Dear PoPville – Leaving cars unlocked to avoid broken windows?

Photo by PoPville flickr user ekelly80

Dear PoPville,

I have recently moved into DC from the suburbs, and as a welcome to the neighborhood gesture, my car’s rear vent window was smashed this weekend & my belongings rifled through. The responding police officer told me that at least 20 cars in the area (from East Capitol to D St NE & 7th to 12th) had been hit over the weekend, so I figured it’d be neighborly to put a warning out through your site, in case your Capitol Hill readership had not noticed the smashed glass all over the sidewalk.

My question has to do with strategy: I don’t leave anything valuable in my car, so nothing more than perhaps $0.47 was stolen. However, I now I have to pay some $300 to get the window replaced for no good reason. A friend mentioned an acquaintance that has had her car broken into so many times that she just leaves the door unlocked. While I’m not entirely comfortable with that approach, I wonder if your readers have an opinion on leaving the doors unlocked and using perhaps a Club locked to the steering wheel to prevent someone from driving off with it. Is that completely ridiculous, or would it help keep my windows & car safely as is?

Thank you!

Ed. Note: We also spoke about a rise in car break ins last week in Mt. Pleasant. Cleveland Park has also been experiencing a rash of break ins.

45 Comment

  • Don’t know if I’d purposely leave my door unlocked. But if you put everything except the seats and floormats in your trunk then you may be better off.

  • When I first saw the headline I thought “What? No! Are you kidding?” But after I thought about it a little more, maybe it’s worth a try.

    • austindc

      Yeah, at first I got all heated and thought about that Moynihan dude calling this kind of stuff a sign of “urban surrender.” But then, as I have several times on this site, I remembered that I installed bars all over my house like I might get attacked by a lion or something, so I should keep my big mouth shut. However, if I had a car and left it unlocked, I would however be concerned about people just sleeping in there. I don’t know if that actually happens though.

  • I leave my Jeep unlocked all the time for that very same reason. Served me well for 5 years now in Petworth and many years prior in Shaw.

    • Put a club on the wheel, keep the doors unlocked and leave the glove and center compartments open (and empty). Don’t leave anything in the car, even things of seemingly little value will get stolen. My neighbor had teddy bears that she had on the back window sill stolen once.

      • My coworker does this, and he had a half-eaten sandwich taken. He has tinted windows, and found that even empty, his car was having locks popped and windows broken. Since he stopped locking his car, he stopped having damage done, and his car is left alone.

  • LisaT

    We don’t even leave a quarter or a lighter visible in either car, and last month one car had the right front passenger window busted with a rock. There was nothing to steal, other than the XM radio receiver which they didn’t take. The very next week, same thing happened to a neighbor a block away. I think they do it for thrills and meanness, not to actually get anything out of the car, so I don’t think locked/unlocked matters. Four months ago two idiots attempted to steal my car–jacked up both my locks and destroyed my steering column and ignition. Again, didn’t steal anything and didn’t get my car–because they clearly don’t know how cars work.

    Bottom line, I don’t think it matters. If someone wants to bust your window they will bust your window.

  • wouldn’t this encourage them more?

  • I wouldn’t leave the doors unlocked, but I also never leave anything in view, even if it’s not valuable. A thief likely won’t know your stuff is worthless until after breaking in.

  • Couldn’t this potentially void any insurance claim?

    • Unlikely. I’ve had my car broken into several times and have never been asked if it was locked or unlocked by the insurance company.

    • I’d say that the vast majority of people have an insurance deductible that’s higher than the cost of the window. However, leaving your door unlocked could be a problem with insurance if your car is stolen, not just theft from auto.

      • It isn’t a problem if you file a police report. Bottom line, stealing is stealing. As stupid as it sounds you can have the car running, keys in it and if they steal it, it is still cause for a case/claim if you did not give them permission to drive the car.

        • Actually it’s specifically stated as voiding the insurance in my policy.

          • What exactly does it say? I would definitely look at changing carriers. That is ridiculous. I have talked to police about this and you might be surprised at the amount of times this happens. Again, I would definitely check other carriers.

    • Does insurance cover thefts of personal items from cars? If not, I wonder what claim you’d be submitting, other than theft of the vehicle itself, which I think would be covered regardless of whether it was locked.

  • When I was in high school, my car became a pretty routine target and was broken into two or three times. My mother finally started doing just this–leaving the doors unlocked and removing anything of value from the car. After about ten years or so, there was one time we found visible evidence someone had been in the car rifling through the contents. Since she left it unlocked, the only items in the car to go through were the owner’s manual, a few repair and gas receipts, and some pretty crappy CDs with which no self-respecting petty thief would be caught dead. There was a slight sense of a personal-space violation, but no more than I felt when my things were actually stolen and my window was busted out. I don’t have a car now, but if I did, I’d probably leave it unlocked.

  • I leave the doors open IF there has been a rash of thefts in the neighborhood. I also use a club. The one caveat about leaving doors open is that sometimes homeless people can sleep in the car. On that note, if you know someone who needs shelter, a car can be an alternative to offering them a place in your home!

    • OP here, I think you make a good compromise. It seems to have settled down but if there’s another rash of break-ins, maybe I’ll leave them open for a couple days. Otherwise, I’m taking everyone else’s advice & just emptying the car.

