Gasoline fuel pumps
Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

13 Steps to Prevent Your Rental Car From Crime at Gasoline Stations

There has been a rash of vehicles stolen from fuel stations in the greater Atlanta metropolitan area over recent years — and some of those incidents have been violent; while others involved the safety of children…

13 Steps to Prevent Crime in Your Rental Car at Gasoline Stations

…but the problem is not only rampant in Atlanta. Vehicles are being stolen at gasoline stations across the United States — regardless of the time of day. “Most of the time, gas station customers leave their car doors unlocked and items like purses and wallets are often left in plain view”, according to this article from the National Crime Prevention Council. “A thief is able to drive up next to the victim’s car, open an unlocked door, and grab any valuables within reach. Then, the thief quickly drives off. It happens in a matter of seconds.”

Anything which you can do to slow down or impede upon professional car thieves or joy-riders will reduce the appeal of your vehicle to be targeted — so here are 13 steps of specific advice on what you can do to reduce your chances of being the victim of a crime and having your vehicle stolen at a gasoline station.

1. Rent a Car Which Does Not Attract Attention

Kia Soul Hertz
Photograph ©2017 by Brian Cohen.

Seeing those envious eyes of other people staring at you as you drive the exotic shiny bright red sports car, convertible with the top down, or elegant luxury car around might be fun — but the car will also attract the attention of a potential thief more than a typical humdrum sedan or an economy hatchback.

To a thief, a nicer car means more money when selling it — or its parts — on the black market.

2. Choose the Gasoline Station Wisely

For many people, price is a factor which attracts them to a gasoline station; and often that criterion may be enough — but if you are concerned about safety, ensure that the gasoline station you choose is equipped with video surveillance cameras.

Better yet, try to be sure that the service station is not located in an area known for high crime.

If you are refueling your vehicle at night, your safety improves when choosing a gasoline station which is lit well versus one which is dimly lit, as thieves prefer to work in the dark — for obvious reasons, as greater than half of all vehicle thefts occur at night.

Automobile thieves do not like witnesses; so choosing a gasoline station which is busy with customers can decrease your chances of having the vehicle you are driving — or the contents inside of it — to be stolen.

3. Know Where the Fuel Door is Located on the Rental Car

fuel gauge with triangle arrow
Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

Pulling the car into the fuel station — only to step outside and realize that the fuel door is located on the wrong side of the gasoline pump — is a certain indicator that you are unfamiliar with the car.

As I wrote in this article, a nifty little triangle is usually on the side of the little gasoline pump icon which directs you to which side of the vehicle is where you should pump your fuel, as it gives you the indication as to which side the fuel door is located so that you know in advance how to pull up the vehicle to the pump correctly every time. In the above photograph, the icon indicates that the fuel door is on the left side of the car.

Even if you do not drive an unusual or ostentatious vehicle, try not to attract attention to yourself. Blend in with the crowd as you fill up the fuel tank of your rental vehicle — and that includes either not having to move the car to the other side of the pumps; or stretching that fuel hose across the back of the car to fill it with gasoline.

4. Never Leave Your Car Running While Unattended

Blue Ridge Parkway Nissan Versa car Hertz
Photograph ©2018 by Brian Cohen.

I cannot believe people actually leave their cars running while running, as I believe that that is practically giving the car to a potential thief.

People will leave their vehicles running to keep the interiors of their cars cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

Drivers are better off suffering from some heat or cold — which can be rectified in minutes once the car is back on the road — than having to deal with all of the inconveniences pertaining to a stolen car and trying to recover it.

Never leave your car running while unattended — especially at a gasoline station, which at a minimum is wasteful in terms of using fuel while the tank is being filled…

…and although the risk is remotely minimal, can be potentially dangerous.

5. Never Ever Leave a Child or Children Alone in an Unattended Car

Most importantly — and for numerous reasons — please never never leave a child alone in an unattended car. If a thief steals the car, your child is automatically placed in potentially grave danger which could threaten his or her life.

Incidents have occurred in the Atlanta area during which a vehicle was stolen with at least one child in it — and more often than not, the thief has no idea that any children are in the car because all the thief cares about is stealing that car in as little time as possible. He or she is not going to check the back seat first.

Although the chances are unlikely of a child being killed simply for being in the vehicle during its theft, the child can still potentially be harmed — both physically and psychologically — and when a child is discovered, thieves have been known to dump him or her in an unprotected location, which places them in a different type of potential danger.

