Home What Is Carjacking and How to Prevent It?

What Is Carjacking and How to Prevent It?

by Tony Arevalo

The crime of choice for many a law offender throughout the world is currently car theft; usually done either in the presence of the vehicle owner (a form of car theft referred to as carjacking), or in their absence. 

The main purpose of this article is to provide a detailed outline of carjacking over the last couple of years by analyzing several elements, including the main dangers associated with carjacking, techniques that can be employed to help prevent the practice, and its impact on the insurance industry. Towards the end of this article, we will also discuss several recent carjacking cases, in an effort to raise awareness about this method of theft.

What Is Carjacking?

The term “carjacking” represents a form of car theft in which one or more criminals proceed to steal a vehicle while in the presence of its driver and (possibly) rightful owner. Generally, carjacking is associated with several other crimes — not counting your standard car theft — including threat-making and violence. 

As such, carjacking is commonly regarded as a more severe crime than car theft in most of the world’s legal systems. Thus, it also entails larger punishments for offenders due to its immense damage (emotional, physical, and material) on the victims.

The Dangers of Carjacking

Carjacking is classed as an extremely dangerous criminal activity, due to the fact that carjackers often resort to the use of violence, fear, and employ actual weapons in order to steal the vehicles that are being carjacked. 

As of now, carjacking has become a common occurrence in many parts of the world; especially so in the US, despite the numerous attempts of the authorities to help reduce the incidence of this crime. It’s no wonder then that carjacking facts show that around 49,000 incidents involving carjacking are reported every year to the US Department of Justice. Furthermore, it seems that 92% of attempts are made when the driver is alone in the car, without any other passengers. 

Common Targets

Reports also indicate that carjacking is dangerous, due to the profiling activity carried out by offenders — studies show that car thieves often look for people who seem like easy targets (weak from a physical point of view, or older). Similarly, auto jackers also tend to choose to areas that aren’t well lit, or where there are very few people. Because of this, the situation can easily escalate into violence, leading to injury or even death in some cases. On the other hand, car thieving only entails stealing a car, therefore it does not generally lead to physical injury, but rather only to material damages. Attempted carjacking situations are less prevalent, since they entail that the offender has been overpowered by the vehicle driver, and was thus unable to steal the vehicle. Cases of failed carjacking also take place when the offender gets immobilized by law enforcement or people passing by.

However, as we will see later on, most statistics indicate that carjacking is significantly less common when compared to car theft. In fact, in Australia, it seems that carjackings only occur in 5% of car theft cases, according to BudgetDirect.


So far, numerous countries have taken legislative approaches meant to help prevent the rate of carjacking through harsher penalties for offenders who engage in this practice. Similarly, police patrols have been increased, especially in areas where people have fallen victim to a carjacking in the past. Meanwhile, numerous thieves do not truly want to engage in violence seeing how, if caught, they would get larger penalties. Most offenders simply want to steal vehicles for the sake of selling them for parts, and getting a profit.

How to Prevent Carjacking?

To kick things off, it is important to once again highlight the fact that carjacking is rare, yet it is essential to take several precautionary measures in order to ensure that you will not become a victim of this vile practice. 

Here are a couple of tips worth keeping in mind whenever you are driving a vehicle:

  • Always have your phone on you and never leave it in the car

Probably the best advice on how to avoid carjacking that anyone can give you since it also acts as a basic public safety tip. By keeping your phone on your person at all times, you can contact the police, or take pictures, and videos which can serve as valuable evidence. Modern smartphones have SOS functions integrated. These features can be activated discreetly and used to safely contact law enforcement whenever you are in danger. They are particularly useful when traveling in areas that are not safe, and thus act as good carjacking prevention devices. 

  • Avoid dangerous areas, especially when you are the only person inside the vehicle

car thieves generally operate in high crime neighborhoods at night and in areas where there is little public lighting, especially if no other people are around. Therefore, it is best to avoid such areas, but if you have to go, make sure to park your vehicle in a well-lit area, where other people are present as well (near a restaurant, market, or event hall). This is an excellent carjacking prevention tip. 