      Thanks for the comments & Big Lebowski quotes, all.

  • Only if you want your backseat to become a hostel/latrine.

    • The Dude: Oh, Jesus, what’s that smell, man?

      Auto Circus Cop: Yes, probably a vagrant slept in the car. Or maybe just used it as a toilet and moved on.

  • Or just empty your glove compartment, and leave your glove compartment door open. I’ve had luck with that, but who knows if it’s just coincidence.

  • Sounds like an easy way to get it stolen.

  • Unfortunately it’s not a matter of leaving nothing valuable in your car, it’s a matter of leaving nothing in your car, period. You’d be shocked at what can sell on the street for a few dollars to buy drugs (or whatever).

    Don’t leave *anything* in your car… as far as leaving the door unlocked to prevent window smashing, I have heard that some people do this. I guess the issue becomes – is the person smashing your window even trying the door, or are they just assuming the door’s locked? If they assume the door is locked (a good assumption) then leaving it unlocked isn’t going to keep them from smashing the window.

  • It amazes me how many people leave all kinds of things visible in their cars. I leave nothing and always keep the tonneau cover pulled across the trunk of my hatchback/wagon. Fingers crossed, have never had a break-in.

  • I would not suggest leaving your car unlocked because someone you do not know will end up inside of your car. A few months ago I accidentally left my car unlocked overnight. While there was nothing in my car to take, I came back the next morning and it was clear someone had been in my car. My center console and glove compartment were open and there were papers strewn all over my car. About $1.75 in quarters had been taken from my center console (oddly enough, the thief’s decided the $1.00 I had in dimes were not worth their time). Anyway, it was a very uncomfortable feeling knowing that someone had been in my car. I was paranoid for a few days that I could smell urine, or that someone had messed with my engine, etc. Nothing did happen but I certainly don’t like the thought of anyone I don’t now being inside of my car.

  • I see the point to the strategy but you are still at risk. If a thief sees nothing in the car at all, they are more likely to move on to a vehicle that has something visibly valuable inside. If you just leave it unlocked, rest assured, your car will be explored. They can easily just open your door, pop the hood, and take your car battery. Especially if they notice that you always leave it unlocked.

  • DC has nothing on Naples. I just came back from Naples, Italy and they have serious steering wheel protection.

  • Not much to add beyond what others have pointed out. If you have literally anything visible in your car then you’re asking to get robbed. It shouldn’t be that way, but it is. People will certainly break your window for a quarter.

    A friend once left my car door open by mistake. Although I had nothing in the car at all, that didn’t stop someone from pissing in the car and leaving a lit cigarette on the front seat. I’d rather lock my door and pay the deductible for a broken window than deal with that again.

  • has anyone who has done this experienced, uh, problems with illicit aerobic use of their vehicles?

    • If you have a car alarm, it won’t work if the doors are unlocked. Of course, a car alarm is not going to help with the window that’s already been broken, but I’d still rather be alerted to my car being broken into/scaring the perpetrators off

  • It really just pisses me off that this is even a problem. Yes, I know, we live in the city. But come on, people! Have some civility! Don’t take/break what isn’t yours!

  • I’m kind of amazed that kids’ car seats aren’t a target. Those things are expensive! They’re also a bitch to install, so I won’t be leaving my car unlocked because I don’t want to leave a $200 car seat that accessible.

  • Also leave all dents, scrapes, and dings on car to prevent car getting stolen.

  • Sounds like a great thing! Solve problems for the homeless by letting them sleep/eat/shag in your car, and prevent broken windows at the same time! Yeeeah!! Fun times all around!!

  • South of East Capitol down to H St SE, between 12th and 18th, has been getting hit too over the past two months.

    In my parent’s Bethesda neighborhood, everyone leaves their car doors unlocked all the time. When there’s a spat of break-ins, the thieves still break the triangle windows, even with all the doors unlocked. I guess they don’t even try them. But I think it’s fairly standard for quiet suburban dwellers to keep their car doors unlocked, so I don’t know why they bother with breaking the windows and causing noise…

  • I’d recommend a car alarm if you don’t have one already and clearing out anything in plain view. I installed an alarm when I first moved into the city and never had a problem since despite numerous friends who didn’t have an alarm having a lot of problems with their cars (personal items stolen, trying to steal the car, etc).

  • PDleftMtP

    Long ago (early 90s) I started leaving my car unlocked on the Hill after the third window. No issues, but as everyone notes there are tradeoffs. I’m not sure how likely it is that you’ll get someone in your car (who wouldn’t have broken in anyway had the door been locked), but I don’t think anyone else is either.

  • Sounds like an invitation to get your car stolen to me.

  • I did this with my ’97 Corolla a few years back when break-ins were a big problem in Ledroit Park. I wouldn’t do it with a nicer car, but the junky Corolla sitting with its doors open I think sent a solid “don’t bother” message.

  • Bring on the bait cars! Please!

  • Wouldn’t it just be easier to leave the glove compartment and center console open to demonstrate that nothing of value is in the car? That way your car can still be secure but it is clear that your car is not a worthwhile target from the outside.

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