Motor Vehicle Security & Safety Tips


Motor vehicle theft is a serious problem in many parts of the world. In the United States, the annual loss from car theft is over $4 billion. The Automotive Information Council reports that over one million motor vehicles are stolen in the U.S. each year. That’s one motor vehicle theft every 31 seconds. For a variety of reasons, some motor vehicles have a greater probability of being stolen than others. Motor Vehicle Theft Prevention Recommendations

  • Lock it and pocket the keys. Nearly 20% of all vehicles stolen had the keys in them. Remember to lock the trunk, the hatchback or the tailgate of a station wagon or sport utility vehicle (SUV).
  • If your motor vehicle is an older model, replace standard door lock buttons with tapered ones. These replacements are inexpensive and much more difficult to pry up.
  • Don’t leave motor vehicle registration, insurance policies, credit cards or other important papers in a vehicle’s glove compartment.
  • If you use a self-service gasoline stations or convenience stores, don’t leave the keys in the vehicle when you go inside to pay your bill.
  • Don’t place a mini-replica of a license plate or personal identification on a vehicle’s key ring.
  • Consider installing safety security film on the windows. With the film added to the glass, the window will be 300% to 400% stronger. Intruders must cut their way through the glass, thus taking more time. The safety film is clear and reflects up to 98% of the sun’s ultraviolet rays.
  • Never hide a second set of keys in the vehicle. Extra keys can easily be found if the thief takes time to look. Store a spare key in your wallet.
  • If possible, avoid parking next to vans, pick-ups, and other large vehicles. These large vehicles can "hide" your vehicle and make it more difficult for others to observe.
  • When parking along a curb, angle the front wheels sharply to the left or right, making it difficult for the thief to tow it away. Wheels should also be turned to the side in driveways and parking lots.
  • If your vehicle is rear-wheel drive, back into your driveway. Rear wheels lock on four-wheel drive vehicles, making them difficult to tow. Front-wheel drive vehicles should be parked front end first.
  • Periodically check your license plates to make sure they haven’t been stolen, switched or altered.
  • Join Operation Identification and engrave your driver’s license number or social security number in several concealed places on, or in your motor vehicle. Drop a business card into the window channel, beneath the seat or behind the dash panel.
  • Engrave batteries, wheel covers and car stereos with either your driver’s license number or social security number preceded by your state’s initials.
  • Don’t invite a vehicle break-in by leaving packages or valuables (radar detectors, cellular phones, compact disc players, etc.) in sight. Take valuables with you, put them under the seat or lock them in the trunk.
  • Whenever possible, park in well lighted and busy areas.
  • Whenever possible, park in an attended lot. Motor vehicle thieves do not like witnesses and prefer unattended parking lots.
  • When you park in an attended lot, leave only the ignition/door key. If your trunk and glove box use the same key as the door, have one of them changed. Leaving the ignition key with the attendant, retain all others and be sure the key number does not appear on the key that is left.
  • On cold mornings, never leave your motor vehicle running while it is unattended, in order to warm up.
  • For each vehicle you own or lease, record the following information and keep it in a safe location (not in the vehicle):
  • Make and Model
  • Model Year
  • Registration Number (Plate)
  • Vehicle Identification Number (VIN)
  • Color
  • Name of Insurance Company and Agent
  • Engine Size
  • Any Peculiarities of Vehicle (dents, pin stripes, etc.)
  • Key Number
  • Avoid transferring items to the trunk of a vehicle where it is to be parked. A thief may be watching. Checkbooks, credit cards or other credentials which a thief could misuse should not be left in a motor vehicle.
  • Park as close as possible to an open business.
  • If you have a garage, use it. Lock your garage door. Also lock your vehicle doors, even when it’s in the garage.
  • When going out of town and leaving your motor vehicle, if possible, remove the electronic ignition fuse, rotor distributor or the coil wire.
  • If you see a disabled motor vehicle, don’t stop. Instead, drive to a nearby telephone and inform the police of the vehicle’s location.
  • If your vehicle becomes disabled, attach a white handkerchief to the door handle or window, lock the doors and stay inside the vehicle. If someone stops to help, do not open your door or window. Ask the person to please go to a telephone and call for help.
  • Possibly use cane type steering wheel locks. The metal cane hooks around the brake pedal on one end, and around the steering wheel rim or spoke on the other. The device is drawn tight and locked with a key.
  • You may also use a temporary snap lock which fits over the bulge in the steering column of late-model American cars, where the ignition switch is, and prevent the ignition from being turned on.
  • Don’t disconnect the buzzer that warns of keys left in the ignition. It’s for your protection.
  • Possibly use a locking gas cap, not only to prevent theft of gasoline, but to limit a thief to the amount of driving he can do on one tank.
  • There are special locks made for various marketable parts of cars. Battery locks or wheel cover locks may save these items.
  • If your vehicle is not already equipped with one, install an interior hood release.
  • Install different locks for the door, ignition and trunk. A thief who might obtain your vehicle’s door key still won’t have the ignition key.


