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I don't want to encourage paranoia, but I do want to encourage
you to think, perhaps even "outside the box." And I can
think of no more confining or dangerous a box than the one
whose sides are made of: "It can't happen here" and whose
 lid consists of: "It can't/won't happen to me."
                                                 David Jefferson Bean


On this page:
Important Points About Carjacking (Bad News)| Important Points About Carjacking (Good News)| Tips #1: Wear Seatbelt | #2: Leave Space In Front | #3: Lock your Doors | #4: Keep Your Windows Up | #5: Look Around | #6: Time Yourself | #7: Move Away | #8:Throw Keys | #9:Theft Insurance | #10:Tracking Device | #11: Don't Fight | Factors that Make Carjackings More Dangerous

Carjacking is a relatively new breed as crimes go. Using violence to hijack commercial trucks filled with goods has been around ever since the wheel was invented. While it is pretty safe to assume that the first car was stolen shortly after the automobile was invented, car theft has normally been a nonviolent property crime. Until carjacking came around.

These days, many, if not most, car thefts are committed by organized rings. Stealing cars is big business. In fact, it has become not only interstate, but international -- worth billions of dollars a year. It casts a massive shadow that extends from the legitimate (insurance companies, shipping companies and car dealerships) to questionable (shady auto body shops, junkyards and auto parts suppliers) to avowed criminals (gangs, drug- and illegal-alien-running cartels).

Car theft rings often recruit gang members and pay them upwards of $1,000 for what is, in effect, an hour's "work." They are sent out to steal a certain type of car. An industrious pack of nonviolent thieves can gather several cars in one day, netting upwards to $10,000 for a days work.

With carjacking, however, acquiring a car becomes just a few seconds of "work" and without telltale signs of break-in.

The 1995 Honda Civic was the most-stolen car during 2004, according to statistics from the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

Of the top 10 most-stolen vehicles, six were Japanese brands. All four domestic vehicles on the list are light trucks, including one minivan. The NICB statistics are based on data from the FBI Uniform Crime Report.

Popularity and longevity have a lot to do with a vehicle's attractiveness as a theft target. Not only are there more vehicles available to steal, but as cars get older they require parts more frequently, creating demand for parts from stolen cars.

Types of vehicles stolen can vary by the region and state. For example, the 1999 Bombardier Ski-Doo snowmobile was one of the 10 most-stolen vehicles in Maine. In most Midwestern states, cars from Detroit-based manufacturers dominate the most-stolen cars lists with few, if any, foreign cars making the top 10.

Most stolen cars in 2004 included 1995 Honda Civic, 1989 Toyota Camry, 1991 Honda Accord, 1994 Dodge Caravan, 1994 Chevrolet full-size C/K 1500 pickup, 1997 Ford F150 pickup, 2003 Dodge Ram pickup, 1990 Acura Integra, 1988 Toyota pickup, 1991 Nissan Sentra.

Important Points to Know About Carjacking (the Bad News)
Carjacking is a felony offense. In the eyes of the law, it is a violent crime against the person. That makes it not only a felony, but a higher class one. While grand theft auto also is a felony since it is not violent, the sentencing is less severe(1). A carjacker is risking a far more severe penalty if he is caught than a regular car thief. A person who is stupid, lazy, violent and selfish enough to think that this is an acceptable risk is not going to suddenly start making smart decisions when he has a gun in your face.

You are dealing with a stupid, violent person with a track record of violence. And now is not the time to be a hero.

If you argue or resist a carjacker, the odds are you will be shot.  
Like all robbers, the carjacker has come to the situation ready, willing and able to commit violence. While it may seem "it comes out of the blue" to you, the carjacker already has prepared himself to commit violence. You are literally playing against a stacked deck. Everything he needs to commit serious violence is in place at the same time you are surprised and shocked.

Unfortunately, most people have never faced such raw, unbridled violence. They suddenly find themselves dragged out of their normal, everyday parameters of existence and thrown into a strange -- and dangerous -- alien landscape. It's a place where none of the rules they are accustomed to apply. An effective strategy to "defend your space" under normal circumstances could in this instant get your brains blown into a fine pink mist.

Your normal defenses are not enough. Words, anger or outrage are insufficient to protect yourself against someone committed to violence. It is nearly impossible for the average citizen to effectively defend himself when confronted in such a wild and unexpected manner. To go instantly from thinking about scheduling the day or what you are going to have for dinner to the killing savagery necessary to overcome an armed opponent is beyond even most trained martial artists. And by the time you could muster enough outrage to effectively defend yourself, the carjacker would have long since pulled the trigger.

Carjackers seldom operate alone. Although you only may have seen the guy who stuck a gun in your face, chances are that there are more of them around. Car thieves in general and carjackers especially tend to operate in groups. Often a driver will stop, let one of the members out of his car and wait until the vehicle has been stolen. They will then caravan to a drop-off point, and the thief will rejoin his comrades. Working in this manner, a group of thieves can steal many cars in one night and split several thousand dollars.

