By Eric Peters, Automotive Columnist
This is an unpleasant subject — but reality often is.
As the economy worsens, crime goes up — and that means your tools, classic vehicles and everything else is at greater risk of being ripped off.
What can you do?
First and probably most important, be sure you are fully insured. Find out whether your homeowner’s policy covers such things as your tools and equipment. And be really sure about it — meaning, are you sure you’re insured for the full value of everything you have? As car/bike enthusiasts, many of us have considerably more than a $75 ratchet set, some screwdrivers and a couple of jackstands.
A standard homeowner’s policy on, say, a $250,000 home may not cover your $20,000 worth of professional tools. So, read your policy — and confirm the details with your agent. It’s also a very smart idea to do a full inventory of everything you have — with pictures or video for back-up in the event you get robbed and need to verify the extent of your loss.
Similarly, be absolutely sure your vehicles — especially antique/collectible vehicles — are fully insured for their specific value (what’s known in the business as an “agreed value” policy). That means, simply, if your vehicle is stolen and not recovered, you will receive the previously agreed-upon value listed in your coverage. No haggling after the fact over what it was worth.
Related point: Many of us neglect to update our policies as we update our cars — or as the retail market value of the car changes. If you recently had your car professionally restored, for instance, you should make sure your policy/coverage reflects that. And also that the “agreed value” is up to date — and not based on what the car was worth five years ago, when you first took out the policy.
These precautions will minimize your losses if you do get robbed — but what about avoiding a robbery in the first place? Here’s a hard lesson, but one that actually has an upside to it: If a pro wants your stuff, he is going to get your stuff. There is virtually nothing you can do to prevent a professional thief from doing his thing. So, what’s the upside? The odds of being targeted by a pro are really, really low. Most of the thefts that occur are perpetrated by opportunistic amateurs — and these guys can be thwarted, or just avoided, if you take a few common sense precautions.
Ok, such as?
First, don’t flash what you have — by doing things like leaving your garage door open so that everyone that drives or walks by has a full view of your treasures. Ditto parking your high-dollar antique vehicle outside, where anyone can see it. Try to keep what you have under wraps — and keep a low profile.
Second, lock the doors. This is so obvious, so elementary — yet it’s a fact that many thieves never have to break into anything. They just walk right on in — and walk away (or drive away) with your stuff.
Third, if your garage has doors with windows, consider replacing them with solid doors. As nice as it is to have the sun shine in, glass allows a dirtbag to see inside your place — and getting in is as simple as kicking out the window.
Fourth, keep a bright light on near your garage, ideally one with a motion sensor. The light should be of the floodlight type — and either far enough up or otherwise out of reach that it would take at least a little bit of effort to defeat it by smashing the bulb or some such.
Fifth, consider an alarm system. You might even get a rate reduction on your homeowner’s (as well as your classic car) insurance. Or get a fake alarm — dummy closed-circuit cameras or blinking red LED lights near doors and windows can accomplish the same thing (but forget about the insurance discount).
Sixth, make your stuff harder to steal. Tools should be secured in heavy, hard to remove/move (and locked) pro tool cases, ideally, cases permanently fixed to hard points such as the floor or workbenches. Garage doors should have heavy metal lock bars and other such devices to make them extremely difficult to open for an unauthorized user.
Also: There are many ways to discreetly rig a classic car or motorcycle so that it won’t start or is difficult (if not impossible) to move. And you should always mark your vehicles (as well as expensive tools) with a Dremel tool or some such in a not-visible/hard to access place with some identifying marks — so that if the vehicle is found, you can prove it is yours.
These are the “majors” — you can probably think of several others, too. The point though, is to be thinking about protecting what’s yours. We live in ugly times — and it’s best to be thinking a step ahead of those who might try to take advantage of you.