  • Make sure your windows are rolled up and that your doors are locked

This will further discourage car thieves since there is no apparent way for them to gain access to your vehicle. Attacking a locked car is generally not a smart move for offenders since the vehicle can be easily driven away. Similarly, it is important to keep in mind that armed carjacking is less likely in these circumstances. 

  • Keep a close eye on suspicious individuals lurking around

They might be watching you too! As such, whenever you find yourself in a dangerous area, it is best to keep a close watch on the people in the vicinity of your vehicle. In case of suspicious behavior, it’s best to call law enforcement as this action can serve as a highly-effective anti-carjacking strategy. 

  • Be aware of carjacking techniques used by offenders to lure victims

Through time, car thieves have developed several highly-effective techniques used to gain access to vehicles. For instance, some criminals pretend that they hit your car, in an effort to lure you out (especially at night and in desolate areas). Other car thieves pretend to be stranded drivers, whereas others might try hitchhiking a ride. With this in mind, when driving in dangerous areas or at night, it is better to be suspicious and avoid confrontation with these people. Another common method is the paper on back window carjacking, where offenders place a note on your window and then proceed to drive off with your car as you head out to inspect the paper in question. There are numerous other methods as well, therefore it is best for drivers to practice extra caution whenever they are behind the wheel, even when in broad daylight and in highly-populated areas. 

How to Prevent Car Theft?

Car theft is a highly-unpleasant experience to deal with, since it generally entails following complicated reporting procedures with law enforcement and insurance agents. Additionally, criminal rings have developed numerous strategies meant to reduce the likelihood of being found by the police, such as selling the car for parts or shipping it to another part of the world where international law enforcement cooperation is not enforced. Carjacking definitions all show that this is often the case. 

Based on these aspects, here are several tips that will help prevent going through the unpleasant experience of car theft. 

  • Always close your windows and lock your car

Many people who have not yet been affected by carjacking or car theft feel a false sense of safety. Namely, they often leave their cars unlocked, or their windows open. This represents a direct invitation for thieves. Even if you are outside of your car for a few minutes, make sure to lock it and close all the windows. This is the most effective way to reduce the risk of car theft. 

  • Hide any and all valuables present in your car

Leaving valuables in the center console, or on the passenger seat are all seen as open invitations by thieves, increasing their motivation for breaking into a car. Generally, thieves that steal possessions present in the car do not steal the vehicle itself, yet having your window broken and your laptop stolen is not a pleasant experience to go through. Similarly, leaving valuables out may also encourage some thieves to teach you what is carjacking. 

  • Always park in areas that are well-lit and secure

When choosing a parking spot, it is best to look for places that are walked by pedestrians, well-lit and under the surveillance of CCTV cameras. If no such places are available nearby, a better choice might be to park the vehicle further away from your destination, and proceed to walk or call an Uber. This represents yet another efficient way to prevent auto theft. 

  • Make sure that your vehicle is insured against theft 

While this is not a method of preventing car theft, it is a great technique for reducing the financial impact associated with having your car stolen. Mandatory insurance is law in most countries, yet many policies lack coverage for vehicle theft. Next time you renew your insurance policy, make sure that theft coverage is offered as well, especially if you live in, or often travel to a region associated with high crime rates. 

  • Invest in a car anti-theft device 

The steering wheel and gear shift locks are highly-effective devices that can discourage potential car thieves. It is important to keep in mind that such tools aren’t fool-proof, therefore highly-motivated thieves might still be able to steal the car. As such, this strategy should be employed alongside the other tips that have been outlined thus far. Indeed, installing anti-carjacking devices takes time and money, but they are especially useful if you live in neighborhoods with high crime rates.

Another aspect worth keeping in mind is that numerous modern cars feature GPS-based tracking systems that can be used to locate a car that has been stolen.

