Drama in Real Life: Burgled Again

Four years ago — soon after we moved into this house — somebody broke into my car.

We only have room for one vehicle in the garage, so I park on the street. One foggy February morning, I walked to my Ford Focus as usual, opened the back door, and put my stuff on the seat. But when I slammed the door closed, a shower of glass fell to the ground. Somebody had smashed the driver's window.

I didn't have time to mess around with the broken window, so I swept the glass from the seat and drove to work. It was cold. On the way, I tried to inventory the damage. Only the one window was broken. All of my CDs still seemed to be there (who would want to steal music from the 1920s?), but my cell phone was gone. (The stupid thief had left the charger to which it had been connected.) That was all that was missing from the front seat.

When I got to work, I searched the rest of the car. Nothing in the back seat was taken, which was good, because I had both my personal and my business checkbook sitting in plain view, with checks made out to both accounts from various sources. And I had my business credit card there, too. (Yes, this was very stupid of me.) But it was when I checked the trunk that my heart sank. My bag of camera equipment was gone. I was missing a small fortune in lenses and filters and more. I cursed my carelessness.

I reported the theft to the police, and they took down a report. The woman I talked to was sympathetic, but not hopeful. “There's been a rash of car burglaries in your neighborhood,” she said.

“Is there anything I can do?” I asked. “Is it better to park in the driveway instead of on the street? Should I lock the door? Keep it unlocked?”

“It doesn't matter,” she said. “A determined burglar is going to get in. If it were my car, I'd leave it unlocked, because then at least there's less chance of having the window smashed.”

Ever since, I've left my car unlocked when I park it on the street — which is every day. And I never leave anything of value in the vehicle anymore.

A month later, a friend found my camera equipment. The burglar had dumped it in the bushes by the corner of our property. He had apparently gone through the bag looking for valuables, not realizing the camera gear itself was worth a couple thousand bucks. After a little clean up, the equipment was fine.

I was fortunate my foolishness did not cost me more.

The next year, a thief broke into Kris' car. Maybe it was a different thief. Maybe not. Fortunately, Kris doesn't keep anything of value in her vehicle. In fact, there's rarely anything in the cabin at all.

When the burglar's search came up empty, he popped the trunk. That's when he found the jackpot: jumper cables. That's right — a burglar ransacked Kris' car, and all he took was jumper cables. I can't even begin to imagine what was going through this his head.

Fast forward a couple of years. I've been parking on the street without incident since that first act of vandalism. I keep my doors unlocked and there are no valuables in the car — unless you count my CDs of music from the 1920s.

Today I went out to run some errands. When I got into the car, I was surprised to find my water bottle on the floor. “That's odd,” I thought. And then I realized…I'd been burgled again. I performed a quick survey. Trash on the floor of the back seat? Check. CDs of music from the 1920s? Check. Everything in the glove compartment? Check. iPod transmitter? Uh, no. Parking-meter change? Also gone.

Sometime during the past few days, a thief — possibly the same thief as three years ago — broke into my car and stole an iPod transmitter and a handful of quarters, nickels, and dimes. He didn't steal anything else because there was nothing else to steal. He didn't smash my window because the door was left unlocked. All he got was a cheap electronic device and enough change for a two-liter bottle of soda. I hope he's having a good time.

Sometimes when bad things happen to me, I get tense. I get frustrated. But for some reason, none of these thefts bother me. Maybe it's because the burglar hasn't actually absconded with much: just a cell phone, an iPod transmitter, some jumper cables, and a handful of change. Still, it would be nice if I didn't have to worry about thieves breaking into my car…

Do you have any suggestions? Have you ever experienced a similar problem? Is it even worth my time to take further precautions? Have I exhausted the statistical likelihood that a burglar will break into our cars again? (I mean three times in four years — come on! Go pick on somebody else.)

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Steven
Steven
11 years ago

A car alarm although useless most of the time may prove somewhat useful in your scenario. Most inexperienced car thieves try to avoid cars armed with a car alarm because they don’t know how to disable it without the alarm going off.

Although normally it just annoys the neighbors but if its happening often enough, a small investment in a car alarm may save you headaches of anything missing in the future. Better to be safe than sorry. Someone may stoop as low as stealing the car even if its not fancy, especially if the door is already unlocked.

