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Auto Theft Prevention

You hold the key to preventing auto theft

In 2023, 12,365 vehicles were stolen in Virginia. The value of stolen vehicles and parts totaled more than $170 million. Don’t be a statistic or an easy victim, follow these three tips to prevent theft.


Common Sense

Using common sense about keeping your vehicle from harm is essential to vehicle theft prevention. See below for some simple tips to help eliminate auto theft.

Take your keys or take your chances

Accessibility is a huge factor thieves evaluate when stealing a vehicle. Leaving your keys in your car (even for a few minutes) makes it the easiest target for auto theft. Thieves know where to look for spare keys inside or on the exterior of your vehicle, so consider keeping a spare at home rather than in the glove box or under a wheel well.

Secure your vehicle

When parking your car, make sure all windows are closed and the doors are locked. An extra step to securing your vehicle is engaging the parking brake. Every effort you make adds another level of protection between your vehicle and potential thieves.

Keep valuables hidden

The HEAT program doesn’t recommend leaving valuables in your vehicle. If you must keep valuables in your car, be sure to conceal them beneath seats or in a locked trunk. If a thief can see your GPS, wallet or other valuables in plain view, you’re putting your car at risk for a break in.

Park in a protected location

About half of all auto thefts occur at night when thieves can hide in the dark and commit crimes away from plain view. Park your vehicle near street lights and brightly lit storefronts when possible. A parking garage is the best option because many have security measures, like security cameras and guards.



You’ve learned about ways to take common sense precautions to avoid having your vehicle considered by thieves as an easy target. Now we’ll discuss some stronger deterrents to keep thieves from targeting your car when committing auto theft. The following audible and visible deterrents can help prevent auto theft.

VIN etching

The Help Eliminate Auto Theft (HEAT) program offers free vehicle identification number (VIN) etching events at various locations throughout Virginia. VIN etched glass must be completely stripped and replaced, which is a costly process, before a thief can sell the stolen car. A visible VIN number is a red flag to thieves and can help keep your car safe.


When leaving your car unattended for a long period of time, physical locks are a great way to ensure your vehicle will be safe. Steering wheel locks, steering column collars and tire locks are all types of locks that take time to remove, which can deter thieves. Visit our prevention devices page for more information on locks.


Car alarms have various sensors and sirens and are a relatively inexpensive way to keep your car from becoming an easy target. Many new vehicles come equipped with alarm systems, but there are many low-cost options. Visit our prevention devices page to see options for car alarm models.

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The third tip of protection is the strongest against auto thieves. Many late-model vehicles are equipped with technology that makes them increasingly difficult to steal. Older models can be upgraded with new technology for reasonable rates. Visit your trusted mechanic or research what types of technology might be a good fit for your vehicle and budget.

Transponders and smart keys

A transponder chip is a device that disarms a vehicle immobilizer when the car key is used to start the engine. Many cars built after 1995 contain built-in responder chips. A smart key is an electronic access and authorization system that comes equipped in many late-model cars. Smart keys allow drivers to keep their key fob in their pocket to unlock, lock, and start their vehicle.

Vehicle disablers, immobilizers and kill switches

Vehicle disablers and immobilizers are electronic security devices that are fitted to an automobile and prevent the engine from running unless the correct key is inserted. These prevent cars from being ‘hot-wired’ after a thief has broken into your vehicle and will not allow the car to start. A kill switch is a hidden device that will disrupt the flow of electricity to your battery that will protect your vehicle from starting after an unauthorized entry.

GPS and vehicle tracking systems

Global positioning systems (GPS) and other vehicle tracking systems allow you to track your vehicle from your home computer, smart phone or tablet. Some models come equipped with service providers that will also track your vehicle from their location using advanced geolocating techniques. In the event your car is stolen, a GPS can help you locate your vehicle and potentially track down the thief who took your vehicle. If your vehicle is stolen, do not attempt to find it yourself; always call the police first.

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Listen to Senior Special Agent Lazear share theft prevention tips on the Virginia Automobile Dealers Association’s “High Octane” podcast!