  • Know and use your vehicle’s identification number

All of the world’s cars have a unique identification number, referred to as a VIN. So, when learning how to prevent auto theft, keep in mind that this number can be used to check if a car that you are willing to purchase has been stolen; it can also be leveraged by law enforcement agencies to find stolen vehicles and their respective parts. In fact, the VIN can also be utilized to learn more about the history of a used vehicle (accidents, service no. of owners, etc.).

Recent Shocking Carjacking Cases

Here are several recent cases that will showcase the true carjacking definition and how everyone is always at imminent risk of having their vehicles stolen. 

  • A 7 and 12-year-old carjacked an elderly woman in Ipswich

According to BBC, two little boys carjacked an elderly woman at knifepoint. While she was (thankfully) physically unhurt following the incident, she was visibly shaken from a psychological point of view. The vehicle that was involved in said carjack was later recovered by the police, and the two suspects were found as well.

  • Insurance agents, scrap dealers, and car thieves create car theft ring 

A car theft ring was recently uncovered in Delhi, where insurance agents sold vehicles involved in accidents to scrap dealers, where the cars were dismantled and their engine and chassis numbers were mounted in similar cars that have been stolen. Thus, the ring led to the creation of “legal” stolen vehicles, as per the carjacking definition.

  • An armed 17-year-old carjacked a vehicle and caused a multi-car accident in Baltimore

In this case, a 17-year-old carjacked a vehicle by threatening to use violence on the owner. After a car chase, the vehicle was involved in a multi-car accident that caused injury as well. The incident happened in broad daylight. Implying that such incidents can happen almost anywhere — there are numerous reports of this happening all over the country; for instance, carjacking in Chicago, New York, as well as other cities.

How Carjacking and Vehicle Theft Impacts the Insurance Industry?

Currently, reports indicate that most vehicles involved in carjacking or car theft are never found by the police, due to the extensive strategies employed by thieves to hide their marks, and quickly sell the vehicles and their respective parts. 

Hence, in the regions of the world where car theft and carjacking are highly-common, the insurance industry is bound to be affected by the practice. For example, ever since carjacking in Detroit became more common, the insurance industry was hit as well. 

Insurance works by having a large number of people pay a low monthly premium that is then used to cover a low number of expensive events, like car accidents or car theft. Generally, the monthly premium is calculated by taking into account the profit of the agency alongside its operational costs and the price of the expected coverage. In case a certain region is more affected by carjackings, the monthly premiums are bound to increase over the long-term, as shown by insurance statistics.

Many insurance agents have created extended coverage policies that are more expensive, yet cover all forms of damage and loss of property that can occur. Because of this, some cheap policies may not offer coverage in the case of theft; to create such a policy they must first answer the questions “what is carjacking” and “how often does it occur.” 

To determine whether car theft occurs in your area, or to learn more about the practice in general, you can check out this series of car theft statistics.

Bottom Line

Overall, we can conclude that car theft is more prevalent when compared to carjacking. However, the latter is generally more dangerous since it usually involves violence or at least threats to violence. 

Luckily, there are numerous strategies that can be employed in order to drastically reduce the risk of being involved in car theft. The bottom line is that you should always park in secure spots, and keep an eye out for suspicious individuals or criminals that may try to lure you in using one of the many effective techniques that will teach you the carjacking meaning first-hand. 

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What kind of crime is carjacking?

Here one or more criminals proceed to steal a vehicle directly from its owner using threats or violence; carjacking is a vehicle robbery, with the added aggravator of violence and/or threats. 

2. How long do you go to jail for carjacking?

The answer to this question depends on the local laws applicable in your jurisdiction. In the US, the general punishment for carjacking ranges from 3–9 years in prison, restitution of the money to the victim, alongside a fine (up to $10,000). 

3. How common is carjacking?

Around 49,000 carjacking incidents are reported yearly in the US. However, the incidence of this practice depends on where you live. For instance, carjacking in Milwaukee is significantly less common when compared to South Africa. 

4. Is carjacking a robbery?

Yes, carjacking represents a form of robbery, given the fact that its legal conditions are met if thieves proceed to take possession of a vehicle that does not belong to them, while in the presence of the vehicle’s driver, owner or passengers.

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