Community Outreach - Preventing Auto Theft


To help protect your vehicle, please review the following information.

More than one million cars, trucks, buses, motorcycles, and trailers are stolen every year. There were over 1.2 million thefts of vehicle contents and almost 1.3 million thefts of accessories from motor vehicles in 1983. The recovery rate for stolen vehicles was 54 percent in the early 1980s compared to 90 percent in the 1960s.

Take the following steps to help protect your property:

  • Park in a well lit area when possible. Avoid leaving your car, truck, or motorcycle in unattended parking lots for long periods of time.

  • Keep your keys in your pocket or purse, not in your desk drawer or locker. Never put an identification tag on your key ring. If your keys are lost or stolen, it could help a thief locate your car or burglarize your home.

  • Lock the car and pocket the key whether you leave for a minute or several hours. Make sure the windows are closed and the trunk is locked. This includes vehicles parked inside your garage; we frequently see reports where vehicles thought to be secured inside a garage are prowled.

  • Do not leave important identification papers in the glove compartment or console.

  • If you have to leave a key with repair shop or a parking lot attendant, leave only the ignition key. It takes very little time to copy a key, and a key to your house, combined with your address information from the vehicle registration, can lead to residential burglaries.

What is a VIN?

Since 1969, the federal government has required manufacturers to engrave a unique number, the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number), on all passenger cars in one visible and several hidden locations. One VIN is engraved on a metal plate on the dashboard near the windshield. When a car is reported stolen, police send its VIN to the FBI's computerized National Crime Information Center.

Make sure your car's VIN and a complete description are recorded and kept in a safe place at home.

When you are buying a new or used car, check the VIN plate and make sure it matches the VIN on the ownership papers.

Special Tips to Protect Bicycles, Motorcycles, and Trail Bikes

  • Mark the vehicle with an identification number recommended by your local law enforcement agency. Your driver's license number, preceded by the two-letter state code that issued the license, is a good choice.

  • Park out of sight in a garage or basement, or use a cover.

  • Always lock your bicycle with a case-hardened chain or cable and lock, winding the cable through the frame and both wheels and then around a fixed object.

  • Watch out for key numbers. Some motorcycle manufacturers stamp the key number on the lock. With this number, anyone can go to a key maker and have a key cut that will fit perfectly. Many key makers do ask for identification, but don't take any chances. Write down your key number and then file it off the lock.

  • Use the fork lock found on most street motorcycles. For extra protection, invest in a heavy U-shaped lock made of extremely hard steel that cannot be hacksawed, or use case-hardened chain and a sturdy padlock.

Special Tips to Protect Trucks and Recreational Vehicles

  • Many specialized vehicles don't have VINs and should be marked with an identification number, such as a driver's license number.

  • Lock up all easy-to-carry items like outboard motors and camping gear before leaving your vehicle.

  • Use secured "toppers" or tool boxes. Don't assume a thief cannot lift a box because it is heavy.

What To Do If It Happens To You

If your car, truck, or bike is stolen or tampered with, report it to the local Police or Sheriff's Office immediately. Stolen vehicles are often used in other crimes. Quick action can not only help recover your vehicle but may also prevent its use for illegal purposes.

How to Avoid Buying a Stolen Vehicle

  • Look for the VIN and compare it to the VIN on the ownership documents.

  • Ask the seller about the vehicle's history and past financing and insurance. Check this information out with the bank or insurance company.

  • Be wary when purchasing used parts for auto repairs. A price that sounds too good to be true might mean that you're indirectly encouraging theft by buying from a "chop shop," a place that purchases stolen cars and dismantles them in order to sell the parts.

For information about traffic safety, visit the Washington State Traffic Safety Commission website