9 July 2014

Losses and Lessons: Thieves use wire hanger and a little luck to swipe classic AMCs


WHAT WENT WRONG: For most classic car owners, a locked garage in a safe neighborhood is all that’s needed to keep their precious automobiles safe. But as crooks prove time and again, if there’s a will there’s a way. The owner of two American Motors muscle cars – a 1968 Javelin with 343 V-8 and a 1970 AMX Big Bad Green 390 – went out of town for a few days, leaving his cars in a locked garage. When he returned, they were gone. There were no broken locks or windows, so police surmised that the thieves gained access by sliding a wire hanger between the door and frame of the electric overhead garage door, hooking the emergency lever and releasing it with a tug. The keys for both cars were hanging in a wall cabinet.

DAMAGE/LOSS: Hagerty paid the owner $59,000 – $17,000 for the Javelin and $42,000 for the AMX.

LESSON: Several lessons here. First of all, always keep your cars and keys in separate locations – maybe even consider hiding the keys in a place known only to you (and perhaps another person you trust). Second, use a plastic zip tie to secure the emergency lever and make it virtually impossible for thieves to release it from outside. Thread the zip tie through the hole in the carriage assembly and around the bottom where the pull-rope attaches (see diagram above). In an actual emergency, you’ll be able to use your weight to break the zip tie when you pull down, but thieves won’t have the same leverage with a wire hanger stretched over the top of the door. Finally, never reveal on social media that you’re going out of town. And it’s always a good idea to ask a trusted friend or relative to check on your property while you’re away.

