According to You: How to protect your classic from being stolen

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Your answers to our question about ways to prevent the theft of classic vehicles went above and beyond; they not only taught others interesting tricks but kept us all grounded. That’s because car thieves are likely to never tire, and if at first they don’t succeed, they shall try again. However, the harder you make it, the less likely they are to remain motivated. Or, as Hagerty Community member @David said:

You know, despite our best efforts, if some nefarious person(s) want what you have, they’re probably going to figure out how to get it. Kill switches and other such devices are fine, but the determined thief will just roll up with a tow truck and drive off if they have zeroed in on your car.

I mainly want to deter the opportunistic thieves out there. So, I keep my cars locked when not in use and in public and I make sure my insurance is active and the value up-to-date.

How do we lower the chances of a vehicular tragedy? Let’s learn more from your answers.

Losing that spark

spark plug on black
Niterra North America, Inc

@Jeepcj5: On one of my vehicles I have a hidden switch that kills the spark. This kill switch allows the starter to still turn, it just won’t fire up. Hopefully [thieves] get discouraged quick enough when it just sits there and spins over, or they draw enough attention to walk away before they troubleshoot the wiring.

@brian: I put a two-prong turn-signal flasher in line with [the] ignition-circuit motor. It starts, it will rev up, but when put in drive [it] won’t pull itself!

@vette guy: How about running a wire from the hot side of the coil to a switch, then to a loud horn? There are many ways to alert you; just use your imagination!

@Walter: A friend of mine had a 1968 Dodge Super Bee. He wired the high beam switch (which was on the floor) as the ignition cutoff switch and mounted a switch under the dash to activate the high beams.

I myself had a 1969 Roadrunner that someone tried to steal three times. First time they pushed in the small vent window, then cranked down the window and opened the door. They removed the bezel around the ignition switch but tried to remove the switch by pulling it forward, when all they had to do was push it and it would have fallen out the back. I then installed an alarm, so the second time the alarm went off and they were gone. The third time they knew there was an alarm, so they pushed in the vent window again, rolled down the window, and climbed through. What they didn’t know is that there were two ignition-cutoff switches under the dash. Unsuccessful again.

@Malcolm: Battery disconnects work well.

Own a “difficult” vehicle

Jay Leno's Garage 1911 EMF Model 30 steering controls
YouTube/Jay Leno's Garage

@Jeff: I use the standard features my 1954 Austin-Healey came with as standard features: no exterior door handles, a battery disconnect switch, a starter button, and a manual transmission.

@Michael: 1938 Chevrolet—first level is a manual transmission and a floor-mounted starter—would probably slow down some of the bad guys. A battery disconnect (with the battery under the floorboard) may slow down the next level [of thief].

@Headturner: My van has the best deterrent straight from the factory: a three-on-the-tree will keep them occupied. My ’57 Chevy is a four-speed but I leave the key in it while it is in the garage. If they steal it, I’d rather not have them cut up a 65-year-old harness to hot-wire it.

A bypass switch is like “fuels” gold?

1990 Lincoln Continental junkyard
Sajeev Mehta

@Mike: I have a kill switch hidden in plain sight: An unused blower switch on the dashboard, rewired to the electric fuel-pump hot line.

@Mike, but not the same one as above: I’ve pulled the fuel pump fuse before. I’ve even cable-locked around a coil spring before. Anything to make a thief have to spend more time.

Steering-wheel locks

steering wheel lock safety measure
Xander Cesari

@Jeff: Nothing is more satisfying than a cross-country trip in a classic car. Yes, I use a steering wheel club and always turn the wheels all the way to one side so it can’t be towed. I guess the best suggestion is to stay in a nice hotel in a nice suburb and park under a street lamp as close to the front door of the hotel as possible. If there is a security camera on the building I park under that as well. But I still worry about the car. I’m looking forward to reading other’s replies.

@Jim: I think thieves will usually get a car if they want it bad enough, but the idea is to make it inconvenient for them. That’s the reason I use steering wheel clubs, especially when an overnight parking place looks iffy. They’re cheap and only take seconds to put on the wheel.

@Bernd: I use a club since the airbag in the steering wheel of my daily driver was stolen twice. (Now it’s a quite an old model, thieves get them at the scrap yard.)

@Blu: A club can be defeated with big bolt cutters: [You] cut the steering wheel beside the club and take it off. A hidden battery disconnect works well.

