Securing What’s Yours – Deterrents and Trackers to Keep Your Hot Rod or Collector Car Safer
Does it feel like there are more vehicle thefts in our hot rod community these days? Or is it a matter of perspective – word about a stolen vehicle can be shared so quickly and easily through social media, that the problem seems more prevalent? We don’t pay much attention about the ‘regular’ vehicles that are stolen in the country every 40-seconds or so, that is until it’s a race car or hot rod – then we learn about it or on social media and word gets out.
Unfortunately, it was reported recently by the National Insurance Crime Bureau that vehicle thefts have increased considerably the last few years, though there was no breakdown on the percentage of specialty cars and classics. It’s something none of us really wants to think about, but it the reality is that it happens. And it can happen at your home, in a hotel parking lot, storage facilities, gas stations, or even at a shop.
Vintage cars are fairly easy to break into and get started compared to later-model vehicles, though contemporary vehicles are reportedly getting easier for tech-savvy thieves with key cloning capabilities and devices. When it comes to classics and vintage vehicles, thefts are often about parts, since most classics have valuable components that can easily be stripped and sold off individually with few ways of being tracked.
It sucks to even to think about someone stealing your beloved classic or hot rod, but the threat is something you should consider and prepare to combat. Start by understanding your vehicle’s insurance coverage to know what is covered, what’s not, the values covered, and other details. Next, there are different ways to help deter a would-be thief. Note that we use the word “deter,” because there is just not a 100-percent certain way to prevent your car from ever being stolen. There are, however, many steps you can take to make it tougher for a bad guy to be successful.
Common-sense precautions that most of us already know include parking in well-lit areas, locking the doors, and making sure all the windows are rolled up tight. To reduce the chance of break-ins, never leave valuables in sight – even things like a backpack full of cleaning supplies or a child’s digital tablet can lead to a shattered window. Common devices such as a hidden kill switch or conspicuous steering wheel lock are still effective at deterring a thief. Remember, a thief wants to get in and get the heck out as quickly as possible, so any obstacle you put in place can help prevent a theft or a break-in.
We reached out to Josh Grundy of Grundy Insurance about specialty vehicle theft and what additional precautions to consider. “Auto theft is a perpetual issue, and we ask our clients to secure their specialty vehicles in a locked garage, but obviously that’s not going to happen while at a weekend show or road tour,” Grundy says. “Unfortunately, it’s not just your classic car that gets stolen, we’re also seeing many trailers and tow vehicles getting stolen with classic cars inside – and historically, timely recoveries are rare.”
Grundy continued, “Disconnecting the battery while parked, having a kill switch, and even a Club on the steering wheel are all deterrents, but we’re getting more inquiries about tracking devices.” – www.grundy.com
Tracking devices are small devices, that you can hide in your vehicle to track its whereabouts from your phone. If your vehicle is stolen, you can contact the police and share the tracking information. There are easy-to-use devices such as the Samsung Smart Tag and Apple AirTag. Both were developed to help locate your car keys, wallet, your dog or backpack, but their low cost of entry and ease of use make it quick and easy to tag your car. They do have their limits, though; the AirTag, for example, only works with Apple iPhones. There are better tracking solutions available that are designed specifically for automotive use with advanced apps that provide alerts, store history data, and more.
“We’ve looked into several systems and have been using a tracking device from LandAirSea (LAS) with terrific benefits,” Grundy noted. “They’re compact, powerful, and have several built-in features that car owners will like. In fact, we have several of the LAS trackers in our office that we have sent out to clients with exceptionally rare or valuable cars so they can be tracked during transit or at unique events.”
GPS Tracking Systems
Global Positioning System (GPS) technology has been around for decades, with systems now smaller than ever, in addition to being extremely effective and affordable. LandAirSea has been developing products based on GPS technology since 1994 and Robert Wagner, the company president, explained that their technology has helped with a lot of recoveries in automotive theft circles as well as many other markets. “We’ve seen cars and trailers recovered, packages, even pets,” Robert said. “Our LandAirSea 54 GPS trackers are extremely beneficial to classic car owners as the software provides extremely useful data such as alerts to movement, speed, history and other data in the event of a theft.”
The LandAirSea 54 tracker is about the diameter of a mini soda can and a little less than an inch thick. It’s a bit larger than an AirTag, but it’s waterproof, has a long-lasting lithium battery and is mounted on a heavy-duty magnet for easy and hidden installation. Also, unlike the AirTag, the LandAirSea trackers cannot be detected. Sophisticated thieves can use a simple app on their smartphone to detect if there is an AirTag nearby.
Once the LandAirSea SilverCloud app is downloaded and connected, you’ll be able to see your vehicle in real time, track its speed, have the history of movement, monitor the battery condition, and even program a geofence – basically an electronic fence around your vehicle that will set off an alarm on your phone if the vehicle leaves that area.
There are many other GPS trackers on the market, too. Most are targeted toward teen drivers or vehicle fleets. It’s best to do some research to determine a system that fits your needs and be sure to look at the app and check subscription rates. The technology is amazing and affordable enough to have one in your trailer, tow rig, and hot rod.