Chetan
Chetan
11 years ago

I think it’s great that you’ve learnt the lesson that is taught to us since childhood in India – never leave valuables visible in your car when it’s unattended. My wife has this annoying habit of leaving her purse in plain view on the car seat in the back and a quick glance can confirm that the keys to the car, house are in there – and probably her credit cards too (which they certainly are). In your case though, other than the car alarm, there’s not much you can really do. You could go in for a motion-sensitive camera… Read more »

Frank
Frank
11 years ago

Motion lights solved the problem for us. I center the sensor on one of the two cars I park on the street and if someone comes within ten feet of either vehicle it turns on. It has saved us from broken windows and slashed tires countless times in our neighborhood when houses on either side of ours have been hit.

Tana
Tana
11 years ago

Park in your garage instead of on the street or in your driveway?

Michael
Michael
11 years ago

One of the things my dad always preached to my brother and I when we started driving was to never, ever leave anything in plain view. This goes for valuables and non-valuables. He especially hated when we left change in the cupholder, and I have to admit that he has a good point (it seems to apply in your situation here, J.D.) – “A thief is going to have no qualms about breaking your $300 window just go get 30 cents change if that gets him closer to some food for the night.” Has this changed my habits about leaving… Read more »

Celia
Celia
11 years ago

When I had a car, I left it unlocked because the locks stopped working winters, and then at all. Nothing of value was left in there.

One day I got in and my ashtray was on the passenger side floor. Strange…A quick survey found my trunk key (labeled ford by the dealership) on the drivers side door.

They had tried to steal my car! Alas, the trunk and ignition have different keys.

False Alarm
False Alarm
11 years ago

If not keeping valuables in the car, a car alarm may be an expensive approach. Instead, try a fake car alarm (Amazon is one site that sells them). They are usually about $10 and just consist of a small LED windshield attachment and decal sticker.

Fish Finder
Fish Finder
11 years ago

As a Sheriff’s Deputy, I recommend locking the doors. Someone could get in an unlocked car and wait for YOU to get in and rob,hurt you or worse. People are constantly being kidnapped and forced to go to ATM machines and withdraw money for the bad guys. If you can park your can in the driveway and have a motion sensor flood light pointed at it, that should help. Parked in the street, you are making it easier to be a victim. Might be time for a neighborhood watch.

JenLo
JenLo
11 years ago

I’d probably write a note to the thief and permanently post it on the dashboard…something about how your wireless camera is currently videotaping them 😉

C Raybourn
C Raybourn
11 years ago

It sounds like someone who lives close by. Maybe a kid. If I were you, I’d install some kind of camera to try and catch the guy. He’s not going to just stop if he’s been at it this long. Criminal behavior tends to escalate. Keep the doors and windows to your house locked. That’s the next step for him.

RC
RC
11 years ago

In addition to a car alarm, I don’t leave a single thing in my car. Not even an empty can, water bottle or piece of trash. If someone looks in my spotless car it’s very obvious there is nothing of value in there.

My girlfriend I think has the opposite theory. Her car is so cluttered with crap I don’t think anyone would want to dig through it on the off chance there is something valuable.

http://www.bitsmack.com

joan
joan
11 years ago

You need to be careful about appearances. Years ago someone smashed our window and broke into our car after seeing what they thought was a purse. Actually it was a diaper bag. We found the contents along the side of the road. Also they took a faux leather bound zipper notebook which was the car’s owner’s manual.

Kevin
Kevin
11 years ago

I have had pretty horrific luck with my car. It has been broken into 3 times (I do lock the doors…read on.) and stolen once. Only time anything of value was taken was my ipod which they ripped my glovebox out of the dash for. After being stolen the major damage was when they popped the entire steering column open so they could get at the cylinder and wiring easier. Basically I have a similar view in regards to my car. Nothing of major value in it, but locked with a car alarm (with immobilizer) just makes it really not… Read more »

Ellen K.
Ellen K.
11 years ago

Don’t leave anything in plain sight in your car. Not even spare change. As my own experience has taught me, my idea of what is “valuable” is quite different from that of a thief. Even litter is attractive to a car thief, because it suggests that the owner is careless or may be concealing something beneath all the wrappers.