Anti-theft devices are not foolproof, but they can stop the amateur and slow down the professional. The longer it takes to steal a car, the more attention the thief attracts, and the more likely the thief will look elsewhere. Anti-theft devices include those listed below.

  • Fuel Shut-Off: This blocks gasoline flow until a hidden switch is tripped. The vehicle can only be driven a short distance, until the fuel already in the carburetor is used up.
  • Kill Switch: The vehicle will not start unless a hidden switch is activated. The switch prevents electrical current from reaching the coil or carburetor. Check your vehicle warranty before installing a "kill switch." Some warranties prohibit installation of these devices, and doing so nullifies the warranty. In such cases, there is a possibility that a STARTER BYPASS SWITCH could be used without affecting the warranty.
  • Time Delay Switch: The driver must turn the ignition key from "on" to "start" after a precise, preset interval or the engine won’t turn over.
  • Armored Ignition Cut-Off: A second tamper proof lock must be operated in order to start the car. "Hot wiring" (starting a car without a key) is very difficult with this device, so it is especially effective against amateur thieves.
  • Hood Locks: These make it difficult to get to the battery, engine, or vehicle security system.
  • Time Delay Fuse: Unless a concealed switch is turned off, starting the vehicle causes a sensitive fuse to burn out, cutting out power and stopping the motor.
  • Armored Collar: A metal shield that locks around the steering column and covers the ignition, the starter rods and the steering wheel interlock rod.
  • Crook Lock: A long metal bar with a hook on each end to lock the steering wheel to the brake pedal.
  • Audible Alarm Systems: These alarm systems are positioned in the engine to set off a buzzer, bell or siren if an attempt is made to tamper with the hood, bypass the ignition system, or move the vehicle without starting the engine. Choose a system with its own power source, and be sure it turns off and resets automatically after six to 10 minutes. Keys or code numbers to the alarm should never be given to parking lot attendants or valets. (Do not try to fool a thief with an alarm decal when no alarm exists.)
  • VIN Etching: VIN Etching is a process by which a vehicle’s Identification Number (VIN) is permanently etched (with a non-corrosive gel) into the major windows of an automobile, truck or van. When a motor vehicle has had its windows permanently etched or engraved, a thief would be forced to replace all of the vehicle’s windows to resell or change the vehicle’s identity. Some motor vehicle insurance companies will offer a premium discount up to 15% when the vehicle’s windows have been permanently etched.


When purchasing a motor vehicle, particularly a used vehicle, consider the following precautions:

  • When buying a used car, seek out a reputable and established dealership. When buying from a private individual, be wary of a seller with no fixed address or telephone.
  • Be cautious of the low priced bargain vehicle, an deal that seems "too good to be true."
  • Beware of fast sell pressures.
  • Be cautious of a seller with no fixed address, place of employment or phone numbers.
  • Check the license plates —— their physical condition should match the condition of the vehicle.
  • Check the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) —— generally located at the base of the windshield on the driver’s side. Be cautious if it shows signs of tampering or alteration. Match the numbers shown against the numbers on the owner’s title and registration.
  • Check to insure the VIN plate has not been repainted and the numbers stamped on the plate appear to be original factory numbers.
  • Ensure the VIN plate rivets are original. All 1970 and newer vehicles produced in North America have stainless steel "rosette" rivets with six petals and a hole in the middle. They bare difficult to scratch with a knife.
  • Be suspicious of fresh paint on a vehicle.
  • Check the ignition keys, door locks and ignition locks for signs of tampering, abuse or replacement. Always insist on at least one set of original manufacturer’s keys.
  • Examine windows and vents for any evidence of forced entry and be wary of any major repair or repainting.
  • Complete all paperwork at the time of sale. Pay by check or money order which can serve as a receipt and always require a dated, witnessed bill of sale that contains all pertinent information and serial numbers, along with the sworn odometer statement that is required by law before title and licensing.
  • Make certain the driver’s door contains a Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard Label. This label is often called a mylar sticker, and it contains the Vehicle Identification Number. Presence of the label is required by law.
  • Beware of a loose dashboard.
  • If you are selling a motor vehicle, never allow a person to test drive the vehicle alone. Ask to see an interested buyer’s drivers license, and write down the name, address, drivers license number, etc.
  • An excessively loose ignition switch may indicate tampering. Check the switch for chisel or pull marks.
  • If the seller provides only re-made keys, not original manufacturer’s keys, for a newer model car, be suspicious.
  • Compare the engine identification number with all other numbers to insure a match.


