Many of us travel by car every single day—sometimes at very high speeds, sometimes in disastrous weather, and sometimes for incredibly long stretches of time. So we have to be able to trust that our vehicles will be as dependable. Everyone has their personal preferences, but the official rankings show a clear winner for the most dependable brand.
Every year, J.D. Power and Associates release their Vehicle Dependability Study, which reports on the reliability of specific car brands and cars in general. The winner for 2018? Lexus. This is the seventh consecutive year that Lexus has secured the top spot, giving it a solid reputation as America’s most trusted car brand. The other brands in the top five were Porsche, Buick, Infiniti, and Kia. Buick was the highest to rank among mass-market brands. So if you’re in the market for a new car, keep those in mind, along with these secrets your car dealer won’t tell you.
Related: Stay safe on and off the road
Things car thieves won't tell you
Things car thieves won't tell you
There are cars we steal the most
The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) compiles an annual Hot Wheels report, which lists the top ten most stolen cars in the United States. Here are the top targets from the most recent report and the most stolen model year for each:
Honda Accord (1997)
Honda Civic (1998)
Ford Pickup (full size) (2006)
Chevrolet Pickup (full size) (2004)
Toyota Camry (2016)
Nissan Altima (2015)
Dodge Pickup (full size) (2001)
Toyota Corolla (2015)
Chevrolet Impala (2008)
Jeep Cherokee/Grand Cherokee (2000)
We love older cars
When you think of the car thieves you see in movies or TV shows, they’re usually after high end, luxury sports cars. And while those do get stolen in real life, it doesn’t happen nearly as often as you would think. Thieves target older cars because they’re much easier to steal.
“In the 2000s, most vehicles started to come equipped with more advanced ignition systems such as chipped keys that need to be in proximity to the dash for the car to start,” says Marc Hinch, an auto theft investigator and creator of stolen911.com. “Many of the vehicles prior to this time are easy to start if you know how to manipulate the ignition.”
If your car was built more than 20 years ago, Hinch recommends taking extra security precautions, like installing steering wheel locks, aftermarket alarm systems, or ignition immobilizers. There are even GPS tracking systems that can send you alerts if your car starts moving unexpectedly. Trust us, they're worth the money. What you really need to look out for are these 7 ways you're wasting money on your car.
We have a favorite state
Sorry, California residents, but you’re already at risk. California has consistently been the state with the most car thefts since 1960. And according to Frank Scafidi, director of public affairs for the NICB, there has never been a close runner-up.
We want your car for the parts
Car thieves aren’t just looking for a new ride. They’re most likely going to resell parts of your car, especially if it has custom wheels, a custom engine, or high-end seats. If not, they’re doing it to help facilitate another crime, go for a joy ride, or win a dare.
And sometimes, we don't even care about the car
Hinch says that car break-ins are actually more common than actual car thefts, mostly because people often forget that they left valuables like laptops and purses in their vehicles.
Don't assume your neighborhood is safe
Thieves know you’ll think that and act upon it. As part of a plea agreement, a car thief told Hinch that he and his crew would walk through a nice-looking neighborhood at night, checking for unlocked cars. About one out of six unlocked cars had a spare key inside.
If your car gets stolen, it's probably your fault
Our experts say that a lot of car thefts could have been prevented if the owner had only made sure he locked the car or not left it running when she ran into Starbucks for a quick cup of coffee. These common security slip-ups are basically invitations for thieves to take your vehicle. Another common mistake is leaving valuables in plain sight. Race car driver and automotive expert Lauren Fix says “valuables” include the obvious items like laptops, purses, and GPS units, but that thieves will even go for money in the center console and closed bags that simply look like something of worth may be inside. Here are 9 more things you should never leave in your car.
Public parking lots are a gold mine
Whether they’re at the airport, the mall, the gym, or the stadium, public parking lots and garages are an ideal location for car thefts. There’s a whole assortment of cars to choose from, and many don’t have adequate security. “In short, if the public has access to your vehicle, then it is at risk of theft,” Scafidi says. Avoid leaving your car on the outskirts of a lot, park as close to the building entrance as possible, and make sure your car is in view of a surveillance system.