Tracking devices

Apple AirTag in hand
Flickr | Anson Chen

@greg: I have a Viper alarm on one, and Carlock on my other two. All have instant phone app notifications (including my ’31 Model A). I sleep well at night, even if staying in a hotel on the road; and no, I have no stake in either company.

@Arrow: Just put mine away for Christmas, but I’m going to put an Apple AirTag in my classic when it’s out of the garage.


@DUB6: We once went on a road trip with friends. Two classics in a motel parking lot in unknown (for crime) areas was a bit scary. We bought two balloons that had blinking mini-lights inside them (it was nearing Halloween). Deflated the balloons and placed the tiny, blinking lights down in the speedometer wells. In the dark, it looked like both cars had activated security systems. A thorough thief shoulda/coulda/woulda figured it out, but at least we all slept easier!

Bunka’s Bunker?

1964 Porsche 356 Carrera 2 Coupe rear three quarter
Broad Arrow Auctions

@Bunka: I keep my Porsche 356 in the garage. It is a one-car garage. The car outside in the driveway abutting the street is my daily driver. A thief first has to get it out of the way. It is always locked. Then there is my wife’s car which also needs to be removed; it is also locked. Then there is the garage door: No handle on the outside so you need to know the code in order to open it. Then the trash cans and soon-to-be snowblower have to be removed from in front of the 356, which is in the back.

All of the work and time involved to steal the car is bound to draw someone’s attention. I feel very confident that the car is secure. On the flip side, I have to plan an extra 30 minutes in advance when I want to go to a car show or rally. As far as security is concerned when the car is out, I have the factory-installed shift lock and the factory-installed interior gas shut off. The various positions of the gas shut off are all written in German so that makes it a time-consuming, trial-and-error thing.

Do it all?

Car in vacant parking lot
Getty Images

@DrivingHy: Everything said here is true. There’s no defense for a determined thief. Given enough time any car can be stolen. That said, I do agree many devices and clubs are better than none and will slow [thieves] down or divert them elsewhere, but it’s best to be proactive. I’ll do the club just for something obvious but also remove something essential that prevents a thief from getting away quickly.

I’ve known people who’ve removed all the lug nuts from one wheel. It’s rarely noticed and can stop a thief fairly quick when a wheel comes off. I suppose it’s better to have a damaged and abandoned car than one that’s stolen.

In my case, I’ll pull the distributor cap and wires. Park in an “ender” preferably next to a fixed barrier like a wall and turn the wheels in a direction that makes backing out straight impossible. Naturally I always set the handbrake so if they try to tow the car it’s way harder to go unnoticed and pull it out straight and onto a flatbed.

Naturally an AirTag (or similar) couldn’t hurt. And take lots of car pics after parking it—just in case the police need to ID it …

If I go [a] long distance and am not comfortable with the area, I’ll sleep in my car before leaving it out of sight!

Keep it a secret

Rob Siegel - MacGyvering the freshwater pump in the RV - IMG_2232
Rob Siegel

@DUB6: Well frankly, I’m not inclined to publicize any details, but suffice [it] to say that through various electronic and mechanical means, I feel pretty—well, fairly—confident. I will say that one should not rely on one tactic only, but combine two or more so you have backup. And then, tell/show no one—NO ONE—what your secrets are. If you are not a “wrencher” or DIYer, you may indeed have to pay someone to install some sort of system(s), so please be sure you know your installer well.

@TooFast4Me: You make a very good point which a lot of people miss. Know your installer! About 30 years ago there was a place that installed car stereos, alarms, and auto-start systems. They would install and collected everyone’s info, wait awhile, then start stealing back—car stereos, at first. Then entire cars, since they knew the alarm-system codes by having a spare remote made. The business did not do the thefts themselves but sold the info to others. It was only when some very high-value vehicles went missing that they caught the culprits and they admitted they bought the info from the business. That business in particular had not only a great reputation but [had] in business for over 35 years. Needless to say, the business is gone.

If you can’t install it yourself then ask other owners of high-value vehicles to recommend someone. GPS/cell trackers work well but [they are] ongoing expenses. But again, [as] a lot of good points stated in these replies: keep your insurance up to date, know your environment, and a gut feeling is usually right!