After all, the thief is not interested in adding a kidnapping charge to his or her rap sheet — especially when such cases typically garner attention from the media, which includes dispatching missing child alerts.

Sometimes a thief will have a modicum of conscience and drop the child off at a different gasoline station — or another place which is considered reasonably safe to drop off a child.

If you do not believe me, here are three of many news stories — all of which occurred in the greater Atlanta metropolitan area — which unfortunately demonstrate that these incidents are not isolated.

Members of law enforcement searched for a suspect who stole a car with a child inside back in April of 2018 — even though the theft did not occur at a gasoline station.

The next video is of a thief who stole a car with both a girl who was four years old and a baby who was one month old back on Wednesday, January 17, 2018. The man eventually dropped the girl off on the side of the road; but the baby was still inside. According to this article, a photographer for WSB-TV Channel 2 Action News in Atlanta assisted in finding the missing baby.

This video shows a man stealing a car with both a child and a dog inside of it in November of 2018. “Sydni Anglin tells news outlets her 3-year-old daughter and pet weren’t hurt and they’ve all been reunited”, according to this article from CBS 46 WGCL-TV News in Atlanta. “Anglin says she left them in her car Sunday night while she went inside the Coweta County gas station to pay.”

Anglin reportedly said that a witness gave her a ride to follow her stolen car — until they lost it.

6. Always Remove Your Keys

I am consistently amazed at how many people leave the keys to the vehicle in the car — regardless if the car is a rental vehicle or a personal vehicle — while the car is being refueled…

…and you should especially never leave your keys in the vehicle when going inside the convenience store of the gasoline station to conduct business — whether you are paying for the gasoline or purchasing a snack — as a thief can steal your vehicle within 30 seconds.

Yes — 30 seconds is not only all it takes for a vehicle to be stolen; but also is actually plenty of time for an experienced thief. Approximately 13 percent of all vehicles stolen had the keys left in them.

Always remove your keys from the vehicle and put them in a secure place on your person whenever you leave the car — if not only to discourage the theft of the vehicle by a nefarious person, but also to mitigate the chance of you accidentally locking yourself out of the vehicle, which could introduce to you a whole new set of unexpected problems.

7. Lock the Doors of the Vehicle

Kia Soul
Photograph ©2017 by Brian Cohen.

An unlocked vehicle almost screams an invitation to a potential thief to see what is available for the taking — including the vehicle itself. Approximately 50 percent of all vehicles stolen were left unlocked.

Even if you removed the keys from the ignition, lock the car, as it can still be stolen quickly even without the keys — but just be sure that the keys are on your person prior to doing that, as you do not want to incur the expense of breaking into the car and replacing the lock and a broken window. The rental car company will charge you a lot of money; and the repairs may not be covered under insurance.

By taking a couple of seconds and minimal effort to lock your vehicle, you may have significantly increased the difficulty of a thief to target your vehicle; and that thief will most likely look elsewhere for an easier target.

Ensuring that the doors of the vehicle are locked while you are driving may also keep you safer overall as well; but there are some people who argue that in the case of an accident, emergency personnel reaching you becomes more difficult to do in a situation where precious seconds could save your life.

8. Close the Windows and Sunroof and Put the Top Up

Procar Iceland
Photograph ©2018 by Brian Cohen.

Locking your car is virtually useless if you leave the top down on your convertible or do not close the windows or the sunroof — all of which provide easy access into your vehicle.

Ensure that the windows and sunroof of the vehicle which you are driving are closed — as well as the top back up on a convertible — whenever it is unattended.

9. Use the Anti-Theft System

If your rental car is equipped with some sort of an anti-theft system, use it while the car is unattended — even if only for a few minutes.

Of course, ensure that you know how to properly use it.

10. Keep Valuable Items Out of Sight

mobile telephone Apple iPhone 7
Photograph ©2017 by Brian Cohen.

Putting that wallet or mobile telephone in your pocket — especially before a telephone call — or storing that purse or laptop computer in the trunk might be an inconvenience…

…but that inconvenience certainly pales in comparison to having to file a police report pertaining to your stolen property — as well as deal with the rental car company and having to pay for any damages.

Even if whatever damages — such as a broken window or scratched paint — are covered by insurance, you may still have to deal with the company which issued the insurance in order for the damages to be paid. After all, insurance companies do not like to pay money for damages and attempt to avoid doing so whenever possible.