If you don’t have an alarm system, you should lock your car doors. I understand the argument that windows are more expensive to replace. But it’s quite easy to see an unlocked door from the outside.

Paul
Paul
11 years ago

I don’t leave *anything* in view. I had a GPS unit stolen from my office parking lot, and it was the only time I had gotten lazy and left anything out. I look at it as I don’t leave anything in the car I can afford to lose. The GPS unit sits in my garage and only gets taken out with me when I need it. My ipod is like my phone, and goes with me everywhere. I have cables, chargers, and a dashboard mount they are welcome too. I second the thought of parking on your drive, get some… Read more »

Brandon
Brandon
11 years ago

My car was broken into once. All that was stolen was some change and some arcade tokens. Sadly, they did break my window. I got one off a junkyard car for like $20 though.

Cheap Like Me
Cheap Like Me
11 years ago

I’m with the sheriff commenter on leaving doors locked, but I was raised paranoid. Sometimes I am tempted to leave my purse in the car while I run into a store/school just for a second, but a friend of mine had her purse stolen in that scenario at her daughter’s preschool. We realized the thief probably cased the school and watched for moms who head in without a purse, knowing they would be gone at least 5 minutes.

Mark
Mark
11 years ago

Here in the UK leaving a phone in your car in plain view means you will get broken into even if your car is parked in the middle of a crowd of people or in some cities even when you are waiting at a red traffic light. It is far to easy to shash a window, grab the phone and run. If a thief THINKS these is something of value in the car, they WILL break in. So what a lot of people have started doing when leaving their cars in the rougher parts of town is to not only… Read more »

EscapeVelocity
EscapeVelocity
11 years ago

Is that “one-car garage” or “two-car garage, but with so much stuff in it there’s only room for one car”? There’s a solution for the second. Parking in the driveway and getting a motion-detector light is probably the best approach for the first. It’s worked for me so far, knock wood (no garage).

cheryl
cheryl
11 years ago

Our car was broken into three times one winter. The police told us there was nothing we could do — they even said car alarms are pretty useless. Like you, we now leave our car unlocked (the burglers were breaking the lock, and those are expensive to fix). I actually felt a little triumph when I noticed a few months ago that someone had gone through our car again. “HA! YOu didn’t get anything! I win!” were my thoughts.

Awesome Mom
Awesome Mom
11 years ago

I know how frustrating and awful it feels to have your car broken into. My husband and I were in the middle of a move and staying at a motel. A thief saw what appeared to be my purse on the front seat of my husband’s car and broke his window to steal it. All they got for their troubles was some priceless (to me) pictures and a book I was reading. I was sad that I had not been more careful and brought the bag in with me. I really wish they had abandoned the bag when they saw… Read more »

ladam8518
ladam8518
11 years ago

My car has been broken into several times, though vandalized is probably more correct. In the course of three years I replaced my windshield and driver side window at least four times. I was from NY and went to grad school in MA, so my car had NY plates which, naturally, means I am a Yankees fan (actually these actions converted me into a Yankees fan, since if I am going to pay the price I may as well deserve it). Every time the Yankees and Red Sox would play each other, my car would become a target. I ended… Read more »

Mase
Mase
11 years ago

Although I understand your leaving the car unlocked, that assists to your car being stolen. One of the first questions the insurance company will ask is whether you locked your car. By saying “no”, it is a flag for insurance abuse. Although you’ll likely collect regardless, that simple act can prolong things. For what else you can do, you are already doing it: nothing in plain sight, nothing of value in any event, and leaving it unlocked to save window replacement value[1]. The only other possibility is a car alarm. I suggest a hybrid of that. Although the sounding of… Read more »

Sarah
Sarah
11 years ago

I never lock my car – I grew up in a rural area where we actually left the keys in the ignition… I have at least broken myself if that habit! I also don’t leave anything in the car other than canvas grocery bags. I was burgled once: they stole a flashlight, probably meaning I assisted in other thefts that night.

My co-worker always locks her car, since she’s been told that if something is stolen or broken, the insurance company can say it was your fault for not locking up.