@don: Yup, the club is great, but then add a hidden kill switch (that stops most people) and I keep the vehicle in a locked garage with my daily driver in front of it. My “collector” cars are not extremely high value so I think I don’t need much else, so just keep your secrets, secret.

@Sajeev Mehta: I keep a few secrets for this reason too, because some of my vehicles have hidden theft deterrents and automotive journalists are easily googleable by anyone. I love my silly Fords too much to have it any other way. (Even if they are mostly value-less to most any thief.)




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Read next Up next: Style, Stories, History: Why I Collect Classic Boats


    I am surprised no one knows how to start an old Buick. Altho the switch is on unless you floor the accelerator the engine won’t start. Also I have a hidden button under the dash.

    Funny/Embarrassing story: I learned to drive in my dad’s ’50 Buick. When I went to drivers ed, I put the key in and stepped on the gas pedal and nothing happened in the ’60’s Plymouth! The instructor then told me to turn the key! Driving was easy, just getting the car started was more of a chore.

    Y’all missed the best deterrent: don’t have a car worth stealing – especially if it’s more rust than car!! That’s what’s kept my classics in my possession (that and their stubborn unwillingness to run…)

    While I agree a determined thief will get it eventually, I believe they’re mostly going to go for the easiest target. Stealing any classic is stupid compared to say, an Accord, because the second they steal it, a classic will stick out like a sore thumb. Unless they are serious pros with a waiting transport van, even a moderately intelligent thief (oxymoron?) wouldn’t try and steal something really rare. It would just be too easy for police to track down.
    *and I just want to say, that 356 is effing gorgeous!

    If it’s rare, they will part it out. That happened to my friend’s Lotus years ago. One of the biggest chop shops in the U.S. used to be in Chattanooga. Nearly every car stolen in East Tennessee became untraceable parts within 24 hours back in the 70s and 80s.

    My father has a 1929 Chrysler and I have a 1939 Dodge pickup and both came with a coil whose hot side ( in the Chrysler camp this meant negative) was only accessible from the armored cable at the ignition switch, to avoid hot wiring evidently car theft is not a new phenomenon! Otherwise anyone foolish enough to jump into an old car and speed away is likely to meet with the consequence they so richly earned like easily identified vehicle at best ,( only Police custody) or a trip to the hospital or morgue when the brakes or steering aren’t quite up to par.
    Chrysler used to have the Fedco system which guarantees the owner will have Pinkerton Detectives on the case if there is a robbery!

    The trouble is much of what is listed will keep away the armatures. The Clubs can be easily removed by those versed in how to do it. I have broken into cars legally with Keys. brake tools and even a yard stick.

    Best to part in a good area and secure over night area.

    If you want to do something easy remove a coil wire or unplug a part of the ignition. Most people will never take the time to find the missing or removed part. The time they will spend is short so anything you can do to make it longer to start the better. But even some of the best systems can be defeated.

    I think of the movie “The Sound of Music” when the nuns went to Mother Superior and confessed they sinned, holding a Nazi’s distributor cap and wires. Classic!

    Hyperv6, please proofread your comments before posting. I am spending way to much time trying to figure out what you meant. LOL!

    Well, Sajeev’s last comment has really burst MY bubble (or – ahem – my balloon 😉), by telling us he’s got protection. I’ve just been waiting for him to announce/show us the completion of Project Valentino so I could go down south and heist it. [I have seen a picture of his garage door, so it would only be a matter of driving around Houston until I found it]

    I have a Maserati Quattroporte III; even though I can’t get the 4 webbers to light; good luck pushing a 5000-pound lump up the driveway.

    Both my classic and my daily driver have the best stock theft deterrent – a manual transmission. But I guess that only works for the younger generation of thieves 🙂

    Yeah! Those dumb youth can’t drive our old cars. How stupid are they?! HAHAHAH

    Oh wait, no one wants to buy my stick shift car? The hobby is dying? WHY DID THIS HAPPEN?!

    Maybe instead of crapping on younger people for not knowing how to use a nearly completely phased-out piece of tech, you should take it upon yourself to teach a younger person how to drive one. You know, help our hobby instead of being divisive helping make sure young people never care about cars.

