How did someone steal Carolina's car, without the slightest damage? Find out how it was done.

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Aug 01, 2007

Dear Tom and Ray:

My 1994 Honda Civic was recently recovered after it had been stolen about a month ago. My family and I are pretty perplexed as to how it got stolen. No windows were broken, the car was locked and the ignition switch is still intact -- which, thankfully, enables me to still use the car. Now, my family is convinced that someone must have had a duplicate of my key, but no one except my father has a duplicate. They've basically narrowed it down to my friends, or enemies of mine. This, I think, is absolutely ridiculous. My question: Is it possible that a similar key could have been used to start it? Or is there some type of device available that enables you to start cars? I'm not sure. This has turned into a really horrendous ordeal, and I just need some peace of mind. It's awful that my parents feel it could be someone I know, but no one I know would do this -- plus, I never lend my car out to anyone. Do you have any answers? -- Carolina

TOM: Well, Carolina, you can certainly break into a car without damaging the lock. We won't explain exactly how, in case any budding juvenile delinquents are reading today's column. But it can be done.

RAY: Starting the car without breaking the ignition switch, however, is much harder. There's a steering-wheel lock in the ignition switch. And unless the thief breaks the switch and disables that lock, he'll soon find himself driving around in wide right or left circles.

TOM: So that leaves only a few possibilities. Assuming that your key still works now that you have the car back, it's possible that someone stole the car, broke the ignition switch and then had it fixed. Maybe he himself, or some acquaintance, used the car's vehicle identification number and managed to get a replacement lock cylinder and key from a dealer.

RAY: Dealers almost always require identification before they'll replace a lock cylinder and provide a new key, to prevent just this sort of shenanigans. But maybe the thief got around it somehow.

TOM: If not, then you have to look at the possibility that someone made a copy of one of the existing keys. If it makes you feel better, it doesn't have to be someone you know, Carolina. You've probably left your keys with a parking-lot attendant, or left them on your desk or in a coat pocket at work.

RAY: It's possible for an unscrupulous individual to take the key long enough to make a copy and then return it without you ever knowing. Why they'd do that for a '94 Civic instead of the boss's Jaguar, I have no idea. But there you have some possible explanations, Carolina.

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