Kacie
Kacie
11 years ago

Get a motion-detecting light and park your car near it. And yeah, maybe writing a letter to the thief would be good 🙂

My husband’s car has been broken into a few times. They never took much, but tore up the glove box and caused other damage. Jerks.

Xaris
Xaris
11 years ago

I live in Queens, NY and within one year, the same small vent glass has been broken into. The first time they took my tire pressure pump (which was given to me for free anyway), and the second time they didn’t even take one thing. This may be because I have an alarm. I park on the street because I have to, living in an apartment with no parking space. I can’t believe you leave your door unlocked!! It’s tempting for me to follow suit since the glass has cost me $500 to date, but I sometimes have to park… Read more »

Jason
Jason
11 years ago

Move 🙂

Tanner Christensen
Tanner Christensen
11 years ago

Why on earth are you keeping valuable items in your car? Where everything inside of it is easily accessible to thieves?

I keep absolutely nothing in my car (not even CDS), and it’s paid off. Just a few nights ago every car on my block was broken into… except mine.

Just don’t put valuable items in your car, thieves won’t have any motivation to break in and if they do you won’t lose anything of value (except maybe the car window).

J
J
11 years ago

I don’t lock my doors, and don’t keep anything of value in my car. I really don’t feel like replacing a $600+ convertible top when a thief decides its quieter to slash the top than smash a window. I’ve only had one incident of theft where they stole 4 quarts of oil. I learned my lesson that time. I know the car has been searched a few times though (glovebox open in the morning), but that has pretty much stopped since I’ve moved apartments. I’ll take my chances with someone waiting for me in my car, because I’ll more than… Read more »

Brigitte
Brigitte
11 years ago

My driver door is for some reason not always locking, and I can’t tell because the push-down button stays down. I was parked overnight at a friend’s house, came back to my–I might add, filthy and full of junk–car and it took me a minute but I realized it had been rifled thru. Only things of “value” in the car were 2 baskets of dirty clothes and some kitchen appliances (I was moving at the time), none of which were taken. And they stuck their hand into a sticky cup holder that had 5 pennies in it–didn’t get any pennies,… Read more »

Kevin @ The Money Hawk
Kevin @ The Money Hawk
11 years ago

That’s amazing. Do you live in a really high crime area? Where I’m from, I can’t even imagine that happening.

Neil
Neil
11 years ago

I used to drive a Jeep TJ, since you can just unzip the windows on it I never locked it. However, I also kept absolutely nothing of value in the vehicle. The only thing a potential thief might have been interested in was my emergency kit.

I do agree with the poster about the insurance claim. If you don’t lock your car and something is taken they are likely not going to cover your loss.

garrett smith
garrett smith
11 years ago

several years ago, when Iived in a somewhat shady area of Chicago, my car was broken into once and my windows were vandilized (broken) 2 other times.

The following worked for me:

1. I bought a “fake” car alarm. It was a little battery powered red flashing light that I put on my dashboard. It cost under $10.

2. I started parking my car under a bright streetlight.

Good luck

Pamela
Pamela
11 years ago

I lived in San Francisco for 10 years, where you pretty much can’t avoid getting your car broken into, and the vast majority of thieves are crack addicts. Because of this, you can never ever have anything lying out. A few nickels or an old newspaper will encourage them to break in and see what else is there. Make absolutely sure you don’t have anything lying out, no matter what the value.

Sorry about that.

Avlor
Avlor
11 years ago

“Everything in the glove compartment? Check.”

– Make sure you are covered for identity theft. They just took info on you – if you store your insurance policy in your glove compartment.

Jessica
Jessica
11 years ago

Several years ago my husband’s car was broken into. They smashed out the front passenger window to gain access. They left behind the expensive sunglasses and the cup full of change, instead choosing to steal a package of Tic-Tacs.

Llama
Llama
11 years ago

First, get a car alarm. It won’t prevent sophisticated thieves, but it will prevent these annoying break-ins you’re seeing. Also make sure that the alarm LED, or sticker is visible. It may make the difference between your car or the next one. Second, and park in open places where a thief will stand out.

