12 Steps to Prevent Your Rental Car From Crime at Gasoline Stations

T here has been a rash of vehicles stolen from fuel stations in the greater Atlanta metropolitan area over recent months — and some of those incidents have been violent; while others involved the safety of children…

12 Steps to Prevent Your Rental Car From Crime at Gasoline Stations

…but the problem is not only rampant in Atlanta. Vehicles are being stolen at gasoline stations across the United States — regardless of the time of day. “Most of the time, gas station customers leave their car doors unlocked and items like purses and wallets are often left in plain view”, according to this article from the National Crime Prevention Council. “A thief is able to drive up next to the victim’s car, open an unlocked door, and grab any valuables within reach. Then, the thief quickly drives off. It happens in a matter of seconds.”

Anything which you can do to slow down or impede upon professional car thieves or joy-riders will reduce the appeal of your vehicle to be targeted — so here are 12 steps of specific advice on what you can do to reduce your chances of being the victim of having your vehicle stolen at a gasoline station:

1. Rent a Car Which Does Not Attract Attention

Seeing those envious eyes of other people staring at you as you drive the exotic shiny bright red sports car, convertible with the top down, or elegant luxury car around might be fun — but the car will also attract the attention of a potential thief more than a typical humdrum sedan or an economy hatchback.

2. Choose the Gasoline Station Wisely

For many people, price is a factor which attracts them to a gasoline station; and often that criterion may be enough — but if you are concerned about safety, ensure that the gasoline station you choose is equipped with video surveillance cameras.

Better yet, try to be sure that the service station is not located in an area known for high crime.

If you are refueling your vehicle at night, your safety improves when choosing a gasoline station which is lit well versus one which is dimly lit, as thieves prefer to work in the dark — for obvious reasons, as greater than half of all vehicle thefts occur at night.

Automobile thieves do not like witnesses; so choosing a gasoline station which is busy with customers can decrease your chances of having the vehicle you are driving — or the contents inside of it — to be stolen.

3. Know Where the Fuel Door is Located on the Rental Car

Pulling the car into the fuel station — only to step outside and realize that the fuel door is located on the wrong side of the gasoline pump — is a certain indicator that you are unfamiliar with the car.

As I wrote in this article, there is a nifty little triangle on the side of the little gasoline pump icon which directs you to which side of the vehicle is where you should pump your fuel. The little triangle gives you the indication as to which side the fuel door is located — for example, the left side if you are using the photograph at the top of this article — so that you know in advance how to pull up the vehicle to the pump correctly every time.

Even if you do not drive an unusual or ostentatious vehicle, try not to attract attention to yourself. Blend in with the crowd as you fill up the fuel tank of your rental vehicle — and that includes either not having to move the car to the other side of the pumps; or stretching that fuel hose across the back of the car to fill it with gasoline.

4. Never Leave Your Car Running While Unattended

I cannot believe people actually leave their cars running while running, as I believe that that is practically giving the car to a potential thief.

People will leave their vehicles running to keep the interiors of their cars cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

Drivers are better off suffering from some heat or cold — which can be rectified in minutes once the car is back on the road — than having to deal with all of the inconveniences pertaining to a stolen car and trying to recover it.

Never leave your car running while unattended — especially at a gasoline station, which at a minimum is wasteful in terms of using fuel while the tank is being filled…

…and although the risk is remotely minimal, can be potentially dangerous.

Most importantly, please never never leave a child alone in an unattended car. If a thief steals the car, your child is automatically placed in potentially grave danger which could threaten his or her life.

5. Always Remove Your Keys

I am consistently amazed at how many people leave the keys to the vehicle in the car — regardless if the car is a rental vehicle or a personal vehicle — while the car is being refueled…

…and you should especially never leave your keys in the vehicle when going inside the convenience store of the gasoline station to conduct business — whether you are paying for the gasoline or purchasing a snack — as a thief can steal your vehicle within 30 seconds.

Yes — 30 seconds is not only all it takes for a vehicle to be stolen; but also is actually plenty of time for an experienced thief. Approximately 13 percent of all vehicles stolen had the keys left in them.

Always remove your keys from the vehicle and put them in a secure place on your person.

