Genius Or Crazy? My Car Rental Provider Encourages Me To Keep My Car Unlocked

Filed Under: Rental Cars

Earlier today we picked up our car in Turks and Caicos. There are plenty of the world’s best beaches to explore around the island.

We were given an information sheet about driving around the island from our rental car provider with normal information like which side of the road to drive on, speed limits, etc.

It also included this advice:

Smart Thinking: The Island is safe, but it is always a good idea to take normal precautions. Make sure you keep the vehicle unlocked with the windows rolled down enough so even the dumbest of petty thieves will notice the car is unlocked.

Also, do not leave any valuables in the cabin or trunk of the vehicle.

Now while I certainly agree that ensuring you don’t leave any valuables in the cabin or trunk of the vehicle is a very smart idea, it is certainly the first time I’ve been encouraged to leave the doors unlocked and the windows down in order to outsmart thieves!

I couldn’t decide if this is a great idea or a terrible one?

I’ve hired cars in about 15 different countries and this is the first time I’ve ever been given this advice.

Does it mean I cannot leave anything in the car given it’s so easily accessible?

Is a USB charging cable considered a valuable?

A pair of dirty old flip flops?

A towel?

I can just imagine the insurance claim report:

“How did they gain access to the car?”

“I left the doors unlocked and the windows down, while I headed to the beach for the day.”

“You what?!”

I asked around the OMAAT team about this, and while Ben hadn’t seen it before, Tiffany has been given this advice with hire cars before — it’s all about telling thieves as obviously as possible that there is absolutely nothing in the car worth trying to access, which is a greater risk than the car being stolen.

So even though it initially seemed crazy, perhaps it’s sort of genius?!

Bottom line

I know about as much about stealing cars as I do about guns (= nothing), but is it not significantly easier to steal a car if the doors are unlocked?

I guess this will ensure the windows are not smashed if they are down the whole time.

I guess it’s a fairly small island so car thefts are rare given they don’t really have anywhere to take the car.

Have you ever been given this advice before? Do you think it is smart or crazy?

  1. I was told the same thing in St Martin years ago. Although the rental companies have changed their minds over the last number of years. Leave nothing in the car because any and all things will be stolen no matter what.
    There is a large underground population of illegal migrants all over the Caribbean that have no other way of living except to steal.
    I did have a ripped t shirt stolen out of my car a few years ago. Nothing is safe, though these crimes are usually non violent.

  2. This is pretty common oft-stated advice for lots of island destinations. Lots of island locals in many destinations leave their cars unlocked, so the additional advantage is that prospective thieves might just assume the car belongs to a local. Even in Hawaii, lots of people will tell you to do this (especially if you leaving the car at a trailhead or by a remote beach). Not sure that I’ve ever seen a rental company willing to explicitly encourage it though.

  3. I guess theft of personal items is more prevalent than car theft itself. You are on an island they can’t get too far in a stolen car. Keeping the windows down helps them save money on glass replacement cost.

  4. “it is certainly the first time I’ve been encouraged to leave the doors unlocked and the windows down in order to outsmart thieves!”

    On Oahu as well when you go to outlying beaches … helps to prevent smashed windows from druggies / homeless / etc if the windows are rolled down

    In bygone days in Turks & Caicos – which is to say 20+ years ago – you wouldn’t need to lock your car in Providenciales … as was the case in many smaller islands as well. On Virgin Gorda we rented a jeep from a guy sitting under a tree with a few jeeps in his yard. No contract, just pay cash when you return, can’t drive it off the island anyhow and everyone knew it’s his jeep.

    Those were the days.

  5. Was told basically the same thing back in 2001 when I rented a mini-moke on Alderney for several days. As the rental agency explained, everyone on the island knows each other, (at that time) you could only get there by air so “…it wasn’t going to get off the island”, and “it’s a small place…” (about 3 miles by 1.5 miles). I have to say, it made a lot of sense.

  6. In Hawaii at Nuclear Beach we were told the same thing, due to meth heads in the area they advised us to leave nothing in the car with the windows partly down and doors unlocked and to expect anything of value left to be stolen as they watch for divers and as soon as we go underwater they will be in the car, either via the open door or by breaking the windows. Kinda crap that it comes to that but suppose better than coming back to broken windows.

