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Tips to prevent car break-ins

  • Story Highlights
  • Up to a quarter of vehicle thefts are from unlocked cars
  • If you have a car that leaves your cargo area on display, consider getting a cover
  • Park in a busy, well-lit area, and avoid concealment from larger vehicles
  • Factory-option alarm systems are generally best
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By Bengt Halvorson
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(AOL Autos) -- Each year, $1.255 billion in personal items and accessories are stolen from vehicles in about 1.85 million thefts; and for every theft, experts estimate, there are several break-ins and attempted break-ins. With these common sense habits and preventative measures, you can greatly reduce the chances your vehicle will become a target.

Lock your doors

While this piece of advice should be a no-brainer, up to a quarter of vehicle thefts are from unlocked cars, according to some law enforcement agencies. Even if you're running into the store for a Coke, that's too long to leave your vehicle's contents open for the taking. Simply locking the doors will deter those who might just be waiting around for an easy target.

Keep it tidy

Almost any worthless personal item that's visible from the outside -- even an empty shopping bag -- could be seen as a valuable or a carrier of valuables. If you have a wagon or SUV that leaves your cargo area on display, consider getting a cover. Most of these vehicles can be fitted with inexpensive retractable covers to help keep shopping bags or other belongings out of sight.

Conceal all the evidence

Don't leave any bait out for thieves; stow your electronics and accessories well out of sight-or better yet, bring it with you. The evidence alone might be enough to pique the interest of thieves, so hide that too, including power plugs, telltale iPod adapters, or nav-system windshield suction-cup mounts, and even put the cigarette lighter back in place. AOL Autos: Save money with these spring cleaning tips

Stash before -- not after -- you park

Get in the habit of putting shopping bags in the trunk right when you return to the vehicle, rather than after you park at the next place. According to National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) spokesman Frank Scafidi, thieves sometimes linger in busy parking lots looking for valuables being moved out of sight. Don't display to them what you have. AOL Autos: Cars most likely to get you a ticket

Completely close windows and sunroofs

No, it's not just because thieves might reach in through the gap and open your locks with a coat hanger. Open windows will disable the pressure sensor in some car alarms, leaving the vehicle more vulnerable to break-in and potentially giving thieves more time before the alarm sounds. AOL Autos: Cars least likely to get you a ticket

Get an alarm

If you don't have an alarm system, get one. The noise alone may be enough to scare away an inexperienced thief and prevent the break-in. Factory-option alarm systems are generally best, but a carefully installed, properly calibrated aftermarket system can provide just as much safety. Beware, many less-expensive new cars have remote entry but not a true alarm.

Stick with the original audio system

Thefts of car audio components are on the decline, but having an aftermarket system still makes a car more attractive to thieves thinking of breaking in. There's no black market to speak of for factory stereos, and they've become much better sounding in recent years. AOL Autos: Best car technologies available today

Park for visibility

Park in a busy, well-lit area, and avoid concealment from larger vehicles, fences, or foliage. Except for the most brazen thieves, the greater the chances are that someone might see a crime in progress, the lower the chances are that the potential thief will attempt it.

Get physical

A significant portion of vehicles are broken into with the intent of stealing the vehicle itself, so combining several visible simple, inexpensive physical theft deterrents like steering wheel locks (The Club), steering column collars, or brake pedal locks may discourage the would-be thief from breaking in and trying. AOL Autos: Best looking 2009 cars

Layer your defenses

That's the strategy recommended by the NICB; layers include warning devices such as alarms, wheel etching, or decals; immobilizers; and even tracking systems (LoJack is one). "None of them are foolproof, but if they're used in tandem they can really keep the chances down," agrees Loretta Worters, vice president of the Insurance Information Institute.

Sources: The National Insurance Crime Bureau, the Insurance Information Institute, Progressive, and AAA.

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