The National Highway Traffic Safety administration found that in 1996 aggressive driving was at least partly responsible for two-thirds of the nation’s 41,907 traffic deaths. A report from the American Automobile Association Foundation for Traffic Safety found a 7% yearly increase from 1990 to 1996 in the number of drivers or passengers who intentionally killed or injured other drivers in traffic disputes. Some law enforcement agencies are deploying unmarked vans with video equipment to tape aggressive drivers in the act. The federal Department of Transportation has initiated. Who Are They?

  • These high risk drivers climb into the anonymity of an automobile and take our their frustrations on anybody at anytime.
  • For them, frustration levels are high and level of concern for fellow motorists is low.
  • They run stop signs and red lights, speed, tailgate, weave in and out of traffic, pass on the right, make improper and unsafe lane changes, make hand and facial gestures, scream, honk, and flash their lights.
  • They drive at speeds far in excess of the norm which causes them to: follow too closely, change lanes frequently and abruptly without notice (signals), pass on the shoulder or unpaved portions of the roadway, and leer at and/or threaten verbally or through gestures - motorists who are thoughtless enough to be in front of them.
When Confronted by an Aggressive Driver:
  • First and foremost, make every attempt to get out of the way.
  • Put your pride in the back seat. Do not challenge them by speeding up or attempting to hold-your-own in your travel lane.
  • Wear your seat belt. It will hold you in your seat and behind the wheel in case you need to make an abrupt driving maneuver and it will protect you in a crash.
  • Avoid eye contact.
  • Ignore gestures and refuse to return them.
  • Report aggressive drivers to the appropriate authorities by providing a vehicle description, license number, location, and if possible, direction of travel.
  • If you have a cellular phone, and can do it safely, call the police.
  • If an aggressive driver is involved in a crash farther down the road, stop a safe distance from the crash scene, wait for the police to arrive, and report the driving behavior that you witnessed.


Car accident scams have become an increasing problem. The purpose of these scams or frauds are to cheat insurance companies, collectively, out of millions of dollars in claims each year. The perpetrators in the car accident scams use various schemes to crash into, or be crashed into by unsuspecting motorists:

  • "Swoop-and-squat." -- A team of as many as three cars surrounds a motor vehicle on a freeway; two "swoop" in front, while a third blocks the victim’s vehicle on the side. Then the first car in front stops suddenly, as does the second, and the victim’s vehicle hits the second from the rear. By the time the police arrive, the first car - which actually caused the crash- has left the scene.
  • "Drive-down." -- The driver with the right of way waves an unsuspecting driver forward, but then accelerates so the driver collides with him, making the legitimate motorist seem at fault.
  • "Start-and-stop." -- The driver begins to move forward after stopping at a light or signal, but suddenly jams on this brakes in the intersection, causing the innocent driver behind to rear-end him. The perpetrators of this scam target vehicles that are likely to be insured, such as commercial trucks or sports utility vehicles, and drivers who are less likely to protest, such as seniors or women who are driving alone at night. The passengers in the perpetrator’s vehicle are sent to dishonest doctors or chiropractors to run up medical costs, even if the "patients" are not hurt and often not even treated. The passengers are then directed to a lawyer who files suit against the insurance company for medical costs and pain and suffering. In most cases, the insurance company settles the claim The Insurance Research Council says that between $520 million and $630 million is paid annually in claims for staged accidents.
If a person is involved in a motor vehicle accident, a combination of several characteristics may indicate that it was staged. Ask yourself:
  • Did the vehicle in front slam on its brakes for no apparent reason?
  • Remember to ALWAYS keep a safe distance from the car in front of you.
  • Was there a "phantom" vehicle, animal, or child that nobody else saw?
  • Did you collide with an older "gas guzzler" that had prior damage?
  • Do the occupants in the suspect car downplay their injuries?
  • Try to recall whether they were wearing their seatbelts.
  • Are they anxious for the police not to show up?
  • Call the police and your insurance company and express your suspicion in the report.
  • Does the driver have good I.D. or is it a temporary license with no picture?
  • Always compare the photo with the driver and copy down all information.
  • Is the car properly registered and does the driver possess proof of insurance?