    Hidden behind your aggressive shaming of a poor attempt at generational humor is a very good point. I have made it my mission to enthuse younger people in all things automotive and motorcycle for years. I even kept an old manual Jeep around years ago to let the young’ens learn and practice on. Today I often offer my Grom to new riders to learn how to ride, clutch and shift a manual motorcycle. I recommend it. Not only did they all enjoy the lessons they became friends and much safer drivers/riders. My daughter loves to show off her rare manual skills on both cars and motorcycles.

    The hobby is dying? WHY DID THIS HAPPEN?!

    When Dusters and 5.0’s are going for 20k, it kinda destroys the feasibility for the younger generation to get started. Gone are the days of mostly $500 dollar cars. Houses going for half a Mil, really. Greed and house flippers destroyed the good ol daze.

    I got my sons Isuzu for $300 bucks with a 5 speed. We got it to run and he rebuilt it himself and learned how to drive it. Most of his friends don’t even like driving. With all the uninsured trash on the roads today, I don’t even want to drive anymore and oh by the way, a $1.25 Radio Shack kill switch saved my Road Runner of which I still have today. Popping the ignition switch out was a lame attempt. Cops said their was a professional car ring operating in the area. Whos the dumb ones now.

    Best way to not let your vintage ride get stolen you ask? Never let it out of your site.

    Armydude, Did you people come here to correct peoples spelling or share a thoughtful story for people? Was my grammar good nuff for you

    Yeah I nieces and nephews you can’t get them away from cellphones and video games long enough to learn about cars or even enjoy the beauty of the outdoors you have to tip toe through what you say are be labeled and can’t approach no one without being talk to like a dog I don’t help unless I know someone it’s no longer worth it

    The best method I have found is to keep my car in a perennial state of disassembly or as some call it “restoration”. Sure I can’t drive it, but at least it will take them a couple of pickup trucks and a flat bed. Maybe with some luck, they’ll finish the job and the authorites can recover it fully restored!

    Now I think about it, I might start leaving the garage door open at night…..

    Yea, disassembly. My son parked his Toyota at a trailhead in a residential area to go hiking. To deter theft, he removed the steering wheel and put it in the trunk. Nosy neighbors reported the car as abandoned and had it towed. He had a difficult time to get his car back.

    Somehow, this appeals to my odd sense of humor!
    All my vehicles are stickshift, I block the clutch pedal with a long-shank padlock thru a piece of hardwood.
    My daily driver is a ratty looking old Subaru, no-one looks twice at

    I have a 1956 Porsche 356A. I turn the underdash gas tap off right before I park it. Hardly anybody know about those on the early cars.They might get it 100 yards..and then”run out of gas”.I leave my cars unlocked so window dont get busted.

    Small man
    I don’t lock my windows either if they want to get in there getting in my rule is never let it out you site

    I have a Revelco installed in my old 911. It would take an hour or two up on a hoist to figure it out and disconnect. First they’ll have to remove the police style boot from the rear wheel — because I really don’t want them smashing windows and sawing steering wheels and trying to hotwire things.

    I have a 23 Hellcat and I have 3 detergent devices. 1. A steering wheel club. 2. Neutral cable cover so you annoy manually put into neutral and over ride the floor shifter. 3 kill switch with a special pinned plug that shuts off fuel pump and starter. Hopefully these 3 things will deter thieves, due to the time to take the vehicle. But anything is possible if you want it.

    The club can be removed in under 30 seconds by a good thief (without cutting the steering wheel). I did it to my own to see hoe it could be done…amazingly simple to do. SORRY.

    My ’72 Olds Cutlass has a fully manual, reverse pattern valve body in the auto TH400 transmission, an aftermarket Hurst floor shifter, manual drum brakes and manual steering. If they were going to drive the car away, they first need to figure out how to operate the shifter and get it out of park and into gear. First gear is where D (drive) normally would be but they couldn’t drive faster than about 25 mph as it would stay in first. They would then try to turn the steering wheel (very difficult if you’re not moving) thinking something is wrong and once moving, they’d step on the brakes and feel what seems like to them…no brakes! My biggest concern are the smart thieves…and flatbed tow truck, a few minutes and just drive away.

    There’s only two people who know how to start my car. One is me. The other is not you. Also, as a towing and transportation operator for 30 years I can tell you that with enough effort, time, and drawing attention, any car can be dragged up on my truck. Even if it means we have to send 3 trucks so we can grab the two that are blocking it in first. But the bottom line is make yours harder to steel so that they pick an easier target.

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