WASHINGTON — As D.C.-area residents focus on their summer vacation plans, the security of their vehicle parked outside may not be the first thing on their minds.
But John Townsend, with AAA Mid-Atlantic, wants to remind car owners to protect their rides, especially when auto thefts increase during the summer months.
Around 40 percent of all auto thefts happen between June and September, according to Virginia State Police.
July is Vehicle Theft Prevention Month, as designated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and Townsend said that the easiest thing motorists can do to protect their vehicles is to lock up.
“Most people who lose their cars to auto thieves do so because they didn’t lock their cars,” Townsend said. “So the most important tip is to always lock your vehicle and keep the windows closed.”
He also suggests making sure people remove all belongings from clear sight in the car, and to never leave keys in the ignition or in the vehicle itself. Finally, he said parking in a secure, well-lit place can help deter car thieves.
If the apartment complex has a parking garage, use it, he added.
Overall, auto thefts are on a downward trend, Townsend said, and D.C. — once dubbed “America’s car theft capital” — has seen historic lows in its annual auto theft rate. Thieves stole around 2,425 vehicles in D.C. in 2017, down from the 2,700 vehicles stolen in 2016, according to AAA, which used D.C. police statistics.
But Maryland and Virginia are seeing a different trend.
“They had been making great progress in combating the number of cars being stolen and cracking down on auto thieves across the region, but what’s happened of late is that auto thefts have been trending upward year on year in Virginia and Maryland,” Townsend said.
He added that in Maryland, Prince George’s County has the largest amount of auto thefts, but it is decreasing year over year.
When it comes to what’s being stolen, Townsend said it’s not luxury or sports cars as one might think.
“It’s the Honda Accord, Honda Civic, the Chevy Silverado, the Toyota Camry … the Ford F-150, followed by the Altima and Corolla, and the F-250 … these are not the luxury cars, but the most popular cars with most motorists, and the most sold cars in the United States,” he said.
So, even though car thievery does happen year-round, Townsend said that while residents are thinking about their beach getaway, “That thief is thinking about how to separate you from your car.”
WTOP’s Michelle Basch contributed to this report.