Theft-Proofing Your Rental Car

Sign warning of theft in the area
With a few easy steps, you can drastically lower the risk of theft or damage before leaving your rental car overnight.
By Rick Steves

Thieves target tourists' cars — especially at night. More than half of the work that European automobile glass shops do is repairing windows broken by thieves.

Don't leave anything even hinting of value in view in your parked car. Put anything worth stealing in the trunk (or, better yet, in your hotel room). Leave your glove compartment open so the thief can look in without breaking in. Choose your parking place carefully. Your hotel receptionist knows what's safe and which precautions are necessary.

Make your car look as local as possible. Leave no tourist information lying around. Put a local newspaper under the rear window. Before I choose where to park my car, I check to see if the parking lot's asphalt glitters. In Rome, my favorite hotel is next to a large police station — a safe place to park.

If you rent a hatchback, leave the trunk covered during the day. At night, roll back the cover so thieves can see there's nothing stored in the car. Many police advise leaving your car unlocked at night. "Worthless" but irreplaceable things (journal, memory cards full of photos, etc.) are stolen only if left in a bag. It's better to keep these things with you or, if need be, loose in the trunk.

Be alert to "moving violations." In some urban areas, crude thieves reach into windows or even smash the windows of occupied cars at stoplights to grab a purse or camera. Also beware of other motorists trying to stop you. If you pull over, they may accuse you of hitting their vehicle. Police say it's best to keep driving.