Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Identifying The Potential Classic Car Thief - Know Who Your Friends Are

by Andrea L. Algar
Motorheads Performance

Classic car and muscle car thefts certainly appear to be on the rise, as quick as I can report on one, another goes missing. It's a real tragedy that, to an enthusiast, is much worse than having your modern daily driver stolen. A piece of history, a symbol of our youth, a life-long dream, a measure of acomplishment, whatever our reason for owning an old car or truck, we're deeply affected when we experience a loss.

Actual Sign!

"Boludo" =
Argentinian
slang for a--hole,
moron, jack---

For those of us who labored over the expense and time invested in a restoration, it is agonizing. The thought of our cherished ride ending up in some chop shop where they have no care or appreciation of the vehicle's sentimental value...only of the cash they can get for the parts.

We all know that it's a risk when we take our prized cars out into public places. There's no doubt of that. But, what many owners fail to see, or take action on, are the very real risks we take right in our own driveways and garages!

Effectively protecting your classic is a complicated array of choices, costs, and trying to keep at least one step ahead of the thieves. Last week we looked at the basic list of preventive steps. Today, we'll focus on an often overlooked prevention - knowing your enemy!

Know Who Your Friends Are


Professional car thieves can identify their victims quickly. For us, it's much harder to know who our enemy is. Thieves don't wear a neon sign that points them out. It can be a complete stranger you've never even seen, someone who has been watching you or watching your car, someone you've bumped into at a swap meet, talked to briefly at a party, someone you work with, a friend of a friend, or even an actual acquaintance, a relative or even someone you consider a "friend"!  Here are some potential "types" to look out for.

The Thief in Sheep's Clothing


Think back to car shows you've attended. Many people milling all around, with open access to dozens if not hundreds of classic cars, muscle cars, antique cars, vintage trucks, street rods, hot rods, old race cars, and often project cars offered up for sale. Here, an ounce of prevention is common-sense, but can be overlooked when we're supposed to be having fun with a lot of other like-minded enthusiasts.

This type of thief may actually engage you in conversation about your car, pulling useful information from you without you even giving it a thought. Most of us are eager to share our stories, and sometimes the stories contain information that can actually aid the thief in the theft of your car.

Actions to take:
  • Don't reveal information about you
  • Don't give strangers too many details on your car
  • Never mention where you park your car
  • Keep your stories general
  • Never talk about or show your security strategies

The By-Chance Thief


Here, an opportunistic thief just takes advantage of a good situation. Depending on his/her experience and/or the degree of desperation they may have in making a "score", the opportunity may be viewed as "safe" or extremely "risky". We've all seen an episode or two of "bait car", where authorities intentionally leave a bait car running or leave it unlocked with the keys in the ignition, usually always in an area known for car thefts. While entertaining, we don't see ourselves vulnerable to this type of attack because we certainly wouldn't be stupid enough to do that! But, you don't need to leave the keys in the car for the opportunistic thief to strike.

Imagine you've pulled into the local hot spot on a Friday night where all the classic car buffs get together for a burger and car talk. You're standing around right near your car so you feel you've got an eye on things. But, you're accustomed to people walking about peeking into the car to see the great interior and all your fancy dashboard gadgets, so you don't pay any particular attention to the man who circles around back, quickly reaches into the open trunk, and makes off with your expensive concealed-in-the-trunk stereo. Things can happen in a flash. While it might be appealing to pop the hood and the trunk, roll down the windows and maybe even leave the door ajar for a better view, it's not always the safest thing to do. An opportunistic thief who is bold may even go so far as to jump into an unattended car and simply drive it off. With all the action at events where large numbers of people congregate, it's perfect cover.

Actions to take:
  • Never leave keys in the vehicle - with or without the engine running
  • Keep your windows up and doors locked whenever possible
  • Don't leave easy-to-grab items in plain sight
  • Keep your eyes on your car
  • Stay next to your car unless it is fully secured
  • Use motion detection alarms and/or cameras
  • Make sure your multi-layer security system is always activated

The Bold 'n Brazen


Most professional thieves are not careless and they're not apt to do things that would draw attention to themselves. They've got too much experience to make senseless mistakes. But, when the thief is desperate for cash, a drug addict, gambler or in some type of trouble, they're apt to act very irrationally and do things that would be seen as extremely bold. I would consider carjackers in this category of thief. These thieves can be very dangerous because they can be unpredictable and act irrationally with no regard to your personal safety.