The more hidden your car is, the better (for us)
Another reason parking garages are a prime target for car theft is that thieves are less likely to be spotted there, as opposed to somewhere right on the street. Former car thief Steve Fuller told ABC News that he often chose dark, secluded locations for his jobs. "I liked it because it's quiet. I can hear if somebody was coming," Fuller said. "All I really have to deal with was somebody coming down from their apartment to get in their vehicle, and at that time in the middle of the night it's not usually that often."
The way you park makes a difference
Luckily, there are precautions you can take against thieves who frequent parking garages. “Park your vehicle with the front end facing an obstacle, such as a wall or guardrail, whenever possible,” Fix tells Reader’s Digest. “This makes it harder for thieves to tow or roll your car away if they can’t get it started.” If you’re on the street, she recommends parking under a light, turning the wheels toward the curb, and locking the steering wheel. That’ll make it harder for someone to tow away your car.
We study your habits
As unsettling as it is, car thieves may spy on you and your car for extended periods of time to figure out the best plan of attack. Hinch recalls a case that involved a series of warm-up thefts, where thieves would scout for vehicles that owners left running unattended so they would warm up on cold mornings. “I remember reading detailed notes such as, ‘Man warms up blue Yukon at San Felipe and Ross every morning at 7:25 a.m. Goes back inside and comes out with daughters five minutes later to take them to school,’” he says. “Later, during the interview after his arrest, the suspect stated the notes were valuable intel to be sold or traded if it turned out he didn’t use it himself.” Make sure you know the 13 signs your house is being watched.
We work together
In fact, Hinch says that some thieves will offer a finder’s fee to someone who can provide a location, photos, and/or any other details about a certain car they’re looking for. “Crews looking for a particular type of vehicle to steal will put out bounties for this type of information,” he says. “This info could come from somebody who just drives by and sees a target vehicle or maybe a security guard who can tell the thieves the schedule of a target. I’ve seen texts on crooks' phones such as, ‘He parks the car every day at 8:30 on the west side of the lot’ [and] ‘Comes back out around 12:00.’”
We have our own specialties
According to Hinch, some thieves only steal what they know, meaning they’re masters at stealing their chosen model and make of car. “If a thief knows how to steal one Camaro, he knows how to steal them all,” Hinch explains. “[For] example, thieves who steal Chevy Camaros know how to silence the stock alarms so it can’t be heard when they break into the car. They know where the stock tracking system (On-Star) is located and quickly unplug it.”
There's a secret key in your car you probably don't know about
It’s called a valet key, and it can usually unlock the driver’s door and start the car. “A valet key is typically contained in the owner’s manual, in a little sleeve at the back of the manual,” Scafidi says. “Or it can be encased in a plastic index card-sized insert where you simply pop it out of the insert and you can use it as a regular key.” He notes that many new cars have a fob that enables a push-button start, not a regular key, but there are allegedly devices that can capture the signals from the fob and use them to gain access to a keyless car. Find out the 30 things your car mechanic won't tell you.
We're hard to spot
You probably won’t be able to pick out a car thief on the street. Car thieves blend into crowds so no one gets suspicious of what they’re about to do. That’s why you need to take extra precautions to keep thieves out.
We don't like stickers
One simple but surprisingly effective way to throw off a potential thief is to put a sticker in your rear window that suggests you have an alarm or tracking system set up in your car. If they suspect there’s a chance they could get caught, thieves are more likely to pass up that car for an easier steal.
We are relentless
Our experts all agree: Once a thief sets his eyes on the prize, he’ll do whatever it takes to get it. As Hinch explained, he could have perfected the mechanics of breaking into your specific car model. Scafidi says a “slim jim” tool is often used to open locked doors on older cars. Otherwise, they may opt for the classic “smash and grab,” as Fix calls it, where you’re left with a broken window and stolen property. One surefire invitation to car thieves? Seeing an open window.
The extra precautions really do work
If your car is 20 years or older or is on the list of the most stolen cars in America, going to extra lengths to protect your vehicle could mean the difference between a normal trip to the mall and one that ends with a missing car. Fix advises that you have your Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) chemically etched on your windows, which makes it harder for thieves to resell your car’s parts. You can get this service done at a car dealership or a local police department.