6. Lock the Doors of the Vehicle

An unlocked vehicle almost screams an invitation to a potential thief to see what is available for the taking — including the vehicle itself. Approximately 50 percent of all vehicles stolen were left unlocked.

Even if you removed the keys from the ignition, lock the car, as it can still be stolen quickly even without the keys — but just be sure that the keys are on your person prior to doing that, as you do not want to incur the expense of breaking into the car and replacing the lock and a broken window. The rental car company will charge you a lot of money; and the repairs may not be covered under insurance.

By taking a couple of seconds and minimal effort to lock your vehicle, you may have significantly increased the difficulty of a thief to target your vehicle; and that thief will most likely look elsewhere for an easier target.

Ensuring that the doors of the vehicle are locked while you are driving may also keep you safer overall as well; but there are some people who argue that in the case of an accident, emergency personnel reaching you becomes more difficult to do in a situation where precious seconds could save your life.

7. Close the Windows and Sunroof and Put the Top Up

Locking your car is virtually useless if you leave the top down on your convertible or do not close the windows or the sunroof — all of which provide easy access into your vehicle.

Ensure that the windows and sunroof of the vehicle which you are driving are closed — as well as the top back up on a convertible — whenever it is unattended.

8. Use the Anti-Theft System

If your rental car is equipped with some sort of an anti-theft system, use it while the car is unattended — even if only for a few minutes.

9. Keep Valuable Items Out of Sight

Putting that wallet or mobile telephone in your pocket — especially before a telephone call — or storing that purse or laptop computer in the trunk might be an inconvenience…

…but that inconvenience certainly pales in comparison to having to file a police report pertaining to your stolen property — as well as deal with the rental car company and having to pay for any damages.

Even if whatever damages — such as a broken window or scratched paint — are covered by insurance, you may still have to deal with the company which issued the insurance in order for the damages to be paid. After all, insurance companies do not like to pay money for damages and attempt to avoid doing so whenever possible.

Even if the doors of the vehicle are locked and the windows are closed, thieves will still target your vehicle if they see anything of potential value. Hide valuable items so that they are out of sight; and give the potential thief the impression that your vehicle is simply not worth the time and effort of breaking into it.

10. Be Aware and Pay Attention to Your Surroundings

This is the single best piece of advice for numerous situations when traveling — as I have similarly advised in this article pertaining to 14 Tips on How You Can Prevent Theft in Hotels and Aboard Airplanes — and it is no different in reducing the risk of your rental car being the target of thieves.

Talking on your mobile telephone might be a good way to pass the time while the tank of the car is filling up with gasoline; but it is also a potential distraction — and thieves look for distracted people, as they are easier victims than people who are aware of their surroundings.

Look around you and take mental notes of what is going on — as well as identify potential problems.

11. Park Your Vehicle With Wheels Turned Toward the Curb

When the wheels of the rental car vehicle are turned towards the curb upon which the gasoline pumps are located, having the vehicle towed becomes more difficult…

…and once the wheels are turned, apply the emergency brake; leave your vehicle in gear if possible; and lock the steering wheel in place. By doing so, you add precious seconds to the time in which a thief needs to steal your vehicle.

In fact, you should consider securing the vehicle you drive this way everywhere you park it and not at service stations.

12. Do Not Leave the Registration or Title in the Vehicle

This may not be vitally important when driving a rental car; but a thief will use these documents to sell the stolen car — or use them to escape a traffic stop by police when they can show the proper documentation for the stolen vehicle.


While much of the aforementioned advice can be applied to any vehicle you drive and not just rental cars, none of it is foolproof; but any steps which you can take to reduce your chances to be the target of professional automobile thieves and joy-riders helps, as they commit the majority of thefts of vehicles — preferably luxury vehicles or high-performance cars…

…but more popular models of vehicles whose parts are easily interchangeable — such as the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry — are also highly sought so that the cars they steal are taken to “chop shops,” which dismantle the stolen vehicles and sell the parts. The thieves also steal cars for export to other countries, often “stealing to order” to fulfill requests for certain types of vehicles.

If the rental vehicle is indeed stolen, contact both the police and the rental car company immediately — or, at least, as soon as you possibly can.

Most importantly of all: if you find yourself confronted by a carjacker, do not resist. Carjackers are usually armed; and fighting for a car is simply not worth you potentially losing your life.

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

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