If something goes wrong with the carjacking attempt (i.e., you miraculously defeat the carjacker in a blaze of kung-fu glory without getting shot) there is a very good chance that his cronies will open fire on you. And unlike the carjacker, the gunmen will not be close enough for you to karate chop him. No matter how good you think your martial prowess may be, you can't dodge bullets -- especially if you are trapped between two parked cars. This same problem applies to any firearm defense you might muster. You can easily find yourself in a firefight after shooting your primary attacker. These are situations where you will be responsible for where your bullets go and any rounds you might fire as the accomplices flee.

If the carjacker gets your purse, as well, now you have identity theft and burglary problems. It isn't just the loss of your car that will be the problem, important information and credit cards are often lost in carjackings. This means you have to go through the hassles of canceling credit cards, changing your locks (remember he not only has your address now, but your keys, too) and protecting yourself from identity theft.

This is why you must spot the problem developing in order to save both yourself and your vehicle. If you don't see it coming, the best you can hope for is to save yourself. And you do that by giving the carjacker what he wants without resistance and escaping with your life. Return to top of page

Important Points to Know About Carjacking (the Good News)
There are two types of carjacking. The most common is when you walk to your car in a parking lot or street. The other is when you are in your car, but momentarily stopped (e.g., at a traffic light, entering traffic from a parking lot or turning).

The really good news is that what works to avoid being carjacked in the first example is the same as what you do to prevent yourself from being robbed. Those basic steps will go miles toward reducing your risk. By adding the following information and minor adjustments specific to carjacking, you can reduce your odds of being victimized even farther.

The other type of carjacking is best foiled by some simple measures. Return to top of page

Tips to Prevent Being Carjacked
What follows are minor additions to the information given on the robbery avoidance tips page. These apply directly to theft of your vehicle. The rarest form of carjacking is where the carjacker runs up to your car when you are stopped at a light, stop sign or parked, opens the door and drags you out. He then jumps in and drives away. For this type of carjacking.

Tip #1 Wear a Seatbelt 
Not only can wearing a seatbelt save your life, but it also is a serious deterrent to carjackers.

Reason: A carjacking at a stoplight relies on speed. A carjacker has to open the door, quickly pull the person out of the vehicle, jump in and drive away. Locked doors and seatbelts slow down the process. He cannot gain access and pull you out of the car quickly. A would-be carjacker will see these conditions as he approaches and often abort the process. Return to top of page

Tip #2 When Stopped in Traffic, Leave Enough Room to See the Rear Tires of the Car in Front of You
While it is commonly the first vehicle at a light that gets carjacked, the second car often can be targeted -- especially at stop signs and turn lanes where the car in front will be moving shortly. The idea is that by the time the carjacker pulls you out of your car, the car in front will have moved on.

Carjackings from stopped vehicles tend to occur in medium traffic levels. Gridlock is not conducive to a fast get away. Nor is the criminal going to be able to successfully steal your car when you are traveling 45 mph. Therefore, carjackings tend to happen in slow, stop or choke points (e.g., turn lanes, stop signs and driveway exits). These are places where the criminal will have the ability to quickly join other traffic and escape. The same elements that he needs in order to successfully carjack your vehicle can be used to foil his attempt.

Reason: By leaving enough space to see the tires of the car in front of you, you leave yourself room to maneuver. Different cars, SUVs and trucks have different turn radii so there is no hard and fast rule as to what this distance will be. But, generally speaking, being able to see the tires of the car in front of you over the hood of your vehicle should give you enough room.

If someone unexpectedly appears by your car door, you can -- with this space -- floor the accelerator and escape. There is no legitimate reason for a person to be in this position in the middle of traffic.

Although stopping at this distance can help prevent carjacking, it also is a safe driving practice. It can help keep your car from being pushed into the vehicle in front of you if your auto is rear-ended at a stoplight. It also helps prevent the car in front hitting your vehicle if it rolls back (as occasionally happens with stick shifts and bad drivers). And these kind of traffic accidents are more common than carjackings.

Note: When it comes to carjacking, there is a risk of being shot at this point. Several factors come into play, however. 1) Although many carjackers have guns, many thefts are done by groups or at knife point -- especially in places where strict penalties exist for carrying a gun. (Remember, the criminal has to get to where he going to commit the crime. During that time, he is at risk of being stopped by a cop). So you are not always going to be facing a gun. 2) Many criminals are not good shots. The more distance between you and him, the safer you are. 3) It's hard to shoot straight while dodging out of the way to avoid being run over. Face it, your car is bigger than he is. 4) Modern triage methods have greatly increased your chances of surviving a single gunshot. Now this last one may not sound like much of a comfort, but it is important. Your chances of survival are far less if you are trapped and the criminal shoots you multiple times. Your chances of surviving are much greater if you are shot only once while fleeing. The latter strategy gets you out of range of being shot more than once. Cold comfort we know, but it is a pragmatic and realistic approach to a dangerous subject.

