A resource for consumers, locksmiths, and security professionals.
Posted On by Ralph Goodman
Classic cars are more at risk than almost any other type of car. That is a fact that I will prove with the available statistics and first-hand accounts of automotive theft experts. It is not a claim I make lightly. In fact, it was a theory that I was willing to abandon if the evidence did not bear it out. But it turned out to be true that if you have a classic car, it is more likely to be stolen, more difficult to recover, and much easier to steal than modern cars. And once you know just how at risk your classic car is, you need to address the security mistakes most people make with their classic cars.
Before we get into the types of mistakes that classic car owners make, there is some context that should be given for these types of crimes. It is important to know some of the general facts about car theft to get a sense of what classic car owners should be worried about.
Between 2014 and the most current FBI crime report (2015) there has been an increase in automotive theft as well as an uptick in motor vehicle theft in general. However, the largest increase, as well as the overall number of recorded thefts, comes in the category of standard automobiles. The latest number of stolen vehicles is 494,782. This is compared to the already high number of 473,809, recorded in 2014.
The overall theft rate for cars was 169.3 per one hundred thousand people. In nonmetropolitan counties, we see the lowest theft rate with 57.1 (13,439 thefts) down 1.2 since last year. In metropolitan and suburban areas there was an increase of thefts with total reported stolen vehicles 74,189 and 135,105 respectively.
What about the classics?
It is true that car theft has decreased in recent decades. We see this trend beginning about two decades ago. This is largely due to the upgrades in technology. But when it comes to classic cars, we are looking at vehicles manufactured before the widespread implementation of the technology that has contributed to the overall decline in car thefts.
There are many professional car opening tools that people can readily purchase. For modern cars, the easiest way into a locked car is with a wedge and probe. Once the car is opened, most of the time, highly advanced software and hardware is used to trick the vehicle’s onboard computer. This is because of how advanced cars have become. Hot wiring and ignition bypasses have become largely impractical, if not impossible, over the years.
What about the classics?
In the case of classic cars, there are very few outdated theft methods. In fact, the older your car is, the more methods of unlawful entry there are likely to be. Products such as auto jigglers and tryout keys that work like the bump keys for cars are often very effective on older automobiles. Slim Jims and other closed doorway tools are likely to exist, and might open cars easier the older they are. And when it comes to lock picking, the older cylinders provide very little security.
The FBI crime reports detail their recovery rates in terms of monetary value. So out of $4,550,267,741 worth of locally stolen cars, they had a total recovery of $2,646,912,427. This is a 58.2% chance of recovery. Then it would stand to reason that getting your car back after it is stolen is left up to about the chance of a coin toss.
This rate of recovery is largely due to location tracking devices that are commonly installed in modern cars. Among a group of stolen vehicles, it only takes one LoJacked automobile to see that the whole lot is returned. The high chance of your LoJacked vehicle being recovered also skews the overall recovery figures on other reported numbers.
What about the classics?
A Police Officer with over three decades of law enforcement experience, 18 years of which was spent specializing in auto theft, says that classic cars have a much lower chance of recovery than modern vehicles. He says:
There have been 400 classic cars stolen in our area since 2008, and those are the ones we know about. The recovery rate? One and a half percent. Those cars are gone, most probably forever.
The reason for this has a lot to do with how these cars are targeted. A modern car is stolen for parts, meaning that it is a numbers game that makes the most popular models the most likely to be stolen. Classic cars are picked when there is a buyer in mind. The high value of the sale makes VIN replacement and other extreme preparation measures very likely. The level of expertise and knowledge classic car criminals have is much more extensive than that of the common criminal.
There are many reasons to change your door lock cylinders, but a very uncommon concern is to replace outdated locks. This is not so uncommon for classic car owners. Most of the older models of the more popular car brands have tryout keys readily available for public purchase. These are keys that anyone can buy that will open the doors to your car and even start the vehicle.
If you are looking to keep all of the original parts or just keep the vintage feel of those old keys, there are still ways that you can upgrade your locks. Consider having an automotive locksmith take a look at your lock, and see if there is a way to re-pin (or re-wafer) the cylinder so that it is more secure against these forms of covert and surreptitious thefts.
If the internals of the cylinder cannot be upgraded, perhaps the door components can at least be shielded against closed door entry tools. In the most extreme cases using a transponder key system within your classic car’s ignition cylinder would keep the car from being picked to start, starting with a false key, and even stop old school slide hammer attacks from being successful.
If there is no way for you to comfortably change the locks on your car or upgrade them, then it is imperative to get an alarm. But in either case, an alarm is a great baseline of protection. It allows you to respond when there is a detected threat to your classic car. The biggest issue that most classic car owners have is not wanting a third party alarm to ruin the aesthetic of their car. Flashing blue LEDs can warn a burglar not to try to break into your car, but you don’t want to drill into your dashboard and install one.