  7. In a previous life I was a criminal defense attorney in a major tourist area. This is not actually bad advice. Criminals in tourist areas aren’t stupid and they know it is infinitely riskier to steal the actual car itself than the stuff in the car. The reasoning behind this is the stuff in the car is worth less and easier to move, and given the lower value the owners are less likely to be willing to fly back (especially internationally to prosecute).

    So if you leave the windows down and the car unlocked it 1) shows that there is nothing in the car and 2) lets the criminal get in and search the car without having to break in and cause you frustration having to file insurance claim for broken locks and windows.

    Seems like solid advice to me.

  8. Many San Francisco residents do this as smash-and-grabs are endemic there. Sometimes they’ll even leave a note in the window saying something like ‘doors unlocked, nothing in car, please don’t bother smashing me’.

  9. My brother lives on an 50 sq.mi. island that is a tax haven. There’s tons of cash floating about and the kind of cars that go with that. People with brand new Porsche 911s and Ferraris leave them with the engine running whilst they go into the shop or nip out for something. There really isn’t anywhere to go, he even tells me that technically you cannot be arrested for stealing a car there! Also because everybody knows everyone if you were to steal a car within a few minutes someone would recognise that you were driving a car they knew belonged to someone else!

  10. On a small island, people won’t really try and steal a car; it’s too obvious and I expect they would be easily caught. Even if they strip it and sell the parts. As such, the main concern is broken windows and theft!

  11. Its all about economics of crime.

    Petty theft in the Caribbean (and on several islands around the world) is more popular than other forms of crime since the goods are easy to hide, sell, and move. You can quickly grab a phone, ipad, etc and no one is the wiser. It takes a few seconds and the items are easily concealed.

    Island car theft on the other hand is generally low because the cars are very hard to move without being seen, sell, or hide while you cut them up. Also there just isn’t enough demand for stolen Nissan Versa (the car in the photo) parts to make the hassle of hiding, dismantling, and finding a buyer worth it in the Turk and Caicos. This can be said of virtually any car brand on the island, not just the Nissan Versa. Repainting it and registering it again is also difficult due to the small population. Exporting is even harder as you have to pay off officials and hope a policeman or witness doesn’t come by. You wind up doing all that for a Nissan Versa which is worth about $8000 used, and loses about 75% of its value when being stolen on an island (labor, bribes, forged paperwork, etc.)

    Think about the size and population of many island nations.

    T&C has a total land size of 230 square miles, that’s significantly smaller than the city of Austin, Texas (270 square miles). Its also divided up into many islands so the place a car would get stolen is geographically small and isolated because of the ocean, which complicates theft. If Austin was suddenly an island with 31,000 people you would see car theft plummet as well.

    T&C also has a population of 31,000 people versus comparable sized Austin’s 950,000.

    If someone stole a car in a tiny, sparsely populated area, with comparatively few roads, and geographically isolated by water it is pretty conspicuous. All the police need to do is go down the few roads leading away from the theft looking for video cameras or witnesses. “Did you see a blue Nissan Versa?”, it will not take long to find a witness.

    There are few places less lucrative to steal a car than a tiny island nation.

  12. My advice is to not only leave the car unlocked, but fill it with bags and boxes of food and put a sign on the window saying “please help yourself.” Think about it. Who would break into the car of someone so nice and generous?

    (I’m only half joking.)

  13. No comment on the car… but make sure you visit Pelican beach (or northern edge of Grace beach). Truly amazing place (and villas on that beach are utterly unaffordable).

  14. If you leave the car unlocked it would seem obvious that you wouldn’t leave any valuables inside. I guess these particular thieves are mostly interested in valuables than actually taking the car. And even if they wanted to take the car, it being locked is not a big obstacle. Seems like sound advice.

  15. This serves a secondary (and more important?) purpose in reminding people to never leave anything in the car, even “hidden”. If they’re telling you to leave the windows down, then you really won’t be leaving anything in the car.

  16. They give this advice in Tenerife also. In small islands no-one breaks into cars to steal the cars themselves as there is nowhere to escape with them to. Cars in such places may get broken into for their potential valuable contents. If a car is locked a thief may think something valuable is locked inside and may smash the windows to get in. This sort of damage is what the car hire companies want to avoid hence they advise you leave the cars open and free of valuables.