Tip #3 Immediately Lock Your Doors When You Get In Your Car
This is a good habit to get into anyway. It takes no more than a second, and you can proceed to ready yourself for travel in greater safety and at your leisure.

Reason: General Ulysses S. Grant was once asked why he posted a line of cavalry around the camp. It was pointed out that any attack would easily punch through such a thin line. His response, "They buy us time. This way we don't wake up with the bastards in our tents." The same idea applies here. A locked door doesn't necessarily stop a carjacker. But it does prevent you from first learning of his presence when he grabs you and drags you out of your car at knife point.

If you wish, you can make it to your second action after putting keys in the ignition and starting the car. That way, while you put on your seatbelt and adjust your belongings, your car is warming up. This is actually good for your engine since most of the wear and tear occurs when it is started. If instead of immediately putting it into gear and driving, you let it warm up, you will significantly extend the life of your engine. If an emergency arises, you can simply slam the car into gear and escape.

In the presence of a gun, however, we recommend getting out and giving up your car. He can pull the trigger faster than you can put your vehicle in gear and drive away. Return to top of page

Tip #4 Do NOT Open the Door or Roll Down the Window to Talk to Someone. It is usually a bad sign when someone unexpectedly appears at the side of your car. Like phone calls after 10 p.m., it's not going to be good news. People who appear unexpectedly usually want something. If you decide to talk to them, do not open the door or roll the window down all the way.

Reason: Although a window won't stop a bullet, it can stop hands and knives. By only rolling your window down slightly, you prevent an attacker from reaching in, opening your door, snatching items from your person or robbing you at knife point.

You might also want to put the car in gear before you crack the window. If something is amiss, you can accelerate out of danger. If someone tells you something is wrong with your car do not get out and look. Thank them for the information and tell them you will look into it. Then drive away.

Be especially cognizant of such a person grabbing and working your car door handle. There is no legitimate reason for such an action. Actions such as knocking at your window are often used as a cover for this. If you see a criminal trying to work your door handle, immediately put your car in gear and start driving away. Return to top of page

The second -- and far more common -- form of carjacking, however, is when the thief simply walks up when you are getting into your car and puts a gun in your face. The carjacker then grabs your keys (and possibly your purse), jumps in and drives away. This type of carjacking resembles a typical robbery. Again we stress that most of the same measures that will keep you safe from robbery apply here.

Tip #5 Look Around Before You Put the Key into the Lock
This is the second check to do in a fringe area (the first is when you entered). Most carjackings occur in parking lots, as do many robberies and abductions. It is an excellent strategy to look around before you put yourself into a position where you can be trapped.

It is better still to look around as you approach the car. If a shady character is close by, keep on moving. Do not put yourself in the narrow gap between cars.

Reason: A quick scan will show if you have been followed. Most carjackings occur as you open the car door or are getting ready to drive away. Many people wrongly assume that when they reach their cars, they are safe. Not true. Even if you lock the door, if he has a gund he can shoot through the window. Or he can smash the window and threaten you with a knife. It is far better to spot someone approaching as you near your car than  to try and extract yourself from a situation already gone bad
Return to top of page

Tip #6 Have Someone Time You to See How Long It Takes to Get into Your Car, Start It and Drive Away
Many people think of their vehicle as "safety." But you will not be safe from a criminal on foot until your car is doing about 15 mph. This is why you should never try to reach your car if you think someone is trying to rob you. The time it takes to unlock your car, get in, start it, put it in gear, back out and drive away is too great.

Reason: Even when doing it as quickly as you can, this process is slow. Have someone start timing you at about 10 feet from the vehicle. Signal when you reach 15 mph in the car. Now see how much distance a person can cover in that time. The first time, again start 10 feet from your car and have the person helping you about 20 more feet behind you. That's 30 feet from your car. You have to unlock the car and get in before the person reaches you. Repeat this, gradually increasing the distance until the person can no longer reach you before you drive away.

If an unsavory character is within that distance and approaching, do not try to get in your car. He is close enough to get to you.

This also is why you always need to look around when you reach your car and again before you try to put the key in the door. Knowing how long it takes will prevent you from making a potentially deadly mistake if there is a carjacker approaching. Return to top of page

Tip #7 If Someone Approaches While You're Getting into Your Car, MOVE!
Do NOT stand there and watch him approach you: Control the distance by moving away from him.

Carjackers tend to work with partners. This is especially true, when they drive up to you as you are getting into your car. One jumps out and carjacks you while the other speeds away.