Even if the doors of the vehicle are locked and the windows are closed, thieves will still target your vehicle if they see anything of potential value. Hide valuable items so that they are out of sight; and give the potential thief the impression that your vehicle is simply not worth the time and effort of breaking into it.

11. Be Aware and Pay Attention to Your Surroundings

Enterprise parking lot night
Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

This is the single best piece of advice for numerous situations when traveling — as I have similarly advised in this article pertaining to 14 Tips on How You Can Prevent Theft in Hotels and Aboard Airplanes — and it is no different in reducing the risk of your rental car being the target of thieves.

Talking on your mobile telephone might be a good way to pass the time while the tank of the car is filling up with gasoline; but it is also a potential distraction — and thieves look for distracted people, as they are easier victims than people who are aware of their surroundings.

Look around you and take mental notes of what is going on — as well as identify potential problems.

12. Park Your Vehicle With Wheels Turned Toward the Curb

When the wheels of the rental car vehicle are turned towards the curb upon which the gasoline pumps are located, having the vehicle towed becomes more difficult…

…and once the wheels are turned, apply the emergency brake; leave your vehicle in gear if possible; and lock the steering wheel in place. By doing so, you add precious seconds to the time in which an obdurate thief needs to steal your vehicle.

In fact, you should consider securing the vehicle you drive this way everywhere you park it and not at service stations.

13. Do Not Leave the Registration or Title in the Vehicle

Green Motion car Morocco
Photograph ©2018 by Brian Cohen.

This may not be vitally important when driving a rental car; but a thief will use these documents to sell the stolen car — or use them to escape a traffic stop by police when they can show the proper documentation for the stolen vehicle.

Sometimes the agent of a rental car company will specifically tell you not to leave important documents in the car, as happened a few months ago in Morocco.


While much of the aforementioned advice can be applied to any vehicle you drive and not just rental cars, none of it is foolproof; but any steps which you can take to reduce your chances to be the target of professional automobile thieves and joy-riders helps, as they commit the majority of thefts of vehicles — preferably luxury vehicles or high-performance cars…

…but more popular models of vehicles whose parts are easily interchangeable — such as the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry — are also highly sought so that the cars they steal are taken to “chop shops,” which dismantle the stolen vehicles and sell the parts. The thieves also steal cars for export to other countries, often “stealing to order” to fulfill requests for certain types of vehicles.

If the rental vehicle is indeed stolen, contact both the police and the rental car company immediately — or, at least, as soon as you possibly can.

Most importantly of all: if you find yourself confronted by a carjacker, do not resist. Carjackers are usually armed; and fighting for a car is simply not worth you potentially losing your life.

All photographs ©2014, ©2015, ©2017 and ©2018 by Brian Cohen.

  1. Don’t leave your rental car agreement in the car overnight. There is way too much personally identifiable information on the contract.

    Take photos of the car when you return it so your don’t get billed when the rental car jockey damages the car.

    Check the gas gauge before leaving. I had a car with no gas and some that were obviously less than full.

  2. Take a picture of all 4 corners and any prior damage upon pickup. Your phone camera will tag the time and date and upon drop off. In some countries (like Ireland) take photos of the tires before you pickup and when you drop off the car.

    Always obtain a receipt for fuel for the final fill before dropping the car off and offer that to the car rental agent. Some companies like National aren’t bad about this issue but other companies like Thrifty will charge you a fuel fee if you don’t produce the receipt upon return.

    Don’t leave valuable in the trunk at hotels overnight. Modern organized criminal organizations have the technology to pop the trunks on many modern cars. This is NOT unusual. They specifically will case out the hotel parking lots watching for people to pull up and put valuable like computer bags, etc. into the trunk and then drive up, pop the trunk and are gone in seconds.

    Watch for skimmers at gas stations, of course.

    Watch for foreign exchange fees with certain companies (Europcar I’m talking about you). You will select to pay in local currency at the signature pad but the local office will change it before you return the car.

    When parking overnight at hotels don’t leave the car in the dark areas of the lot. Try to park under streetlights or near lighted busy walking areas.

    You’ll be in a rush once you reach the rental car at the airport lot but stop and take time to adjust the mirrors, seats, steering wheel, finish texting and set the GPS BEFORE you pull into traffic.

    Avoid pulling over for unmarked “police” cars just after leaving rental lots or airports. Drive slowly to a populated area then pull over. Although not as a common in recent years it is not usual for criminals to target tourist in rental cars. They may act like police and try to pull you over or cause a minor accident situation and then rob you.

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