saying there was nothing of value in the car; we even tried leaving signs pointing out that the doors were unlocked. The windows still got smashed. One time a thief even smashed the passenger side window without apparently noticing that the driver's side window was still smashed from a few days earlier.

We THINK we noticed slightly less frequency for a while after the police provided us with a large sticker for the window that had the police logo on it (and a statement that there was nothing of value in the car ). We had tried our own signs previously, but we think maybe the police logo on that one was what scared them away. Maybe they thought it was a car belonging to a police officer? That said, we still got broken into after that, just maybe once every six months instead of every 2-3.
posted by lollusc at 6:27 PM on November 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yup- I lived in downntown Atlanta for ten years. I left my glove box, ashtray and coin tray open and absolutely nothing visible inside the car. Now I live in the country in East Tennessee and occasionally remember to take the keys out of the ignition.
posted by workerant at 6:34 PM on November 12, 2015

Yes, nothing at all (Nothing. At All.) in the car. Locked/unlocked doesn't matter much. Source: people recovering from former drug problems who all tell me that they would totally have broken a window for as little as a few visible quarters on the seat at some point.
posted by ctmf at 7:24 PM on November 12, 2015

You have a targeted car, unfortunately. Older compact sedans are magnets. Is the lot well-lit? Can you park under a street light? How busy is your street? I think street parking is safer if there's a lot of traffic going by, whereas a parking lot is dead at night and therefore easier to roam unnoticed.
I also agree do not leave your doors unlocked! You don't want to find anyone inside.
posted by missmary6 at 9:53 PM on November 12, 2015

I wonder if that club on your steering wheel isn't attracting a little extra attention and curiosity. How commonplace is it where you live to see cars with a club, these days? I used to use one too, until a few years ago, but it's become so passé as to be considered odd or silly in my city.
posted by desuetude at 10:07 PM on November 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Please report the break-in to the police, too. The only way increased patrols get allocated for an area is reports on crime int hat area.
posted by Riverine at 8:01 AM on November 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

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