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Don't let bad guys get auto:

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author photo by Clint Williams October 2007

You've surfed the Internet, studied back copies of Consumer Reports and kicked dozens of tires. Finally, a shiny new car is in the driveway. Now you just have to keep it there.

More than 1.2 million cars and trucks were stolen in 2005, according to the National Crime Information Center. That's about two a minute. The estimated value of the losses is $7.6 billion, says the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

Any car can be stolen if the thief is determined enough, says Gwinnett County Police Sgt. Jim Price. But a car owner can do a lot to make it more difficult and — more time consuming — to boot.

"The longer it takes for a thief to get your car, the less interested he is in it," says Price, who for six years worked in the auto theft investigations unit and now trains other officers in auto theft investigation methods.

While car owners this year will spend an estimated $250 million on aftermarket security gear, according to the Consumer Electronics Association, Price says carmakers are building in more security.

"Ignition systems are more advanced," says Price. "They're not as easy to defeat."

Security systems that include immobilizer systems that kill the engine, or prevent it from starting in the first place, are standard equipment in some luxury cars, notes Steve Koenig, a senior analyst with the Consumer Electronics Association.

Any system, of course, can be beaten, so the National Insurance Crime Bureau recommends layers of security, ranging from common sense precautions such as locking your doors to installation of GPS tracking devices to aid in recovery of a stolen car.

The old-fashioned blaring car alarm is of dubious benefit, experts say.

False alarms are such a common annoyance that every alarm, no matter how loud, is ignored, says Ivan Blackman of National Insurance Crime Bureau.

The usefulness of an audible alarm depends on where you live, says Price.

If you live in an apartment complex, Price says, an audible alarm "is not an alert, it's a nuisance." But if you live in a quiet subdivision, it may get the neighbors to turn on their floodlights and take a peek outside.

Quieter deterrents than an alarm include mechanical locks that fit on the steering wheel, tire or steering column.

A steering wheel lock — one well-known brand is called the Club — "stops the very naive, young thief, "says Blackman, who instead suggests an armored collar that fits around the steering column.

"Armored collars are easy to install and hard to get off, " Blackman says.

Some car thieves, says Price of the Gwinnett police, simply tow the targeted car away to their den of iniquity.

When you walk out and the car is gone — despite your best efforts — is when a variety of tracking devices come into play.

Blackman says GPS systems that alert you when the car is moved beyond a set distance are dropping in price, making "geofencing" a good option.

Directed Electronics, which dominates the car security system market, makes a system that sends a signal to your key fob when your car is on the move. It can also send a message to an e-mail address or telephone number.

The system, which sells for $419 to $659, "allows you to find your car on an Internet map," says company spokesman Ken Gammage.

Not only can you help police locate your stolen car, you can use the system to see if your teen really went to the library when he borrowed your car.

The OnStar system, a GPS-based navigation and communication system in many General Motors vehicles, is frequently used to track down a stolen car or pickup truck. GM gets about 400 requests a month from law enforcement, a company spokeswoman said.

But the process to start tracking the car down can be cumbersome, says Price. The owner must file a police report before OnStar will release information to the police.

The tracking system is also fairly easily disabled by an experienced thief who knows it's there because the vehicle is made by GM, Price says.

"We do catch people with stolen cars with OnStar because if criminals were smart, we wouldn't have a job," Price says.

Price says LoJack is the most effective car recovery tracking system. With LoJack, the signal from the transmitter hidden in the car is picked up by specially equipped police cars.

When you file a stolen vehicle report, police computers send a silent wireless signal to your car, automatically activating the hidden LoJack transmitter.

One problem with LoJack, Price says, is that coverage is limited.

The land-based antenna system provides coverage in 26 states, says Bill Burruss of LoJack.

The system, which works on an FM radio signal, covers about 80 counties in Georgia, more than 6,500 square miles, Burruss says.

LoJack sells for $695, but there is no monthly service charge. When you sell the car, the LoJack goes with it, Burruss said.

Lexus GS 430 (MSRP $52,375) — You can luxuriously leap from 0-60 mph in under six seconds thanks to a 290-horsepower, 4.3-liter V-8 engine coupled with a six-speed automatic transmission. Leather and wood grace the cabin, and the optional Mark Levinson sound system will make your spirit soar. Keep it to yourself with vehicle theft deterrent system and engine immobilizer.

Subaru B9 Tribeca (MSRP $29,995- $37,295) — The list of standard equipment for this midsize crossover utility vehicle includes a security system with engine immobilizer. The engine it won't let a thief start is a 245-horsepower, 3-liter six cylinder. The B9 Tribeca has all-wheel drive, front-seat side air bags and full-length side curtain air bags.

Lincoln MKZ (MSRP $29,235-$31,105) — Standard features include leather seating, power seats with memory, dual-zone automatic climate control and an active anti-theft perimeter alarm to keep it all safe. Making it all go is a 3.5-liter V-6 with 263 horsepower and a six-speed automatic transmission.

MOST STOLEN VEHICLES ACROSS THE COUNTRY

  1. 1991 Honda Accord
  2. 1995 Honda Civic
  3. 1989 Toyota Camry
  4. 1994 Dodge Caravan
  5. 1994 Nissan Sentra
  6. 1997 Ford F150 Series
  7. 1990 Acura Integra
  8. 1986 Toyota Pickup
  9. 1993 Saturn SL
  10. 2004 Dodge Ram Pickup

MOST STOLEN VEHICLES ACROSS GEORGIA

  1. 1993 Ford Econoline E150
  2. 1998 GMC Jimmy
  3. 1995 Jeep Wrangler
  4. 2000 Toyota Tacoma
  5. 2001 International Harvester Straight Truck
  6. 1996 Acura TL
  7. 1991 Acura Legend
  8. 1998 Mitsubishi Eclipse
  9. 2003 Chevrolet Trailblazer
  10. 2001 Mitsubishi Montero/Montero Sport

2005, National Insurance Crime Bureau

© 2007 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
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