There are several workarounds for these types of concerns. First off, you could have your car alarm installed covertly. This would not advertize the presence of an alarm, so you would not benefit from the potentially preemptive discouragement. If you are mainly concerned with the invasiveness of things like LED lights, you can have these installed without drilling and placed somewhere more out of the way. With these types of alarm installations, the light is less visible during the day but can shine quite brightly at night.
One of the most important things to consider in an alarm system is what is the best way to be alerted. Standard car alarms that use a siren have a high chance of being ignored due to alarm fatigue. This is a phenomena that results from so many car alarms being incorrectly programed. False alarms are so regular that most bystanders do not find alarms very alarming. This can be overcome by having an alarm that notifies you of an issue via your text or push notification. And you may also choose to have your alarm professionally programed, or adjust the sensitivity yourself, to reduce the number of false alarms.
Where you keep your classic car is extremely important to the overall security of the vehicle. The greater the security of your storage location, the better your classic car will be protected. It might be a bit of industry basis, but when it comes to storage locations, I think you should begin your security considerations with your locks. On your perimeter entry doors, you want deadbolts, and you want those deadbolts to withstand as much force as possible. You can look into some of the most trusted door lock manufacturers and find the right fit for your door.
If you are looking to secure your garage door itself, you might want to look into purchasing a good padlock and using a hasp to keep anyone from just opening the garage door. When it comes to storing classic cars in storage units, as many people do, I would recommend choosing from one of the best storage lock options available. Once you have the right locks on the long term storage location, it is time to worry about how you park it when you are out and about.
Make sure to always park in a well-lit area. The more in public, the better. You do not want to isolate your car. Try to keep it as close as possible so that you can reach it relatively quickly when an issue is detected. Public parking is about accessibility and visibility. If it is easy to intervene once a threat is detected, then the car is safer.
Because classic car thieves are often a higher caliber of criminal, there is a chance they will have the skills and tools to bypass or overcome some pretty high security. You will certainly be discouraging many potential car thieves by using many layers of security, but having GPS tracking for your classic car increases the chance of recovering the vehicle if it is ever stolen.
This is the most likely security measure to not be used by classic car owners. In fact, for most car owners, if the vehicle does not already come with LoJack installed, there is a very rare chance the effort will be put forth to install a third party tracking system. This is because most people do not consider this a security measure. They consider it an unnecessary precaution, as it would only be needed if the car is ever stolen.
If your car is stolen, this is the only security that will matter. And when it comes to classic cars, without this security, once your car is stolen, there is almost no chance of getting it back. The main decision is whether to have the GPS locator separate from the alarm. Using two different devices is sure to confuse thieves and require them to know how to disable both devices. And it is likely that they will try to deactivate them if they can find them. So I would recommend going to the lengths of concealing your tracking unit.
Many classic car owners chose to use old school security measures. These include items such as steering wheel locks and gearshift locks. Some even rely exclusively on classic security features of the car, which could be anything from deadlock features (such as those used on some classics and soon to be classic BMWs) to battery cutoff switches/kill switches. The issue with these methods, is that car thieves have been dealing with them for decades.
When it comes to what is factory standard, there is almost no chance that the thief will not know about it. Chances are, they have targeted this car and done their research on its standard security. Most any type of lock made for car specifically is not high-security enough to prevent cutting attacks. That is to say, a classic car thief will anticipate the pre-installed security of the car, and have the tools to remove interior security locks.
You can certainly use locks on your steering wheel and gearbox, but they should not be relied upon exclusively. Even if your gear box lock is one of the strangest locks, its uniqueness is not enough to protect your car. Using any deadlock type features on your car is also fine, it is just not enough by itself. Kill switches are almost never effective security unless they are hidden or complicated to use, neither of which is the case when it is installed by the manufacturer. You cannot rely solely on the security of the past, even if it does fit with your car’s motif.
If your car door locks have been improved, the only way for a criminal to get in quick enough to not give you enough to respond to the alarm is to break a window. If your classic car uses standard glass instead of security glass, this will be very easy. Car thieves carry items like window punches, which will shatter an entire pane of glass with a single (and safe for the user) press of a button.
All side windows should use window glass that has a plastic or laminate layer, which protects the glass from fully shattering. With high enough quality security glass, trying to break the window out with a brick will even prove difficult. But it is unlikely that a classic car thief will want to use extreme force on the vehicle. Due to the nature of the stolen classic car market, it is against the thieves best interest to damage the car they are stealing. A broken window can be replaced, but a dented door or damaged hinge will want to be avoided.
There are also certain window films that can be placed over the glass, which will give the same effect as security glass. This could potentially save you the hassle of trying to find the right size glass for a very rare classic car. This security film works very similarly to tinting film, but it will not change the appearance of the existing glass. These films can also prevent markers and knives from leaving a lasting mark on the glass. This benefits the appearance as well as the security of the car.
Now that you know the risks that your classic car is facing and the security mistakes most people make, it is time to increase your security. There is no need to keep your vehicle’s security in the same area it was made in. Classic cars are awesome, and so is classic security. Unfortunately, classic security just does not measure up to the concerns of the modern era. Don’t let your classic ride get taken by some thief. Protect your classic car, and drive safe.