  17. @snic may have been joking about leaving food in the car, but that kind of works. I used to live in Hawaii and went diving every weekend at one of the notorious car break in spots. We’d bring McDonald’s for the guys that hung around and ask them to watch the car for us… fully aware they were the ones doing the break ins. The promise of a meal every weekend was enough to keep them from messing with the car.

  18. Y’all are blowing my mind. Never thought about it this way. I’m stunned. There’s a degree of logic to this theory.

  19. I leave my windows down and doors unlocked in parks around San Diego. It beats having to replaced smashed windows from smash and grabs.

  20. K – Its a TRAVEL blog. This is TRAVEL.

    What is it with all the idiots popping up over the last few weeks insisting that is a blog about XYZ so you must only talk about XYZ and nothing else? Is it all the same person?

  21. I have a convertible, and after the second time that I had the roof cut by a petty thief, one of my neighbors said “you dummy, don’t lock the doors!” She was right. Ever since then I have left the car unlocked and there has been no problem. It’s annoying not being able to leave anything at all in the car, but worth it to avoid damage.

  22. @David – they don’t. I was worried about it being stolen, and had asked if I could park it in the agency’s garage each night. The agency owner laughed, told me to park anywhere that “was legal” (which pretty much anywhere), take the keys and my possessions, and not worry about for the reasons noted above.

  23. @Randall Raines

    Not that it matters much but the car shown in picture is not a Nissan Versa, but Suzuki Swift.

  24. Our rental cars in Hawaii have always been roughed up enough to know that anything left in the car can and would be stolen if left there. In Italy I’ve seen signs recommending leaving all of the cubby-spaces of the vehicle open to prevent someone smashing your windows open.

    In Quebec, I’ve seen traffic police checking peoples’ vehicles to make sure they were locked. If not, you had a nice ticket placed on your dashboard. That said, with a public liability insurance regime, this makes more sense.

  25. I live in a small rural Midwestern town and you could leave your doors unlocked all day without much worry.
    I’ve also been given this advise on rentals in odd places. The biggest problem is what if you have some valuables with you and don’t want them stolen? It’s a problem because petty theft is so bad.

  26. this is why you never rent a car in islands/hawaii. just uber or get a car service/tour guide so you dont have to deal with this hassle.

  27. You need to get out more. This isn’t uncommon in some destinations, for the many reasons explained above. Do as the company advised.

  28. Sensible advice I think. Don’t leave anything of value to you in the unlocked car (ever), to eliminate insurance claims altogether, and don’t leave the windows right down in case of a tropical downpour! Same procedure for overnight, but look for an undercover spot for piece of mind should there be night-time showers.

  29. While the car rental companies don’t give that official advice here in Hawaii, that’s what I tell our friends who visit (and it’s what I do when visiting the “neighbor” islands.) At home we usually take our Jeep (with only safari top) to beaches/trail heads. There is often a pile of loose change in a cup holder, it’s never been taken, nor have slippahs/sneakers left as post hike/beach footwear. Contents have been rifled through. Oddest example occurred at a popular trail head: on return from our hike we noticed a unique water bottle “near” the trash receptacle. We immediately noticed the brand because it was Tahitian and we had just returned from there and had a bottle just like in the jeep, or so we thought. Someone had grabbed the water bottle, wanting a drink an not realizing that it was sitting in the tropical sun took one sip and then tossed it… (we keep the jeep’s registration/insurance info in a waterproof pouch and always take it with us)

    So yes, leaving doors unlocked window cracked can save you a break in report and helps you remember not to leave anything you would miss too much in the car.

  30. Leaving the doors unlocked in my Jeep is standard protocol if the soft top is on. I’d much rather someone steal the $2 in change, or whatever else I was dumb enough to leave in the car, than slice open the soft top that is $500+ to replace.

  31. When we visited the al Hambra in Granada we made the mistake of parking on a main road with nothing in the car but unfortunately locked. We were only gone a short time and there was nothing in the car.

    Unfortunately the idiot car renters had stickers all over the car advising dumb renters that they had to use Diesel fuel. Any thief in town would instantly be attracted knowing for sure that there would be goodies inside.

