Keep Your Valuables Safe While You're on the Road

Theft Prevention Tips for Road Trippers

Stolen car navigational system
Zmeel Photography / Getty Images

As you get ready for your next road trip, take a few minutes to review our tips for keeping yourself, your car and your valuables safe.

Road Trip Safety Tips

Lock Your Car

This should be an automatic process: Exit your car, check that you have your keys, lock the doors. The most important thing you can do to prevent thieves from stealing your car and your valuables is to lock the doors every time you get out of your car, even if you plan to get back inside within 30 seconds.

Park Smart

You probably wouldn't walk down a dark alley all by yourself, so why would you want to park in a dark, deserted area? Park under a light and choose a space where other people can see your car. Thieves don't like people watching their every move. Do your best to make sure their actions will be noticed.

Keep Valuables and Chargers Out of Sight

The best way to keep your valuables safe is to leave them at home. Of course, you'll probably want your camera and mobile phone with you on your vacation, so you will need to take steps to protect them every day. If you must leave valuable items in your car, keep them out of sight, either in the glove box or (in most areas) in the trunk. This goes for chargers, mounting devices and other accessories, too. A thief who sees your phone charger will assume the phone is also in your vehicle.

Thieves may watch you as you enter or exit your car. If you have valuables in your car, a thief could see you transferring them to your trunk and act accordingly. Thieves have also been known to follow a customer from a store to a car in order to grab recently-purchased items. Stay alert as you walk and lock your car doors as soon as you enter your vehicle.

In areas known for smash-and-grab thefts, put your purse and other valuables into your locked trunk before you start driving. Put your cash, credit and debit cards and travel documents into a money belt or passport pouch and wear it properly. Never leave travel money or documents in your wallet or purse when you travel.

Clean Your Windshield

If your GPS unit mounts onto your windshield with a suction cup device, you will probably see a faint circular mark on the inside of the windshield when you take down your GPS. If you can see it, a thief can, too. That thief might assume that your GPS unit is stored inside your car. Carry window cleaning wipes or pack a bottle of spray cleaner and some paper towels. Use them every day. Alternatively, consider mounting your GPS unit onto another part of your car.

Carry Valuables in High-Theft Areas

The trunk of your car is not always a safe place to store your valuables. Do some research on this topic before you travel so that you don't return to an empty trunk at the worst possible moment. If you cannot leave valuables in your trunk, carry them with you as you explore.

Common Theft and Carjacking Scams

Even thieves can be predictable. Knowing about typical theft and carjacking tactics can help you prepare in advance and know what to do if you see a scam unfolding. Here are some of the best-known theft scams.

Flat Tire Scam

In this scam, thieves place glass or sharp objects at an intersection, then follow you as your tire goes flat and you leave the road. One scammer offers to help, while the other removes valuables from your trunk or the interior of your car.

In another version, the thieves pretend to have a flat tire themselves. As you attempt to help them, one accomplice heads to your vehicle to steal cash and credit cards.

Staged Accident Scam

The staged accident scam works like the flat tire scam. Thieves bump your car with theirs or dart in front of you with a scooter, claiming you hit them. In the resulting confusion, one thief rifles your car.

Help / Directions Scam

This ploy involves at least two thieves. One asks you for directions or help, often with a map as a prop. While you attempt to offer advice, the thief's accomplice grabs items from your car or picks your pocket.

Gas Station Scams

Lock your car at gas stations. While you pump your gas or pay for your purchase, a thief can open your passenger door and remove cash, valuables, credit cards and travel documents. If you leave your keys in your car, the thief can take the vehicle, too. Tip: Take similar precautions at home. Gas station thefts are common in almost every country.

Smash and Grab

Although not a true scam, the smash-and-grab approach is used in many countries. Pedestrians or scooter riders surround your car, making it difficult for you to drive. Suddenly, one thief smashes a car window and starts grabbing purses, cameras and other items.

This scenario assumes you lock your car doors when you drive. In many instances, smash-and-grab artists simply open your car doors and help themselves. To prevent this from happening, lock your doors whenever you get into your car and keep your valuables in the trunk or the locked glove compartment.

The Bottom Line

If you take basic travel safety precautions and keep your car doors locked, you are much less likely to fall victim to petty criminals looking for an easy opportunity. Thieves target their victims and usually avoid stealing from people who are prepared and confident.