In 1997, my little '82 Toyota Celica was parked in my apartment building, in a secured parking lot, with a mobile securty company hired to watch the area. Sunday morning, while leaving for church, I found the driver's window glass smashed and all over the parking lot. If you have ever experienced this, you know the horror, anger, and visions of the worst possible damage inside. I had forgotten to set the Viper alarm and now my Kenwood TM-733a radio was gone, along with some other valuables. The center console, where the radio was bolted, was shattered. The car stereo was gone and the dashboard was peeled apart like an onion. I felt so violated that after picking the glass out of the carpeting and replacing the window, I sold that car. I didn't want anything to do with it anymore.

But I was fortunate. The Los Angeles County Sheriff caught my thief and I got a portion of my property back, including that radio. The thief had cut the antenna and power leads off so the radio had to be shipped in for repair. The microphone has to be completely replaced. My thief had to pay restitution, and that cost was included in that.

I have been broken into a second time more recently, but they got nothing...and I will tell you why later.

Watch this video to see how quickly your stuff can be gone: [video:youtube:SFn1KlOOPWM].

Please read this information below carefully and take the following steps TODAY to avoid being the victim of these crimes.

A few SIMPLE steps can prevent your car from being a target for a car prowler or thief. A car prowl is when someone breaks into a car to commit a crime. Typically, car prowlers break into a car because they see something that may be of value. That includes shopping bags, backpacks, change, anything that is visible to a passerby as they look into your car.

Follow these steps every time you park your car and decrease the likelihood of being a victim!

  • Keep personal and valuable belongings out of sight. Do not invite a break-in by leaving valuables such as cameras, CDs, IPODs, money, computers, stereos, bags, packages or shopping bags (including re-usable bag) in plain sight. Take them with you out of your car or discreetly lock them in your trunk if you cannot remove them when you park. DO THIS EVERY TIME YOU PARK!


  • Keep all doors locked and windows up at all times when you park. A lock is only effective if you use it!


  • Secure your vehicle in your garage or park in a well-lit and highly visible area. Criminals look for cars that are isolated and parked in dark areas.


  • Use your alarm system at all times.


  • If you have a GPS system or other visible electronics, remove them when you park your car. And, remove the GPS holder as well. Criminals know that a GPS holder means there is probably a GPS somewhere in the car! Out of sight, out of mind! This can apply to radar detectors and other brackets, too.


  • Consider that ham antennas on the external of the car are a good sign to a thief that there are electronics inside. You must take additional precautions.


  • If you see a person looking into cars and appears suspicious, call 9-1-1.


If you are the victim of a crime, REPORT IT, even if you think nothing can be done! The police have to know the crime occured if you want any chance of prevention later. It is estimated that only 25% of car prowl victims report. If the police find your stuff, they will have no way to link it to you.

Record your serial numbers and have them available for the police. If your thief is caught and prosecuted, or you make an insurance claim, you are going to need the make, model, serial number, and orginal purchase cost.

If your ham gear is stolen, report it to the Stolen Gear Registry!


Now, what happened when I got broken into the second time and why did they get nothing?

My car was parked at a park and ride garage. It was on the second floor, which does not have the same visibility from the street as the first floor. Apparently, the alarm malfunctioned. It armed properly, but failed to lock the doors. When I returned to the car after work, I found the hood propped open. Remember the feeling of horror, anger, and thinkning the worse...yes, that always happens. I was sure that everything was gone, including my ham gear, car stereo, two amplifiers, and a subwoofer. I also knew the damage would be substantial if they got all of it. All I could think about as I approached the car was preserving figerprint evidence. But it turned out that nothing was gone and there was no damage. Here's why:

  • The alarm did properly cycle. This attracted attention to the car, which makes thiefs very uncomfortable.
  • The Kenwood TM-D700 in my car is bolted to the trunk. It's not even in the cabin of the car, which means a thief would have to stand out behind the car exposed, and with tools to get the radio free. The thief probably did not even know the radio was there.
  • The head unit was locked in the glove box. Glove boxes are not the most secure and can be easily defeated, but it buys time. The mic is always stuffed out of sight.
  • There was nothing anywhere in the cabin of the car that wasn't locked up that was worth anything. No sunglasses or mics visible.

There is no surefire method to foil a thief (though I am sure you have some creative ideas). All we can really do with our vehicles when they are parked outside of the safety of our garages is to minimize the risk. Since most people do not follow the rules above, if you do, the thief will more likely move on to another vehicle that has a greater reward for lower risk. My car was only attacked because the doors weren't locked. Probably a crime of opportunity.

A note about locks taneau covers, and camper shells: They only keep honst people honest, but use them. It's still one more obstacle and makes the vehicle a little less inviting. For those of you that never lock your doors because what is in your car is less valuable than the cost of the window have this all backwards. Most thieves will not break windows if there is little to gain. Most of them just check door handles as they ride down the street on their bicycles. Some will use flashlights to peer in. Cars parked in the street are the most at risk.

I buy fancy alarms for my cars, complete with battery back-ups, starter kill, remote start, and paging capabilities. But this car is old (2001) and it's seen better days. Time to replace the alarm.

You don't need such a fancy alarm and cars with keys fobs and keyless entries may not be compatible with them. But you can get them stand alone. Take a look at the model below...but get something on there. And tune it right. Nothing defeats the purpose or annoys more than an alarm that falses at the wind.



Also take a look at Kenwood car stereos. When the power is removed from the radio, the radio cannot be restarted without a PIN. This renders them dead if a thief tries to hawk it. If he can even offload it, he will be lucky to get $10 for it and the other guy won't be able to use it. This is an excellent deterrent to stealing the radio. But, I still lock the faceplate in the glove box or take it with me.




Garrett Dow, KD6KPC, has been a police officer in a large metropolitan department since 2001. He has responded to hundreds of car prowl reports, interviewed car prowl suspects to learn their methods, and worked on prevention and education efforts.