    So they smashed a side window but the car had an alarm system so they took off before they even opened the boot to discover that it was empty. We had left the glove box open but they could not see into the boot.

    They got nothing. We got the “shaft” in that we had to rush off to the car rental company and change vehicles (not the city where the car was rented), fill out a police report, add the cost of the repair to the rental etc and then claim the cost back to my credit card car rental insurance policy on return home. Had to inform them immediately of the potential loss as well.

    So it sounds like good advice but unfortunately in Spain and Italy, among many others, it is unwise to leave a car unlocked because of the theft problems. I would also expect some problems with the insurance companies regarding leaving a car unlocked in an area of high car theft.

  32. I have a friend who lives in one of the most dangerous and high crime suburbs in Melbourne/Geelong which is Norlane he is doing community development work there and he says he just leaves absolutely nothing in his car and rolls all the windows down and leaves it unlocked (as that is the safest thing to do) as that way people just go through his car without getting a window smashed

  33. Can’t and not worth getting car off island so 0% car can get stolen.

    Theft of items probably the big issue. Save renters glass replacement cost, saves downtime to repair glass for agency.


  34. I own an exotic car and it’s bright yellow. Here in a major city in the US, I never lock it when I’m out (at home it’s in my garage). No criminal would steal such a rare car, and they’d be quickly caught. Anyway, how many criminals can drive stick these days?

  35. It’s Turks & Caicos… a very small island.. I’m pretty sure they aren’t worried about the cars being stolen. After all, how hard could it be to find it on that island? My guess is that they have had more broken windows then they care to have to deal with. Again, being on a small island, I can imagine the replacement glass/parts are expensive.

  36. You are on an island! How would thieves get a stolen car off easily? Simply not worth it… So it can be quite smart to leave the car open there, while it might be incredibly stupid in other places.

  37. My mom used to do this when parking her car in Manhattan in the late 70s when she was attending Columbia U.

  38. This happens almost in the whole caribbean, this is “to help” car rental agency to not have to replace broken windows and locks

  39. “this is why you never rent a car in islands/hawaii. just uber or get a car service/tour guide so you dont have to deal with this hassle.”

    Ahahahahahahahahahahaha omg yeah sure drive 3 hours across the big island or the Road to Hana on Maui in an Uber.


    All of the Hawaiian islands are more than Waikiki.

  40. We were told this several times, notably in the Caribbean. We rented a car in T&C from a local company and they told us never to lock the car. Oh, and we never had a problem.

  41. @Steven M why would anyone on vacation drive for 3 hours across the big island?

    and for the road to hana, hire a guide with transportation for the day or a private driver for the excursion. simple.

    hawaii is a nightmare for rental cars. dont do it.

  42. I did both with a rental car and really enjoyed it! I even crossed Saddle Road when it was almost finished paving. Did NOT do the back side to Hana with a rental car 🙂 Did that with a tour guide and van…. wow.

  43. Pretty common advice in the Caribbean since smash and grab damage repair is a more common issue than the actual whole car disappearing. (Most places aren’t islands with gigantic cargo terminal ports to disappear a car quickly, and inexpensive rental cars aren’t nearly as attractive to steal as luxury brands on the mainland.)

  44. Not told that with our A rental..But as a whole Turks and Caicos not fond of the island everything pricier than other islands and our luxury rental was none of the above
    Sad experience we will not go back!!!island ripeoff all over!!!

  45. I visited a town in the U.S. where I was told (paraphrased) “when you arrive at the airport, pick up an envelope with your name on it that will have the car keys inside”. “Come to the car rental office the next day to give us your credit card, fill out the paperwork and to show us your driver’s license”.

  46. I drive a Bronco without a topper on it. I leave nothing in my vehicle. Nobody bothers it. I’m not even sure the locks work since I’ve never locked it. I guess it doesn’t bother me since I’ve always had a motorcycle. I keep anything valuable with me in a backpack or my pockets.

    Motorcycles are super easy to steal(1 piece of wire usually) and while my Bronco could be stolen relatively easy, no new cars can. You aren’t hotwiring a new car. It just isn’t happening. While it is technically possible to steal a new car using technology, the abilities required to do so mean that the thieves wouldn’t be targeting a rental car. They would be looking for high end cars or other things of that nature.

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