34 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Paul Lotakis WA July 9, 2014 at 17:39
    Zip tie is a good idea but I have also drilled a hole into one of the side rails of my overhead door big enough to insert the u-bolt of a large strong Master pad lock that prevents the door from being opened. Yes, they can destroy a lot of things getting it open but another deterrent to slow things down. Next, a wireless video cam system to record any bad events. Cheap at Costco.
  • 2
    Tony Denver July 14, 2014 at 11:11
    Just drill a hole in one siderail and slide a screwdriver into the hole when you leave town. You can do it in both sides, retain them.. you can make it as simple or as complex as you want.
  • 3
    Nigel Matthews Vancouver, Canada July 29, 2014 at 10:31
    Run the ground feed wire to the ignition switch through the cigarette lighter. The lighter acts as a breaker, when you want to drive the car push the lighter into the socket to complete the circuit. Remove the lighter and the car is not going to start. This is a great inexpensive anti-theft device!
  • 4
    Tony Northern California July 30, 2014 at 13:40
    My garage has a "bolt" lock that is ONLY accessible from the inside. It slides through a hole in the rail. The end of the bolt has a small hole (3/8" diameter), perfect to fit a pad lock... Someone would have to cut the pad lock, or remove the section of rail & bolt. Hopefully, someone would notice before they could take my stuff. But I also have several retired (and nosy) neighbors, one of which has some classics of his own... We all keep an eye on the neighborhood, and someone is usually home at all times...
  • 5
    Tom Brick, NJ July 30, 2014 at 13:48
    I set my old car up so the parking lights have to be turned on to close a relay for the ignition and electric fuel pump.
  • 6
    Brent Toronto July 30, 2014 at 14:17
    I have a couple of motion detectors in my garage that are part of the home's security system. They are wireless, making them easy to hook up
  • 7
    Paul Toronto, Canada July 30, 2014 at 14:30
    Unplug the door opener and lock the door manually using the key lock in the outside door handle. The garage door opener should only be used when one is at home.Exteneded vacations? Lock it manually and hide the key.Better yet, take the battery out of the car
  • 8
    Brian Fiut Spokane, WA July 30, 2014 at 14:41
    Another easy trick is to just disconnect (or better yet remove) the coil wire under the hood. IF the bad guys get in the garage, and IF they get a key or figure out how to hotwire, then the engine will just crank and crank never start. If luck is with you, and your thief is also not mechanically inclined, they'll either have to tow it or just figure it's a dud and abandon the effort. To drive your beauty, simply reconnect or reinstall the coil wire and you're on your way!
  • 9
    Denis Murphy Florida July 30, 2014 at 14:52
    Another idea is to get a 45, and police trained dog!!!!
  • 10
    Ryan AZ July 30, 2014 at 17:07
    My trick is to take the coil wire and hide it along with the #1 wire. Most folks don't carry extra plug wires and if they're smart enough to open the hood to find out why it's not starting, they'll be SOL for a quick fix.
  • 11
    Tim Michigan July 30, 2014 at 17:47
    As reported before, either don't have or cover garage door windows and any others so the bad guys can't see the emergency rope. Why keep the keys there? I've been putting broken golf clubs through the aforementioned holes in the rails. (Don't ask how they were broken.)
  • 12
    Sean Oregon July 30, 2014 at 19:47
    Since my classic is driven and parked regularly, I needed an anti-theft solution outside of a secured garage and typical alarm system. I would highly suggest the addition of a toggle switch for the fuel pump, and activated from a somewhat hidden or completely hidden position. When switched to "off" after parking the vehicle, a thief would be able to turn the engine over (attracting attention). This method is a last resort and assumes they have bypassed your lock and/or alarm but is an excellent deterrent.
  • 13
    RRP Dunlap, IL July 30, 2014 at 20:05
    No need to announce vacation plans on Facebook in our subdivision...we have a rural type newspaper box for 5 am delivery. The boxes have a small nickel size reflective seal so the delivery person knows by the color of the dot which newspaper is to be placed in the box. Problem? When people ask to have their papers held while gone the newspaper sends someone out to place a piece of masking tape on the dots! It's easy to drive down the street and see who is gone and who isn't!
  • 14
    Bob Palma IN July 30, 2014 at 08:28
    What Paul said, but it is usually even easier than that. Most garage-door system side rails already have multiple slots in the rails for various applications. I also do the heavy lock on the side rails thing when I'll be out of town, like Paul, but there was no need to drill any holes because there were already several slots and holes from which to choose, into which the lock(s) may be inserted. And what the article said about social media; why is it people have to announce to the whole world that they'll be out of town? Talk about an open invitation! BP
  • 15
    robert new york July 30, 2014 at 08:52
    Unplug & or throw the circut breaker to your electric door assy.side rail lock added + if an extra personal vehicle is available,have it where it's to your advantage not the thieves,also add a motion light that will iluminate the area to be protected.
  • 16
    Don Buffalo July 30, 2014 at 09:35
    Take the center spark plug from the distributor or change the firing order (but remember how it goes back!).
  • 17
    THOMAS United States July 30, 2014 at 09:44
    And they have also used crowbars to pry down the top of the door, to reach in and yank the rope. My ride has a hidden switch that shuts down everything, clutch lock, fuel shutoff, hood lock, and a real heavy short piece of log chain that gets attached to the shifter (4X4 truck) and is bolted to the truck floor, when I leave town. If they get it, they're going to have to work at it.
