My Car is a Sitting Duck: How can I stop thieves from taking it?
July 24, 2006 12:26 PM   Subscribe

My apartment was broken into last week and the thieves stole my car keys (among other things). Curiously, they didn't steal my car out of the driveway on their way out, but I'm worried they might come back. I've got the Club protecting the car as best it can for now, but what else do I have to worry about?

My biggest worries:

1.) Would I be required by my car insurance company to re-key my car for coverage to remain intact? The re-keying operation is quite expensive (I have a '99 VW Jetta), and quite honestly I wouldn't mind getting a check from the insurance company to compensate a stolen car. But would they have a way out if I don't actively try to prevent the theft (by getting the car re-keyed)?

2.) The most annoying situation is that they come back and steal my (very basic) stereo, air bags, any other accessories from the car, or just vandalize/damage it. Any ideas on how to prevent that, given that the thieves have a set of keys?

My car is parked in a driveway behind my apartment building (out of view from the street), with 4 to 5 ft high fencing surrounding the parking area.
posted by BloodyWallet to Travel & Transportation (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It probably goes without saying, but if your house keys were also on that keyring, you did have the apartment locks changed, right?

Is the key to the Club on the same ring?
posted by catesbie at 12:32 PM on July 24, 2006

Would it be apparent to the theives which car is yours? For example, do you live in Apt. 5 and your car is parked in space #5?

Are there other VWs parked in the area? They wouldn't be able to tell it was a Jetta key, just that it's for some type of VW, right?

Could you let all the other VW owners to be on the lookout for someone testing out your keys on their locks? Maybe someone will catch them in the act.
posted by peep at 12:41 PM on July 24, 2006

There are some fairly simple things you could do under the hood (disconnecting the battery, removing the distributor cap, etc.) that would at least slow a thief down.
posted by box at 12:52 PM on July 24, 2006

Not stealing your car may mean the thieves live in your building or nearby.
posted by jamjam at 12:53 PM on July 24, 2006

When I had my car keys stolen, I had the car re-keyed by a local locksmith with a automobile locks practice. It cost me $350 (15 years ago) but I could afford it and it was worth it for the peace of mind. I never bothered to ask my insurance company, so can't help you there, but I'd be concerned that should the car be stolen, and found later with your key in the ignition, your insurer might try to evade their responsibilities, claiming contributory negligence on your part. Unfair, but that's insurance companies....
posted by mojohand at 12:57 PM on July 24, 2006

I immediately thought of someone stealing the keys not for the car itself but for the gas inside. I don't know about a 99 Jetta but the gas cover for my 95 Buick can only be opened from the inside of the car. You might miss the car, the stereo and the like but would you miss a gallon or two of gas taken every week?

If it is a neighbor, as jamjam points out, all the more reason to use you as their new gas source.

Also, some thieves take the keys not to steal the car or anything in it but because it is annoying for the victim. If you watch 'To Catch a Thief' on TLC (or Discovery - can't remember which) One of the hosts, a former thief, always steals the remote controls - even if he doesn't steal the item the remote goes to.
posted by jaimystery at 12:59 PM on July 24, 2006

1) This is going to vary from provider to provider, but my guess (based on more than my fair share of dealings with insurance companies over the years) is that they've thought of/encountered this before and have constructed a loophole to absolve themselves of paying out on a stolen car. I'm very cynical towards insurance companies (if that wasn't painfully obvious), but really, it makes sense from their point of view.

2) If they come back, it'll probably be to steal the car, not for the stock radio.

I recall seeing something on tv (how's that for reliable!) that thieves quite often steal keys, for the very reasons you fear. If you'd be happy with a check from the insurance company, why not just trade it in for something else and be done with it?
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 1:09 PM on July 24, 2006

Good luck getting a late model VW rekeyed. The locks and serial numbers are paired. This means that if you buy a used VW, getting a replacement key is as simple as having your serial number.

The downside is that if you order a new set of locks, the nice folks in Germany will send a (very expensive) new set that matches your car, and that means the old, stolen keys will work just fine. Alas, I cannot find the AskMefi thread where this problem was discussed.

So your options are a) do something to slow possible theives down (see suggestions above) b) trade in the car c) get replacement locks from a junkyard and be prepared to argue with the guys at the VW shop or d) stop worrying about things you can't control.

Don't worry about your stereo. If our theoretical crooks have been around VWs more than about 10 seconds they will know the stereo has no value whatsoever outside of your car unless they happen to know the magic code your dealer provided you. You don't keep that in your glovebox, right?

Sincerely, an ex-VW driver/addict.
posted by ilsa at 1:13 PM on July 24, 2006 [1 favorite]

If you cut the breaks or otherwise disable the car's safety mechanisms or driveability (apart from simply make it unstartable), you almost certainly will be liable for any damage/injury it causes, including injuries to the driver (stolen or not) or his property.
posted by shepd at 1:32 PM on July 24, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for the replies everyone, particularly Terminal Verbosity and ilsa.

A couple of replies:

-They stole only my car keys, not house or any other keys.
-I doubt it was a someone trying to steal gas. They bashed in my two upstairs neighbors' doors with a barbell from my apartment and stole mostly electronics and cash. Looking to make some money.

ilsa, I've heard of the trouble with getting new keys/locks for VWs. The key alone costs $150.

I think my best bet is the trade-in idea. Thanks for the responses!
posted by BloodyWallet at 2:46 PM on July 24, 2006

Install a car alarm. If you do it yourself, it's a cheap deterrent - especially to the type of criminal who needs or uses a set of keys to break into your vehicle. You might also want to think about replacing your gas cap with a model that locks (key or combo).

The club is hopelessly defeatable, to a much greater degreee than an alarm.

But the real solution is to replace the locks. It's not too difficult, if you go out and buy a manual for your car. Lock assemblies are often available at a junkyard (be sure to pay with cash, to avoid leaving a path to your address). If the junkyards don't work out for you, call a locksmith - chances are good that they can re-key your car for much less than the dealer.
posted by terpia at 2:49 PM on July 24, 2006

I've never used this service, but t looks interesting:
posted by cptnrandy at 3:14 PM on July 24, 2006

you could try the ravelco - less hassle than a trade-in, more secure than an alarm or the club.
posted by judith at 3:22 PM on July 24, 2006

Thieves stole my car and housekeys. Rekeying the house was a no-brainer, about $50, but rekeying the car cost over $500. My insurance company (USAA) would NOT pay for the rekeying but said my car would still be covered if I chose not to get it rekeyed myself. Bizarre. Your Insurance Company May Vary.
posted by zanni at 4:08 PM on July 24, 2006

If you wanted to go vigilante, you could put some sort of GPS device in the car and hope they steal it. Then you might be able to recover other lost property when you get their address.
posted by matkline at 7:19 PM on July 24, 2006

I wouldn't mind getting a check from the insurance company to compensate a stolen car

But is it insured if you can't produce all original keys? If you lose your keys AND your car, the insurance company might assume that you left it somewhere with the keys in.
posted by easternblot at 9:17 PM on July 24, 2006

If you suddenly find yourself independently wealthy, you could attach one of these types of devices to the frame and hope they come back to steal your car. Then, find them and shake 'em down!

Or...Lo-Jack? OnStar?
posted by ostranenie at 9:43 PM on July 24, 2006

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