Keep in mind, a GPS tracker is a helpful tool, but it’s not going to stop your vehicle from being stolen. If thieves know it’s there, it’s likely to act as an effective deterrent. And if they don’t know about it, it can become an effective recovery tool. In short, a tracking system can offer significant peace of mind, but there are still plenty of small steps you can take to lessen the chance of becoming a victim of theft.
A quality lock, especially on trailers, goes a long way in keeping people honest. Functional door locks are important to have, especially for road trips and overnight hotel stays. For trailers, you absolutely must have locks on each of the doors, as well as a hitch lock when connected and a sturdy coupler lock when disconnected.
Tired of having a jostling key ring full of different keys for a confusing number of locks? BOLT Locks can easily be set up to accept your tow rig’s ignition key to reduce the common janitor key ring mess. Not only is that a nice feature, but BOLT offers a number of different style locks from padlocks to receiver locks for trailer hitches. Remember, when parked, a chain routed through the trailer wheels or even a wheel boot count as effective deterrents.
When it comes to adding a layer of security to your classic car, a battery disconnect or hidden kill switch is always a good idea. Again, it may not be prevent 100-percent of thefts, but it will certainly act as an effective deterrent. If a thief can’t start your car, they can’t drive it away.
Flaming River has offered battery disconnect switch systems for years. Primarily, these switches were designed for use in racing applications that mandate a vehicle kill switch or to protect vehicles from fire due to electrical problems, but they also work great as a theft deterrent. One of Flaming River’s extra secure kill switches is the Big Switch 500 with a Lock-Out bracket. This Switch handles up to 500 amps continuous and can be mounted in the trunk, under the hood, or elsewhere to be out of eyesight.
If your car has a bit more of a performance or race feel to it with an aftermarket steering wheel, consider a quick-release steering wheel. These were developed for racers to ease their way in and out of the cockpit but can also work equally as well as a theft deterrent. Simply pop off the wheel and carry it into the hotel or lock it in the trunk! No steering wheel certainly makes it more difficult to drive away.
Fobs for Classics
Chances are good that your daily driver doesn’t even use a key anymore, and if it does, that key is attached to a fob of some sort. Not only are these fobs convenient for unlocking or even starting your vehicle before you get to it, but the keyless versions keep the vehicle from starting unless the fob is nearby.
This is a handy form of vehicle security, but obviously no classic car had this technology from the factory. Thanks to a shrewd aftermarket, there are push-button ignition systems that can be easily retrofitted to an older vehicle.
One new push-button starter system is from Ididit, a proximity sensing system using Smart Entry Exit Recognition technology. Just like a late-model vehicle, the system senses a key tag that you carry and at 15-feet the parking lights flash, at 5-feet it can be used to unlock the doors (if your car is equipped with power locks), and once you’re in the driver’s seat, it readies the electronics so you just push the button to fire up the engine. Trick technology for old cars!
Speedway Motors also offers a Keyless Push-Start Kit that will click into anti-theft mode 15-seconds after the engine is turned off. Once that time is up, the programmed transponder must be activated before the engine will start again. It even has a brake pedal safety feature just like new cars. The kit comes complete with the module, start button with a 2-inch bezel, harness, and loop antenna.
As much as we’d like to tell you that nothing bad will ever happen to your pride and joy, there is just not a 100-percent solution to vehicle theft. However, with a little common sense and precaution, and maybe an aftermarket deterrent or two, you can certainly make it harder on a potential thief. And thanks to modern tech, you can easily track your vehicle’s whereabouts and provide the information to the authorities to increase the chances of a successful recovery.
Be alert, be prepared, and still get out on the road to enjoy your cars!
A Happy Ending
When a classic car is stolen, it’s rare that the owner ever sees their car again. Joe Nichols is one of the rare examples of getting his car, truck, and trailer returned, all within a few hours!
Joe had hauled his custom ’61 Impala from Illinois out to the Seattle, Washington area for a car show in Puyallup back in 2021. He parked his ’01 Ford and enclosed trailer at the hotel and met friends for dinner. When they dropped him off later that night, be checked the locks and had planned to pull the main fuse out of the Ford before he went to bed but forgot. When he got up early to clean the car up, he found the truck, trailer, and car gone!
Local authorities were called and while Joe was filling out paperwork, a call came over the radio from an off-duty officer (who happened to be a car guy) who just saw a group of guys pushing a custom Impala across a street and it even had the tow straps still dangling from the frame. The thieves ditched the truck and trailer at an apartment complex and were pushing Joe’s Impala down an embankment to either hide it, strip it, or to figure out how to get it started.
In the end, bad guys were caught, and Joe was able to get everything back with minimum damage. It is interesting to note that Joe had built a trick, hidden trunk release which housed a battery disconnect switch behind a magnetic panel. The car also had a push-button starter which required a unique key fob to be close by. If the thieves would have been able to figure out how to start the car, it might have been long gone, likely forever.
Thankfully those deterrents thwarted a quick getaway and with a little luck on his side – along with quick-responding authorities – the heist was unsuccessful.