Actions to take:
  • Be aware of your surroundings
  • Avoid situations where you can become trapped
  • Think ahead how you would handle an unexpected event
  • Keep your cell phone handy with one touch dial to 911
  • Brush up on self defense

The Stalker


We've all been guilty of doing this one. You go to the local movie theatre, beach, football field, outdoor concert, raceway or gun show. You don't want to leave any valuables in plain sight in your passenger compartment, so you move all your stuff to the trunk - locked safely out of view from prying eyes. You feel safe and continue about your event.

The stalker is someone who purposely waits in areas where people congregate for such events. They know that the event will run from 3-6pm. People generally start arriving a half hour to hour beforehand, and continue for another half hour or so for the stragglers who always arrive late. But, they've been watching. They look for people who have moved contents to their trunk, sending a loud signal that this is something valuable. They look for those who stuff things under the seat and other areas in the car. Once most everyone has arrived, and after having made note of the parking lot/security personnel routines, they're set to take action. They know exactly what cars to hit.

Actions to take:
  • Don't move valuables after you've arrived
  • Stow things before arriving if you didn't plan ahead
  • Best - don't take any valuables with you

The Friend or Acquaintance


This is the one we never want to find. It may not devious at all. It may be that a friend has unintentionally brought awareness of your car to the wrong person, perhaps mentioning this "unbelievable car" that a friend has. It could be a co-worker that has heard us talking about the car show we took our car to, or the bank teller who has seen you at the drive-thru on a few occasions and mentioned it to her boyfriend. Bottom line is that the wrong person takes a fancy to our ride. The more rare or valuable the car, or the components on your car, the more you're likely to draw the wrong attention.

Face it, more people know about your car than you'd probably ever feel comfortable about. And, most often the information about the car, and you, is given freely because we all like to talk about our rides. We have a lot invested in the car, and we love it when someone takes interest. So, before you go bragging (not that we ever would do that) to a group of guys about all the bells and whistles you've put into her - you know, the 15 grand you sunk into the new engine, the custom concealed stereo system, the (drop whatever name you'd care to) performance upgrade, the fancy new security system, just know that in the heads of the wrong person, this information can mean a big loss to you.

Action to take:
  • Be careful not to reveal information that is too personal (where you live, etc)
  • Don't reveal your schedule or routines you always follow
  • Never discuss your security system (even if worth bragging about)
  • Always have your multi-layer security activated

We don't want you to get paranoid over your car. Everyone should be able to take their car out and enjoy themselves. After all, this is part of why we get into our cars in the first place. We enjoy the car talk, the stories, the community and the camaraderie. The best advice is to be aware of your surroundings, who you meet and what you talk to them about if you don't know them well. Take common sense preventive steps that will at least improve your chances of keeping your ride safe.

Keep Our Rides Safe, our weekly series, continues next Wednesday with the article How & Where You Store/Park/Garage Your Car.

REFERENCES:
About.com - Collector Car Theft Deterrents
Edmunds - Confessions of a Car Thief
Photo Credit:  Massachusetts Criminal Defense Attorney Blog
The Car Connection - Four Things Car Thieves Love To See
Wall Street Journal - Unlocking the Secrets of a Car Thief

RESOURCES:
Classic Car News - Preventing Class Car Theft: The Big Picture
Classic Car News - Take Caution Where You Take Your Classic Car Or Muscle Car
No Nonsense Self Defense - Car Theft Prevention
 
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Andrea L. Algar is co-owner of a classic car performance and restoration design shop in Leesville, Texas. Motorheads Performance specializes in repairs, maintenance, performance upgrades and restorative work on cars and trucks from the 1920’s through 1970’s. Her husband Guy L. Algar is a Mechanical Engineer with over 25 years experience. He holds 5 ASE Certifications from the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence and has been working on old cars and trucks for over 37 years. Together they share their passion for old cars and trucks with other enthusiasts from around the country.
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