  • 18
    walt tn July 30, 2014 at 10:13
    I have my doors locked with locks on both rails. I also use a car, as a blocker car, in the middle of the doors. (it just looks like its parked there.) I turn the power off for the lights, I then hid battery operated driveway motion detectors inside the garage along with the hidden alarms, they make a heck of a noise and you really can't find them and can't turn them off. ( I know how and where they are) The more you look for them the longer they sound off :0) I also added one alarm for the inside of the house, if anyone gets inside while I'm home, I'll know it and so will my German Shepard. (my garage is detached) It works
  • 19
    Bob Lexington, KY July 30, 2014 at 10:18
    I'm sorry to hear of your loss. Were the cars ever found? Is anything known? I am wondering where someone would go to "fence" a collector car and if they parted such a unique car out the parts should stick out like sore thumbs on ebay,
  • 20
    Rick Michigan July 30, 2014 at 10:20
    I absolutely hate a thief. I have a slide rail lock on my door and all I do is pull the cord and slide the bolt of the side rail lock thru the track. I go out thru the side door which has a good deadbolt lock. Make sure you run long screws thru the deadbolt plate that goes into the door frame so they can't just kick in the door. If that does not work I have a central station alarm on the door with motion sensor, fire and smoke. They better not hope I am home. The alarm beeps into the home and I will turn the bulldog on them followed up with a 12 gauge.
  • 21
    Nick chicago July 30, 2014 at 10:39
    When I go out of town I always try to think of ways to slow down or deter a thief. Make sure to disconnect the power to opener, I then put a lock thru the door rails. Next make sure you have good locks on your service door and re- enforce the jam. I have an alarm system. Many might see this as overkill but being in law enforcement for many years I have seen the rests of thieves. Anything you do helps.
  • 22
    Will Inverness Fla July 30, 2014 at 10:41
    another way is a "C" clamp or better yet , a "C" type Vise Grip clamped to the rail just above any track wheel....easy on and easy off
  • 23
    Will Inverness Fla July 30, 2014 at 10:44
    another way is a "C" clamp or better yet , a "C" type Vise Grip clamped to the rail just above any track wheel....easy on and easy off
  • 24
    Doug H Albuquerque July 30, 2014 at 11:13
    My security alarm installer gave me a good way to stop the ability for a coat hanger to pull the release rope. Untie the knot which holds the pull handle to the rope, and remove the handle. Then there is nothing for the coat hanger to catch. You can still release it by grabbing the rope with your hand. (I also use the padlock in the side rail and unplug the opener when I leave town, but removing the handle is effective even if you are gone a short time.)
  • 25
    Dennis PA July 30, 2014 at 11:32
    Most overhead doors have a deadbolt that locks the door to the side rails, meaning it can't be lifted from the outside even if the emergency lever is released.
  • 26
    Mary LA (lower Alabama) July 30, 2014 at 12:16
    my husband always disconnects the battery cables...I found that out once when he was out of town & I went to take his 67 Stingray out...lol
  • 27
    Tom Illinois July 30, 2014 at 12:33
    I have all of the garage doors hard-wired to the alarm, as well as a motion sensor in the garage. If intruders get in, congratulations, they have 20 seconds to disarm the alarm system.
  • 28
    Ted Remington Marion NC July 30, 2014 at 12:56
    The coat hanger trick works ONLY when the would-be thief can see that emergency rope. If you must have windows in your garage door (and I personally don't because I don't want ANYONE seeing the state of my garage) get some of that spray stuff that frosts glass and put that on the inside of the windows in the garage door. But that won't stop the determined thief, who will merely break your window.
  • 29
    Christian United States July 31, 2014 at 01:26
    I have slide clamps above the runners and C-clamps on the latches. Big ole metal bars on the window (w/exterior metal-grate) and a deadbolt on a sturdy steel door. And I still keep my bikes in the house!
  • 30
    El Diablo CT July 31, 2014 at 09:43
    What's all the fascination with the garage door?? Just use a battery powered sawzall and make yourself a nice hole in the side of the garage (or house) in 5 minutes...you're in. Maybe you can pour a 10 in thick concrete barrier around your house, don't forget the moat and draw bridge. The bottom line here is to properly insure your vehicles.
  • 31
    Tom Lisbon, Ohio July 31, 2014 at 10:23
    Denying access. Anything you can do to prevent access to your garage works. Thieves want to be in and out. Deny them access or make it time consuming.
  • 32
    Kerrigan Smith Mendicino United States August 2, 2014 at 11:00
    No security measure is fool proof. You are trying to buy time. With enough time and tools any security device can be defeated.
  • 33
    Alan El Cajon, Ca August 3, 2014 at 22:12
    I own a 69 AMX and have owned a 70 also. These cars have tachs in them that are wired through the ignition primary side. All you need to do is disconnect one of the primary wires on the starter solenoid and the engine wont start.
  • 34
    Joe P'Cola, Florida August 8, 2014 at 10:45
    We keep a extra heavy lock through the side rail of the garage door in addition to the doors built in deadbolt. Then just for extra slowing if someone should get past those is the lag bolts screwed through the tracks into the garage door wheel axles (they are finger tight and easy to remove, if you notice them).

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