The sad fact is that if someone wants to pinch your car, or break into it, there is little that even thousands of pounds of alarm system can do. As long as there are tow trucks and glass is used for windows, every car is vulnerable. However, it is possible to use cheap and cheerful urban guerrilla tactics to beat some of the thieves all of the time.
Deterrents: Ideally if you can stop someone considering your car as a target then the battle is at least half won.
Decoy dog: Sounds far-fetched, but a friend of mine swears that they've never been troubled by a break-in. All it requires is a long-haired rug plumped up and strategically placed across the front seats. When executed properly, it can resemble a slumbering mutt.
Dirty decoy: Imagine never having to wash your car ever again? Although thieves aren't fussy, like most buyers they will be attracted to a clean, tidy car. Of course this doesn't let you off the hook when it comes to cleaning the windows, lights, etc. It works well on up-market marques that are stolen to order. The DJ John Peel, recently interviewed by Carweek, claimed that this policy had prevented his Mercedes 190 from being pinched.
Decal decoy: Take off your model inscription badges, or order your new car without them. Although most thieves are clued up on specifications those innocent letters attract undesirable attention.
Clear the decks: Take away temptation by clearing the interior. Even a mangled cassette is worth something to a small-time thief. So have a small holdall or strong plastic bag that you can scoop the contents into, then lock in the boot.
Etch-a-reg: Etching the car registration number on every glass surface discourages anyone from going to the trouble of reselling your car. In addition think about using permanent markers. This medium is even more noticeable. A friend of mine has even decorated the edges with an unmissable pattern incorporating the registration number. Not recommended for the car-proud.
Radio deception: One of the easiest things to do is simply pull the volume knob off to make the system look less attractive. Otherwise hide it with a simple cardboard cover, coloured to match the fascia, but of course some thieves will want a closer look. Ideally the system should not be there, but the fitting kits that make a radio removable are costly and sometimes the subject of theft themselves. So why not simply remove the radio yourself? A bent piece of coat hanger pushes into the release holes so that you can pull it out. The aerial is a large heavy-duty cable, while the power supply and speaker wires are weedier. These will have to be beefed up with electrician's tape so that they can withstand repeated removal and replacement. For a simple, non-CD system, it works.
Now if we have not been able to discourage the passing car criminal from having a go, let's look at the next line of defence.
Locks: The easiest way in for a thief is either (a) sliding a wire behind the door jamb to pull up the door lock button or (b) sliding a wire between window and door to catch the lock mechanism. To prevent (a) unscrew and file flat the knob. But the easiest way of preventing (a) and (b) is to fit dead locks. Most cars don't have them, but you can buy a Lander or bolt locks from a DIY store. You'll need to be handy with a drill and be prepared to fiddle with extra keys.
Immobilisers: Without highlighting any particular make, the range of steering locks available are all good at holding up or deterring the thief by stopping the wheel from being turned.
Alarms: Not the frightener they once were. The public routinely ignores a wailing car. It is often better to buy a really cheap pounds 30 or less system and fit the siren inside the car. Now that really does spook a thief and it is the last place they would expect to hear a noise.
Immobilisers 2: Preventing the car from being started makes most thieves' jobs harder. Ignition isolator switches can be bought for a fiver from most car shops and easily wired in or made by a competent DIY mechanic or an electrician. Until the switch is thrown the car won't start. Fitting snap-on connectors to the battery terminals means that they can be easily pulled off. Older cars with distributors have rotor arms inside that can be removed, and no thief carries spares. The drawback with these measures is that it involves getting grubby, so keep a pair of gloves handy.
Common sense: The best way to keep hold of your car is to bear in mind some simple rules and repeat certain mantras like, 'even if I am just parking outside the newsagent for a moment, I will (1) Remove the keys from the ignition; (2) Click the steering lock on; (3) Lock all the doors'. Simple, eh? And if your pride and joy should disappear, be prepared by slipping a business card or note between the window and door, scratch your postcode on plastic trim, all in case you have to lay claim to your car should it turn up later.
All these tips are designed to make the thief think twice and hold them up so that they opt for a softer target.