Car Break-Ins: The Tips That Could Help Keep Your Vehicle Safe

A car is parked next to a large park with a view of the San Francisco skyline. The rear window on the left side of the car has been shattered.

At a press conference held at San Francisco’s Palace of Fine Arts — a particular hotspot for bipping — on Aug. 24, SFPD Chief Bill Scott also warned against leaving luggage in your car, “even for a minute.” Many visitors (and residents chaperoning visitors) will leave their car for a moment to snap a photo, “and they get back and they [were] 50 yards away, and their stuff is gone.”

“This is not about victim shaming at all,” he said, “this is about just being smart. … when there’s nothing there, it makes it harder for crooks to do what they do.”

Leaving aux cables and other jacks on display can also signal to thieves that an electronic device could be close by in the car, Sobhani warns — even if it isn’t.

If you have a hatchback or station wagon, Sobhani advises you to keep your cargo cover open (or you can remove the cover entirely), and the trunk visibly empty. That’s because “one of the most commonly broken windows” she sees in her industry is the small quarter glass on hatchbacks, which thieves will break to be able to pull down a car’s back seat and see what’s in the cargo area.

Assume you and your car are being watched

Often, people will “go out of their way” to lock a purse and a bag in their trunk before leaving their car, says Sobhani — not realizing that someone was watching them do just this.

“Even if you don’t see anyone around (the suspicious look behind you doesn’t help), you should assume that someone with nefarious intentions saw you stash that purse in the trunk,” writes Sobhani, who also mentions that she’s seen this happen to hikers visiting spots like the Berkeley Marina, Tilden Park and other East Bay Regional Parks.

And don’t assume that just because you’re leaving your car for just a minute or two that this isn’t enough time for a thief to strike, and make off with your stuff. It absolutely is.

Shattered glass from a car window covers a street sidewalk. There are two electric scooters parked nearby.
Broken car-window-glass pieces are seen by a curb at San Francisco’s Alamo Square on June 16, 2023. Experts also warn that some thieves keep track of what vehicle owners place in their trunk after they park. ‘You should assume that someone with nefarious intentions saw you stash that purse in the trunk,’ writes car-shop owner Ladan Sobhani. (Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Don’t let any ‘anti-theft’ measures make your car itself more steal-able

Start asking around how folks in the Bay Area try to protect their own car from a robbery, and you might hear things like leaving your windows rolled down or car doors deliberately unlocked — in the hope that a thief might choose to rifle through an open car without breaking a window.

But Janet Ruiz, director of strategic communications at the Insurance Information Institute, warns that, leaving your car essentially open could also just increase the likelihood that your car might get outright stolen instead.

“You really want to protect your car from being stolen,” said Ruiz who also recommends installing a car alarm “and maybe even cameras outside your home that point to your car, as well as keeping your doors and windows locked.” If you have a garage, she says, you’re better off parking your car inside that space — or in a well-lit area in front of your home, if you don’t have a garage.

What is law enforcement doing to reduce car break-ins?

At an Aug. 24 press conference held at San Francisco’s Palace of Fine Arts, police Chief Bill Scott shared that his department plans to increase the number of police officers — both in uniform and plain clothes — across the city to deter break-ins and catch thieves in the act. Popular sightseeing spots like Alamo Square, Lombard Street and Fisherman’s Wharf will now have more of what he referred to as “tourism deployment” of on-duty officers.

What new strategies will SFPD employ to counter thieves? Scott made it clear that he wasn’t “going to go into a whole lot of details, because by design we want the people who are breaking into cars to be caught.”

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