I mentioned in my post on the roadrage trial, and in a comment on Modest Money about my criminal past. Everyone was nice enough about it that I thought I’d go balls to the wall and fess up to my faithful followers.
My criminal record is long and I was stupid when I was a kid. I wanted attention from my dad and wasn’t getting it so I started doing illegal things. It’s not my dad’s fault though, I knew the stuff I did was wrong—I was being an idiot.
I do feel bad about the things I did. Legally speaking, I put in my time for all I’d done. Paid my debt to society, if you will. But like I said, I do still feel bad, and so I thought it might be cool to “give back” some more.
One thing I did in my troubled youth, as we’ll call it, was break into cars. My friends and me got very good at it. And so here are some tips, coming from me, a former car thief, for things that you can do to make it less likely that you’ll get your car broken into.
How It Goes Down
From the moment we would break a car window, we assumed that someone was on the phone with the police. We figured that police could be on the scene in 60 seconds. To play it safe, we gave ourselves 20 seconds. 20 seconds from the initial window break to us being gone.
Those 20 seconds weren’t the “one Mississippi…two Mississippi…” kind either. We counted fast because we didn’t want to get caught. Honestly, it could’ve been even 10 seconds.
What does that mean for you? It means that the “just a sec” that you “run in” to drop off your library book or pick up your carry-out dinner is all we needed. Actually, way more than we needed.
In 20 seconds, we’d have your stereo, CDs, and anything else that looked cool, and be gone.
Sometimes There’s Nothing You Can Do
Sometimes, there’s nothing you can really do to avoid a break in. Like I said, it takes 20 seconds, which is fast, and you can’t do anything about that.
We’d usually walk through suburbia neighborhoods and break into cars parked in peoples’ driveways or on the street. And so if we happened to be on your street, well, nothing you can really do to prevent that.
So dudes, sometimes there’s just nothing you can do.
So What Can You Do?
- Stereo face plates – Put them in the glovebox. If a stereo has no faceplate, then it wasn’t worth it for me to steal. Can’t sell a stereo/radio on the black market without a face plate. I knew that it could be sitting in the glovebox, but I also knew that maybe you took it out of the car with you. It’s too uncertain, so we’d move to the next car.
- The Club– Actually driving away with a car that has The Club on it is not easy. It can be done, I assure you, but it takes more time than we would’ve liked. So if a car has The Club on it, we’d pass on stealing it. Of course, cars today usually have cheap, plastic-type steering wheels and so I know that many car thieves today will just cut the steering wheel, making The Club useless. But that takes time, and time isn’t on the side of a car thief, so something like The Club will really lower your chances of getting your car swiped entirely.
- To lock or unlock your car doors? – Depends. If you are in a particularly “bad” neighborhood, leave your car doors unlocked and your windows down. From my experience, people in those neighborhoods will break into your car no matter what. They’ve got little to lose (I’ll have a post about that later on). So you might as well leave the car open so that they don’t break your windows while they’re at it. However! If you’re in a “normal” to “good” neighborhood, lock your car doors and windows. My friends and I usually spent our time in “good” or “normal” neighborhoods and cars that were locked was a mild deterrent. If we really wanted something, we’d break your window for sure, but we’d have to really want it. If you left your doors unlocked, we’d be in there no matter if we wanted something originally or not!
- Car alarms– Car alarms are not the point here. What I recommend is that you have a little blinking light that’s highly visible on your dashboard somewhere. Anytime we saw a little blinking light, we’d move on because it looked like a car alarm and that wasn’t worth the trouble to us. You can buy a little blinking light at automotive stores that you affix to your dashboard with Velcro – they’re like little fake car alarms, and they work. If it looks like a car alarm and blinks like a car alarm, then we’d always pass on that car.
- Hood ornaments – Most cars don’t have these anymore, and that’s good. My favorite thing to steal was hood ornaments (there’s a little black market on those, and there’s just something about them that I liked) and so if you had one, I’d rip it off. So easy to do. A car with a hood ornament was like a beacon, “come rip me off!”
- Putting stuff in your trunk – Remember how I said it took us 20 seconds to break in and steal your stuff? That quick time can actually work to your advantage. We never broke into a car and popped the trunk. Never. There wasn’t time. So if there’s something that you need to leave in your car (suitcase, CDs, GPS, sports equipment, etc), just throw it in your trunk. We never had the time to look in there.
- Expensive cars – There are people who steal cars for a living, and so if you have an expensive car, they’ll probably target you. But for the kind of stealing I did, we always stayed away from expensive cars. They’d probably have car alarms or something else fancy and we just weren’t interested in dealing with anything like that.
- Other car types – We loved Jeeps. The ones with the cloth tops. Those were prime targets for us because they’re just so easy. Breaking into them was noiseless (just cut the cloth!) and so it was very very simple.
- Lots of stuff in your car – If your car is full from the floor to the roof with junk, I usually passed on those cars. Too much stuff in the way, hard to tell what I wanted or didn’t, and I didn’t want some rat popping out at me or something.
- Nothing in your car — A car with nothing in it was a car to pass on, too. There’s nothing in there to steal – unless the stereo was something special, what would I break in to it for?
Some stuff in your car – Loose change, tape measure, GPS system (or radar detectors back in my day)…those things are targets like you wouldn’t believe. When we saw some loose change, we just had to have it. Window broken, gank the $0.85 and anything else loose. And now you’ve got a broken window and insurance to deal with, all because I saw some loose change. Unless you go the route of having a car filled so much that you’re a mini-hoarder, you absolutely gotta keep it empty. No loose change. No little screwdrivers, tollway passes, sports equipment, cool signs, t-shirts, or anything!
- Streetlights – If your car is in shadows, then it was easier for us to break in to unnoticed. If you’re under a streetlamp, it felt too exposed. So park in well-lit areas. We never ever ever ever broke into a car that was in a well-lit area. Never. We only broke into cars that were in darkness.
- Exterior home lighting– You should install motion sensor lights on your home. If we walked near a home and one of those clicked on, we were the hell outta there. Exception: If a motion sensor light was hung in a spot where we could reach it, we’d just unscrew the bulb. Problem solved for us. So install motion sensor lights and for Heaven’s sake, install them high enough so that a 6 foot dude can’t unscrew the bulb in them!
- Parking locations – We never hit cars in big parking lots. Too much light usually, too many potential eyes watching. We only stuck to suburban neighborhoods, especially ones with not much lighting. So parking lots are safer than you might think.
- Spare tire – If you own a van or a truck, make sure you chain your spare tire to the vehicle. We’d rip off spare tires so easily and sell them. So chain those suckers down and make the chain visible. Just like with a blinking car alarm light (fake or not doesn’t matter!), a visible chain holding down your spare tire is an easy visual for a thief to know it’s not worth it.
The Take Home Message?
If you remember nothing else, remember these two things – (1) light is the criminal’s enemy. We hated light! Hated it! This makes light your friend. Park under street lights and park near motion sensor lights, and dumb little criminals like I was, will stay away. (2) 20 seconds. It only takes 20 seconds. Don’t ever forget that.
Since I’ve mended my ways, I’ve had stuff stolen from me and had my car broken into. I know how much it sucks. I’m sorry I did it when I was younger. I hope these tips can help keep it from happening to you!