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Carjacking Prevention — Top Things You Need To Know

In Part 1 of this series we take you through how to prevent a carjacking from happening by using simple techniques to avoid it.

Carjacking Prevention — Top Things You Need To Know
Carjackings can happen quickly and violently, and they may want more than just your vehicle. In this series you’ll learn how to avoid becoming a victim and the best ways to fight back. Photo by Lukas Lamb.

Imagine the horror of being locked in the trunk of your car while a degenerate with a gun is at the wheel. They have complete control over what happens next. You’ll probably visit the ATM a few times. They’ll be sending routine looking messages to your family and friends telling them that you’re OK. The last thing that you’ll see is the inside of a blindfold or a bright flash coming from behind your head. Now, does that sound like something any of us are willing to allow happen?

It’s technically far easier for a car thief to take the car when its driver is right there with the keys. Increasingly difficult to defeat car alarms and locking systems make it more likely that your car will be stolen in person, by one or more carjackers, than by any other means. Over 90% of the time, the driver is alone. Nearly two thirds of the time, it occurs within a few miles of their home. Approximately one third of the time, the vehicle driver left the keys in the ignition, engine running.

Carjackers do it because they are either after a particular high demand vehicle model, they need a car to escape from law enforcement, to commit a crime with, they are after money (via your ATM card), they are a rapist, and/or you are their mark for a combination of the above. Many a carjacking victim has been found murdered bound and gagged in some shallow grave or in their trunk. Carjackings have become a veritable ‘growth industry’ worldwide, becoming increasingly violent and sophisticated. Plus keep in mind, during a natural disaster or rioting there is a greatly increased chance that someone might try to take your car (and maybe you), as things get desperate.

Though the statistics on carjackings are not reliable, it is sobering to know that in the majority of attempts, the carjacker is successful and in the overwhelming majority of attempts, they are armed with some type of weapon. Nearly half of the time, it is with a firearm. Many times there are multiple assailants. A close friend of mine was carjacked in broad daylight by a pair of armed male “youths”. He was leaning into the trunk securing his grocery bags, when they moved up on him out of nowhere.

He later recalled seeing another part of this carjack crew circling his BMW on rollerblades prior to the event, while another was a lookout using a nearby payphone. Four carjackers against one unarmed male, these are not very good odds. Let your guard down for a few seconds, and you could end up like my friend. But, in the majority of cases where the driver was armed, they are successful in defeating the carjacker.

Why many a person has become a victim of a carjacking can be narrowed down to complacency and lack of situational awareness. This series is intended to change that. Some of this information came from a multi-year project of instructors from two highly reputable shooting schools who, in 1997, formed an experimental ‘Carjacking Countermeasures Working Group’. Their goal was to find out what worked and what didn’t in defeating carjacking attempts. The group conducted numerous force-on-force scenarios using Simunition Fx equipped firearms and marking cartridges, simulating every known type of ploy and scheme of the carjacker. We derived a number of methods that we believed would be effective in defeating carjackers.

Prevention Mindset - Knowledge Is Power

Knowing where and how this type of crime can occur gives you in edge in avoiding it. A prerequisite to vulnerability reduction is knowing what the spot (or ‘X’) is that the assailant needs you to be at, and then how to avoid being there in the first place.

Types of Carjackings:

  • Kidnap / Rape (and maybe then, murder) is the goal. They are after you and the car.
  • ATM Kidnapping – they keep you for one or more days and max out your daily ATM card withdrawal limit, then let you go or kill you
  • Theft of a high demand automobile model – property crime that might become an assault or one of the following. 
  • Fleeing Felon – needs escape vehicle
  • Crime Tool – they need it to commit a crime, temporary criminal use

Carjackers have become increasingly clever in their ploys to take a vehicle, and sometimes its driver, too. Placing a handbill or money on your windshield, to get you to exit the car while it’s running, is an example. Most carjackings occur in a stationary environment, and where the victim is caught by complete surprise and trapped.

However, some carjackings do occur on the move. Bumping your car from behind or causing you to rear end someone, both aimed at getting you to stop your running vehicle, are two of many moving ploys. More sophisticated methods, especially associated with kidnappings, include a technique pioneered by terrorists and involves using one to four vehicles in what is known as a ‘running ambush’. Here they physically force, or surround and then guide your vehicle to a stop.

A large number of carjack victims find themselves in this predicament in any of the following locations and situations, with nearly all of them occurring while alone.

Raise your awareness when in these vulnerable zones:


  • Gas Stations - while getting gas at the pump: you have keys, the door is usually unlocked, and they get a bonus: all of those there have money
  • ATM – especially at night and at ones that are not in enclosed structures. 
  • Home Garage – they run in behind you before the garage door closes.
  • Parking Garages and Lots – carjackers will cruise through much like a new car buyer goes to the dealer. Parking areas that lack cameras and/or bright lighting are especially vulnerable.
  • Intersections and When Stopped in Traffic. 
  • ‘Asleep at the Wheel’ -- Here is a common one: a lone citizen sitting in their vehicle, head down, doors unlocked, looking at their smart phone.

Other than in this last case, you are most vulnerable in the last few yards or steps as you approach your vehicle. You are confirming that you have the keys to the car that they want. Too many seem to feel safe in and around their vehicle, as if it’s a small home, and thusly, their guard goes down. That’s exactly what the carjacker wants.

A Fight Avoided Can Be a Fight Won – Preventative Actions

For a parked vehicle, nearly all carjackings can be avoided if citizens would just do the following:

  1. As you approach your car, look around. Don’t hit the key fob to find it – that is what carjackers need you to do to help them verify their target.
  2. Walk from behind your car and looking into it.
  3. Get into the car quickly. Don’t loiter at the trunk or door. Teach children to get into the car quickly, lock their doors, and belt up.
  4. LOCK THE DOOR as soon as you are in your seat (this is the single-most effective countermeasure to carjackings and vehicle related kidnappings.)
  5. Start your engine right away. If you can, put it into gear. If you really do need to check your phone, at least move the car off of the ‘X’, the parking space, and into another location. Carjackers often increase their chances of success by choosing cars in easy to entrap locations, especially with a car facing inwards. So, park facing outwards. If anything, your back is not turned to where the carjacker may come from and consider that most cars, and most of us, are better at driving forwards than in reverse. 

When in a moving vehicle, you can do the following to greatly reduce your chances of being carjacked or kidnapped: When at a stop or in heavy traffic, maintain enough distance from the car in front of where you can see the road between the front of your car and their rear tires. This allows sufficient distance in which to drive out from around them if carjackers come up to your car and start pulling on the door handles, or even break a window. This is taught in all of the top evasive and protective driving schools.

Knowledge, combined with a survival mindset, is every bit as important as carrying a gun. There’s a saying that famed firearms and tactics instructor Clint Smith is fond of: “If you look like food, you will be eaten.” The best way to deal with an attack that occurs in or around a vehicle is to prevent it altogether. So, please heed the above. In Part 2 of our series I will cover how to respond to a carjacking attempt.

John Peterson is a US Army Special Forces combat vet with experience as an Antiterrorism/Driving Instructor, Executive Protection Specialist, Surveillance Specialist, Intelligence Instructor and as a full-time Firearms and Tactics Instructor for the Smith & Wesson Academy, SIG Sauer Academy and Federal government.

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