Jon
Jon
11 years ago

The motion light works the best. I forgot to lock my car one night when the car was parked in the driveway. The next morning my neighbors woke me up to tell me their car had been broken into and a gym bag was stolen. I checked my car and sure enough, someone had left the door open after looking inside. Best I could figure, they opened the door and triggered the motion light to come on. Luckily, only my neighbor’s car was victimized and mine was left alone. PS- depending on your state and insurance company, theft claims stay… Read more »

Andrea
Andrea
11 years ago

Please be sure that the your garage door opener is not in your car if you are leaving it on the street unlocked. I assume you would have one in each of your cars even though only one car fits in the garage.

That One Caveman
That One Caveman
11 years ago

Sometimes, even just a flashing LED embedded in the dash or console is enough to drive away a thief since that is the common outward sign of an armed alarm system. It’s cheap to install and won’t annoy your neighbors since there’s no actual alarm to trip. It won’t stop all the thieves, but it may drive them off.

Ron
Ron
11 years ago

Using this study as reference (http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn9424-big-brother-eyes-make-us-act-more-honestly.html) I’d put a small picture of eyes in the driver and passenger windows, down by the handle. It might subconsciously make them think they are being watched and keep on walking.

the girl @ love God, not money
the girl @ love God, not money
11 years ago

I had never considered keeping the door unlocked to save the window. I never leave anything of value in my car – except sometimes my iPod, which I’m trying to do less often.

Jon Anderson
Jon Anderson
11 years ago

Sorry, I have to agree with Jason above – move. The only person I know who has had their car broken into that often lives in a bad part of Detroit. Where I live, I don’t feel nervous leaving my car unlocked (although I try to remember to lock it), and I have kept things in the back in plain view for days. (Not valuables, but I can imagine them being tempting to a thief) One of the first things I did when looking for a new place to live was check out crime statistics. I picked a neighborhood that… Read more »

Mister E
Mister E
11 years ago

Leaving nothing in the car at all is a good start but isn’t foolproof. A phoney alarm light on the door or dash is a good idea and (from my experience) just as useful as a real alarm, no one pays a lick of attention to a real alarm anyways so it’s the deterrent factor that you’re looking for. Most car burglaries are just bored kids trying to prove (to themselves or others) how hard they are, especially in suburban areas. They learn how a little piece of porcelain (I think it’s porcelain or else ceramic) from a sparkplug can… Read more »

Sam
Sam
11 years ago

Since your wife has a car and parks in the garage and you live in Oregon, why not trade the car in for a scooter, or even bike?

Another option is keep a rabid animal in your car as a trap 🙂

Katybeth
Katybeth
11 years ago

Why not leave a nice note and $5.00 in an envelope–thank the thief for allowing you the opportunity to help him. Sometimes we get more of what we resist. I know this sounds a little crazy…but I run my business from this point of view–A client owed me money and after several requests that she pay her bill, I realized she was not going to…I called her, thanked her for her business, and told her bill was canceled. Nope, I never got paid, but I have also never had a client not pay me, again. Go figure.

kitty
kitty
11 years ago

Xaris, when we lived in Morningside Heights, our block had the problem of homeless people breaking into cars for a dry place to sleep during stretches of bad weather. This happened to me a few of times over the years, even though there was never anything in the car to steal, hidden or otherwise. The cost of replacing the broken windows and cleaning the seats definitely worked out better than paying to park in a garage.

Natalie
Natalie
11 years ago

You could get a dog.

Carol
Carol
11 years ago

Been there, done it so often. I also leave my doors open and nothing of value in the car. It took several ‘hits’ before anyone even took my ‘Toolz-All’. I know it is the neighbourhood kids and that every summer the next generation will be out trawling.
It’s a rite of passage, I suggest.

Priscilla
Priscilla
11 years ago

My boyfriend’s car was broken into around Christmas time a few years ago because he had left a new computer entirely visible inside the trunk (he drives a Rav4). The thief also stole a wet suit that he bought me for the holiday. My boyfriend was working on putting together this computer for a friend at the time. I don’t know what he was thinking leaving a computer in the trunk. Anyway, he ended up having to buy the friend a new computer. JD you mentioned that you have room for one vehicle in the garage. If you have a… Read more »

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