I walked by a parked Hyundai the other day and was hit with a wave of nostalgia – the automotive equivalent of Proust's encounter with the madeleines in Remembrance of Things Past. There, rigged across the steering wheel, was an original bright red "The Club." Around since the mid-1980s, the Club was one of the auto industry's most famous forays into theft deterrence. It was a rudimentary mechanism – when locked into the wheel, the Club made it almost impossible to steer. You don't see too many of them these days. The only thing that would give me a more retro feel would be a handwritten sign on the dashboard that read, "You've already stolen the stereo, jerk."
While some still cling to the Club, most 21st-century drivers rely on electronic sensors, alarms and electronic manufacturer immobilizers to protect their precious automobiles and yet, cars still get stolen and it costs us plenty. According to the Insurance Bureau of Canada, the costs associated with automobile theft come close to $1-billion annually. That figure includes $542-million for insurers to fix or replace stolen vehicles and $250-million in related expenses such as law enforcement and court system costs.
It makes you wonder if it's not the alarm systems that are the problem. It might have something to do with the drivers.
When it comes to car theft, there are three kinds of drivers. Those who are paranoid about their cars being stolen, those who are in denial about the risk of their cars being stolen and those who are praying their cars get stolen.
My high-school drama teacher was in the third category. He routinely left his keys in the ignition of his unlocked car. It was a beater and his attitude was, "Hey, if someone is willing to go to the trouble of stealing my car, they must really need it."
The second category of drivers is epitomized by what I call the "warmer-uppers." These folks hate being cold, so they turn their cars on in the driveway to heat up and then go back inside to finish their morning coffee. The car thief walks by, sees a running car with a warm interior and thinks, "I should steal this." And then he does.
In the world of self-help, this is called enabling. Not only are you leaving your keys in the car, you've saved the would-be thief the trouble of starting it. It's such an inviting scenario. I'm sure many of the people who steal running cars have never stolen anything before in their lives. They just can't resist.
In terms of courting disaster, leaving your car running with the keys in the ignition is up there with slathering yourself with honey and then punching a bear.
As for the first category, I can't relate to drivers who live in mortal terror of their vehicles being stolen. They position them as close as they can to the parking-lot attendant. They have their cars rigged with the latest crime-fighting technology. If you drive a Lotus or a Lamborghini I get it, but then again, if you can afford a luxury ride and it is stolen, all that would happen is you'd high-five your insurance agent, buy another and have a great story to tell your millionaire friends over caviar and Grey Goose.
I'm not immune. I'm just not obsessed. I don't want anyone to steal my car but, then again, I drive a 2010 Dodge Grand Caravan. On a metaphysical level, it's like watching The Shining and then volunteering to be caretaker of the Overlook Hotel. If someone stole my anti-Porsche, I know exactly what would happen. The minivan's midlife crisis free-floating anxiety and existential despair would infect them. An hour or so later, police would find the poor bastard pulled over by the side of the road curled up in the fetal position with Hall and Oates's Greatest Hits Live playing on a loop.
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