Recently, there has been a significant amount of publicity about carjacking. It has become one of the nation’s newest violent crimes. Carjacking is the term for a crime where a motor vehicle is taken from a person either by force or threat of force. It is more serious than auto theft because the victim is present during the crime. Why Is Carjacking Increasing?

  • Parked cars, especially luxury models, equipped with sophisticated built-in alarm systems and theft deterrent devices, are becoming more difficult to steal.
  • Thieves find it much easier to steal a motor vehicle while the owner is there, with the key in the ignition, than it is to break into a locked vehicle, especially if it has an alarm.
  • According to FBI statistics, nearly 1.7 million vehicle valued at over $8 billion were stolen in the U.S. in 1994. Arrest were made in less than 15% of these thefts.
  • Some of the vehicles were cut up for parts. Others are stolen to be exported and sold. Many are stolen simply because the thief wants to take a joy ride.
Facts about Carjacking
  • Carjackings take place very quickly. Most only take 15 to 20 seconds to complete.
  • Carjackings can be violent. Drivers have been beaten or even murdered while being pulled out of their car.
  • Carjackers are usually armed —— either with a gun or knife.
  • Carjackings may first involve a minor vehicle accident. The victim’s vehicle is "bumped" at a stop sign, red light or interstate off ramp. When they exit their vehicle to check the damage, the carjacker may display a weapon and take the vehicle.
  • Other carjackings occur at stop signs or lights. The carjacker may approach the vehicle, display a weapon and order the victim out of his/her vehicle.
  • Or as a victim is pulling into a parking space, a second vehicle may block the victim’s vehicle and a passenger from the suspect’s vehicle gets out and commits the carjacking;
  • Or as a victim is entering or exiting their vehicle, the suspect may be standing close by, be in a parked vehicle, hiding by other parked vehicles or buildings, etc.
Anybody Can be a Target While most carjackers look for sleek, powerful luxury model cars to steal and sell, others will go after any easy target of opportunity, sometimes just stealing on an impulse for a joy ride. How to Avoid Being Carjacked While there is no guaranteed way to avoid being carjacked, certain precautions can be taken to reduce or minimize the potential. While Driving Your Vehicle
  • Plan your route - try not to travel alone
  • Don’t drive in unfamiliar areas, avoid trouble spots
  • Keep your doors locked and windows up
  • Avoid high crime areas, especially after dark
  • Look in the rear view mirror often
  • Observe 180 degrees around you
  • Keep packages, purse, etc. on the vehicle floor rather than on the seat where they are easier to see.
  • Be observant as you approach an area or intersection
  • If a suspicious looking person approaches your vehicle, drive away carefully - even if you must go through a traffic light.
  • Don’t "drift off" when stopped - Stay Alert.
  • If you are driving home, and there is someone walking down the street you don’t recognize, drive around the block and come back after that person has left.
  • If bumped from behind, motion for the other driver to follow, drive to the nearest Police/Fire 24 hour station. Notify the Police.
  • When stopping to use outside phones, or ATM’s, choose a well-lighted and highly visible area
  • Keep your vehicle in good working order and with plenty of gas.
  • Don’t stop to help stranded drivers - call the police for them.
  • When stopping in traffic, leave enough distance between your vehicle and the one in front of you, so you can pull away quickly if necessary.
If Confronted While Stopped
  • Don’t panic
  • Avoid verbal/physical confrontation
  • If pulled from your car or confronted while in your car, cooperate - move away quickly
  • Walk/run away from the immediate area
  • Call the Police immediately
  • If you have a cellular phone, call for help
  • Give a description of your car and the suspect(s).
Option to Consider Have a plan - do something, just don’t sit there.
When confronted by a suspect(s):
  • Drive away with caution - usually a right turn is safest. If traffic prohibits this, use the sidewalk or yard, etc.
  • Be extra cautious when someone approaches your car and asks you for information. If you must talk to them, do so with the window up, the doors locked and ready to drive away if necessary.
  • Call the police immediately.
Getting Out of Your Vehicle
  • Carry an additional personal safety device or alarm
  • Park in a well-lighted area
  • Park near a main aisle
  • Park in an outside parking lot with an attendant if possible
  • If you suspect something is wrong, don’t stop
  • Always park where you have a 360 degree view around you
  • Be aware of your surroundings before you get out
  • Use your auto alarm, if you have one, as a personal safety device
  • Roll up your windows before parking
  • Leave your doors locked until you have observed your surroundings and are ready to exit your vehicle
  • Take your keys with you and have them ready in your hand
  • Move quickly away from your car
  • At home, make sure the garage door is down before exiting
  • Keep your car in working order at all times
If Confronted Getting Out of Your Vehicle
  • Avoid verbal/physical confrontations
  • Cooperate - move away quickly
  • Walk/run away from the immediate area
  • Call the Police immediately
  • Give the car description
  • Give the suspect description
  • If at all possible, never go with the suspect(s)
  • Remember, the primary rule: "If a gunman wants your car, give it up."
Getting Into Your Vehicle
  • Park in a well-lighted area at night
  • Be aware of your surroundings - 360 degrees
  • Appear confident and assertive
  • Walk with someone to your car (friend, co-workers, escort)
  • Keep a free hand when approaching your car
  • Have your keys ready
  • Separate your car keys from other keys in case you need to go back to a place of safety.
  • Look for anyone near your car or near you.
  • Check the exterior of your car
  • Check the interior of your car before entering
  • At home, lock car doors before opening the garage door to leave
  • Use your auto alarm, if you have one, as a personal safety device
  • Carry an additional personal safety device or alarm
  • Safely place your children in the car, lock the door, and then secure them in their car seat or seat belt.
  • Keep your car in working order at all times (tires, fluids, oil, maintenance, etc.)
  • Never let the gas tank get below half full
If Confronted Getting Into Your Vehicle
  • Avoid any verbal/physical confrontations
  • Cooperate ——> move away quickly away from your car
  • Walk/run away from the immediate area
  • Call the police immediately
  • Give the car description
  • Give the suspect(s) description
Always Remember
  • Anyone can be a victim
  • Your safety is your responsibility
  • Have a plan and share it with your passengers
  • If at all possible, never go with the suspect(s)
  • If a gunman wants your car, give it up. It’s not worth your life!
  • If or when an incident occurs, only you can make a decision as to what action to take. Every situation is different and must be evaluated accordingly. Remember your safety is most important.