“Use anti-theft systems in your car such as external steering wheel locks, hood locks, tire locks, kill switches, car alarms, and tracking systems such as Lojack,” she adds. “Bonus: Having an anti-theft system might qualify you for a discount on your comprehensive car insurance.” Next, don't miss these 21 secrets burglars don't want you to know.
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The ranking is based on problems reported per 100 cars, and Lexus had the fewest at 99, compared to the industry average of 142, according to Business Insider. The cars studied were actually from 2015, surveyed after three years of ownership with their original buyers. J.D. Power and Associates also found that overall dependability for vehicles of any brand increased by 9 percent from the year before—the first time the dependability of cars overall has increased since 2013. Check out these tips to extend the life of your car.
Consumer Reports also releases its own “10 Most Reliable Cars” list every year, and though a Lexus model didn’t take the top spot for that—it went to the Kia Niro—its models made up three of the top ten, and Toyota, Lexus’ parent company, also counted three models in the lineup. Lexus and Toyota have been called “boring” by outlets like NBC and The Drive, but you can’t argue with the reliability they offer to thousands of drivers across America. Check out the companies and products that made the cut for the most trusted brands in every industry.
Don't leave these items your in car
Never, ever leave these things in your car
Never, ever leave these things in your car
Most medicine should be left at room temperature, but a car will rarely stay at that point when not in use. Heat probably won’t make your drugs directly harmful, but it could make them less effective.
Beyond the expense of the devices themselves, gadgets like laptops, cell phones, and thumb drives contain information that could be easy to steal. If you’re in a position where you have to store your laptop or phone unattended, make sure the information is encrypted, says Eva Velasquez, CEO and president of Identity Theft Resource Center. This makes thieves unable to view information without a code, separate from the password used to log in to the device. “It’s a strong layer of protection and would need someone putting a fair amount of effort into it to view,” Velasquez says. “It’s much stronger than password protection.”
Ironically, the active ingredients in sunscreen break down in high heat. Leaving it in the car on a hot day could reduce its effectiveness. Plus, the heat could cause it to explode, leaving you with a hot mess. Check out these things you should never leave in your garage.
Although the research is a bit unclear, studies have linked BPA and phthalates, chemicals found in plastic water bottles, with health conditions like cancer and heart disease. Letting a bottle sit in the sun and heat up could cause these chemicals to leach into the water. Plus, if the bottle has been lying around for a while, it could start harboring microorganisms.
Leaving a purse or wallet in plain sight makes your car a target for thieves, even if you’ve locked your doors or taken the valuables out of your bag. “It doesn’t matter if the alarm goes off,” Velasquez says. “It’s attractive, and they’re going to grab it.” These are the 12 items you should never keep in your purse.
Take advantage of your car’s sunglasses compartment while driving, but don’t leave your shades in it after you reach your destination. Heat can warp plastic frames and make metal ones too hot to wear. Leaving your glasses or sunglasses on the dashboard is even worse because the windshield could attract sunlight like a magnifying glass, American Optometric Association spokeswoman Susan Thomas has said.
If you have personal documents that you plan to mail or shred, make that task a priority on your to-do list. Letting files like school transcripts or tax forms sit in your car while you run other errands or until you have time to take care of them leaves information vulnerable if anyone breaks into your vehicle, Velasquez says. “Put it in the car, take care of it, and then you’re done,” she says. “You have to follow through.” If they don't need to be in your car, leave them at home or in the office—but make sure you know the 9 things you should never keep on your desk.
Never leave a passport in the car while traveling, even if it seems like it’s too bulky to carry around. Identity theft is even easier with a passport than with a driver's license, Velasquez says. “We have to think of data and pieces of our identity as valuables,” she continues. “You’re not going to leave jewelry in the car, but we don’t have that same level of concern with things that make up our identity, and we need to.”
Wait until after work or errands to pick up a bottle of wine. If the bottle gets too hot, the flavor could be affected, and the liquid could expand enough to seep around the cork or push the cork out a bit, contaminating the wine inside. Don't miss these 14 things you should always keep in your car.