Reason A carjacker must close with you to gain control of the situation. Your feet are not nailed to the ground. If someone approaches you, move! Preferably, around the hood of your car, which puts something between you and him; as well as giving you cover in case he starts shooting. But get away from the car door.

Tips #8 Throw Your Car Keys
Your car keys go one way, you go another.

Reason: The criminal now has to choose, you or the car. If he is after your car, then his task is made more difficult because he has to go looking for the keys. If he decides to pursue you, then you know he wasn't really interested in the car after all. This tells you the extent of your danger and what response is warranted. If he pursues you, he is running away from his escape route -- whether that is your car or his friends in another vehicle.

Some might advocate throwing the keys at the criminal -- we do not. The reason we advocate throwing your keys away from the criminal is twofold. First, he is not harmed which makes him less likely to shoot. If you hurt him, he now has an investment in hurting you back. Second, if you throw your keys at him then you are giving him your keys. By throwing them away, you increase your chances of his not getting your car. Return to top of page

Tip #9 Get Theft Insurance
Certain cars are more likely to be targeted. Before you buy a new car, check with the police if that make of car is currently in the "Top 10" of stolen vehicles.

Reason: Cars are most often stolen for parts. The vehicle is chopped up and sold to body shops. The body shop pays $1,000 on a part that the manufacturer would charge $5,000 for. The shop turns around and charges you the dealer price and mark up. By doing this the shop made an additional $4,000 profit. This particular risk of theft lasts until enough of the car model becomes easily available in the junkyards -- where parts can be legally purchased for a reduced price.

If given a choice between filing an insurance claim or getting shot, giving up your car suddenly looks much more appealing. Return to top of page

Tip #10 Get Lojack, On Star or Other Tracking Device
A locating system on your car can do wonders for getting it back before it is chopped up and also can help lower insurance rates with some agencies.

Reason: Stolen cars are often taken to large parking lots and left for a few days. Due to the high number of auto thefts, descriptions of stolen cars only stay on the "hot sheets" for a short time. (Hot sheets are listings and descriptions of newly stolen cars used for quick reference by law enforcement.) On cars that have been "stashed" for a few days, the only way to tell if they have been stolen is to pull them over and "run the numbers." By simply waiting a few days, thieves greatly reduce their chances of being caught.

If your car has a locating system, however, all it takes is a phone call to have it found. If you make the call fast enough, you can often have the criminal arrested while still in the car.

Having both insurance and this kind of system will do wonders for your willingness to let the criminal have your car. This will lessen the chances of you foolishly trying to resist a carjacker, who gets the drop on you. And cell phones are faster than driving.

Tip #11, If Despite All this Information, a Carjacker Gets the Drop on You, Give Him Your Car Keys
It sounds so stupidly obvious to say this, but the number of people who are killed or wounded by carjackers every year, prove that people do it.

Do NOT attempt to argue, fight or resist someone who has a gun screwed up your nose!

Accept that he won this round and give him your keys.

Reason: The carjacker has come prepared for violence. You, on the other hand, were just getting into your car. It is an incredibly rare person who can flash into committing lethal violence. In fact by the time most people can get over their shock and decide to resist, the criminal has already pulled the trigger.

Even if you could make that mental jump that fast, it only takes a second to pull the trigger. Can you inflict lethal force that fast? That is what it would take to keep you teeth from being blown out of the back of your skull when the criminal has the drop on you.

Furthermore, at that range, the criminal will not just shoot you once, but repeatedly. This is why we suggest -- if you lapsed in awareness and personal safety habits and allowed a carjacker to close with you -- you just give up your car and accept the fact you have some identity theft, burglary and insurance problems coming your way. Alive with problems is better than dead or in the ICU with a sucking chest wound. Return to top of page  

Why Are Carjackings More Dangerous?
While any kind of robbery is dangerous, carjackings take on a particularly nasty twist because the vehicles themselves create walls and limit your options.

In the Five Stages of Violent Crime, the third stage is called "positioning." This is where the criminal puts himself into position to successfully attack you. One of the types of positioning is cornering/trapping. That is where the criminal 'pins' you between himself and a large object (such as the car). The presence of a car -- and often the car door as well -- seriously limits your mobility and increases your chances of being trapped. Even in an open parking lot, the presence of four cars can create a "hallway" that makes it easy to shoot you.

This is why you need to remember to flee in front of or behind your car. Do not run down the "hallway" between cars since that leaves you in the line of fire. By cutting in front of your vehicle or another, you put something between you and the criminal. Even if the cars are parked against the wall, there is often room for you to wiggle through. If not, scramble over the car's hood or trunk.

The main idea, however, is to flee the scene ASAP.

Rate your Risk

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1) States have different classifications, standards and terms, but what is consistent is that crimes against the person are placed at the higher levels of offense and carry stiffer penalties because they are considered graver. Return to Text

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