There has been a huge growth in the number of cellular telephones being used in motor vehicles in recent years. Such cellular communication equipment can either be completely portable, mounted permanently in a vehicle (mobile) or a combination of mounted and portable. Cellular telephones in motor vehicles may be for personal pleasure or convenience, for business or for the primary purpose of safety and security. Every day there are examples of cellular telephones being used to call for assistance in the event of a vehicle breakdown or other personal emergency, to contact police and other emergency personnel, and to report drunk drivers, auto accidents and criminal activity. The use of cellular telephones can also be distracting and directly or indirectly lead to motor vehicle accidents. The following are a number of tips or recommendations for talking and driving safety:

  • Make sure your cellular telephone is positioned where it is easy to see and easy to reach. Be familiar with the operation of the telephone, so you are comfortable using it on the road.
  • It is best to dial the telephone when the vehicle is not moving, such as at a stop sign or stop light.
  • Use a hands-free microphone while driving.
  • Use the speed dialing feature to program in frequently called numbers. This enables the user to make a call by touching only one or two buttons. Most telephones will store up to 99 numbers.
  • Never take notes while driving. Pull off the road to jot something down. If it’s a telephone number, many mobile phones have an electronic scratch pad that allows keying in a new number while having a conversation.
  • Let the wireless network’s voice mail pick up calls when its inconvenient or unsafe to answer the car phone. You can even use your voice mail to leave yourself reminders.
  • Use the voice activated dialing feature - where available - to place a call so you don’t have to dial. To use it, you simply have to say the name, such as "home" or "office" to be immediately connected to personal directory listings.
  • Be a "Cellular Samaritan." Dialing 911 is usually free for cellular subscribers. Use it to report crimes in progress or other potentially life-threatening emergencies, accidents or drunk driving.

Beaufort County Sheriff's Office

2001 Duke St

Beaufort, South Carolina 29902


Phone: 843-255-3200

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