I knew exactly where I parked it. I knew the doors were locked. And I knew everything inside was hidden or out of plain sight. But then there was the question I couldn’t answer — “Dude, where’s my car?”
This is a cautionary tale, and really a story in stupidity. That’s because the night before my car was broken into and stolen off a quiet DC street, I was telling a friend about how I was going to invest in a good alarm system. Too late now.
You see my car has not only been the target of one vehicle break-in — not even two for that matter — but three, count’em, three break-ins. In just two short years of owning a car in DC, I have avoided meter maids and speeding cameras (for the most part) but my car seems to attract a certain type of criminal: the kind who love old, rundown Jeeps with plenty more nostalgic value than anything approaching actual retail value.
The first break-in was on Capitol Hill — a punched lock costs $300 in case you were wondering — and the second time it was in the tonier section of Adams Morgan. Each time, I replaced the locks and fixed the car thinking my car would be safe if I kept it in the garage and off the street.
Then I moved.
It was day two at my new, garage-less house, and I was sitting on the back porch with a friend. I was telling him about my previous car troubles and explained how I would be investing in a good wheel lock and security system. Little did I know, it would be gone the next day.
One of the few mementos that I still have — if you want to call it that — is a speeding camera ticket (see photo above) taken shortly after the vehicle was stolen. Pictured in the darkened distance of Benning Road is my green Jeep. I like to imagine that it took a happy ride to its final resting place. Eventually, police found it a month later in Greenbelt, Maryland.
Consider my sappy car story a reminder, and hopefully a good wake up call, that petty theft happens all the time. Here are a few important lessons that I learned along the way.
1.) Know what makes and models are targets for theft. Some cars are much more likely to be targeted for theft than others simply because they are easier to break into. My car is the third most stolen vehicle in DC. If you own a car that’s easy to steal, you should take added measures to protect it. Luckily, the National Insurance Crime Bureau tracks the most stolen vehicles each year.
2.) Register your vehicle for the DC DMVs ticket notification system. Like pretty much everything in DC government, it may seem a bit cumbersome, but you should register and sign-up for their email ticketing system. Shortly after my car was stolen, I registered for the service and the DMV notified me first when my car was ticketed. Even before the police knew where my car was, I could tell them that it had been caught in a speed camera on Benning Road. If your car is left abandoned, it’s likely to rack-up parking tickets and the DMV email notification system could be your first helpful clue. Plus, whenever you get caught in a speed camera, you’ll know about it soon after.
3.) You don’t need to pay for LoJack. There are plenty of cheaper options. Consider installing a vehicle tracking device that uses GPS. This Gizmodo article shows you how to turn a Boost mobile phone into a tracking unit. You have Find My Phone for your smartphone; why not have a similar app for your car?
4.) Wheel locks are cute, but you need an alarm system to protect. The MPD officer who helped me, said he’s seen many thieves break open wheel locks. The best way to ensure protection is with an impact-sensitive alarm system. Just make sure it also has an automatic shutoff. You don’t want to be that person who wakes up half the neighborhood.
5.) Finally, use common sense. DC police have a number of simple and common sense tips that may help protect your car. Read up on them here and hopefully they will prevent you from losing your car in two days.