Published: October 7th 2008May 16th 2008
Automobiles in Costa Rica are quite a bit more expensive than in the U.S. due to high import taxes on such 'luxury' items. Additionally, theft of all kinds are part of living in Costa Rica due to the wide-divide between the "haves" and "have nots". Put all this together and it is no surprise that car robbery and car theft are issues in Costa Rica. This does not make Costa Rica any more dangerous than many areas of the U.S. or other countries ... just a fact that must be recognized as a Costa Rica car driver and owner.
The Costa Rica nightly news has public service commercials detailing common sense practices that should be followed to avoid making your car a target for car thieves and robbers. In one commercial; two helmeted guys on a motorcycle are driving along looking into parked cars, they stop at a car, the motorcycle passenger while remaining on the back of the bike smashes the car's window with a metal bar and pulls an item from the car, the riders take-off down the road at a high speed on the motorcycle ... all in less than 5 seconds. The moral of the story:
don't leave valuables or what may appear to be valuable in plain view - or you could lose a window and the item(s).
Costa Rica rent-a-cars driven by the many Caucasian "gringo" visitors and tourists are also known to be 'high valued targets' for opportunistic criminals ... so be especially vigilant when driving such vehicles or leaving them parked after getting out in your favorite Hawaiian print shirt. Even from across town it's easy to see you are; 1) not familiar with the area, 2) don't speak the native language, 3) carrying some cash, 4) have some really nice stuff in your luggage like expensive electronics and, 5) will be leaving soon - leaving no time for a police investigation.
Costa Rica car theft and burglary
Most Costarricenses and residents of Costa Rica that do not like being victims take their automobile security real seriously! Standard operating equipment on all cars in Costa Rica is an alarm system. But unfortunately, car alarms act as background noise in heavily populated areas. Passing trucks with their ground vibrations or even passing cars with loud exhausts regularly set-off car alarms. The pattern of car alarms sounding is similar to neighborhood dogs
barking; one car alarm goes off then other car alarms join in until its just background noise. So personally, I question how effective a car alarm truly is when people don't even look up from what the're doing when a car alarm goes off - again.
Of course, all car alarms are not created equal. The better car alarms let the car owner know to check their vehicle in a much more personal way ... higher-end two-way receiver alarms come complete with GPS tracking/mapping and a microphone that will allow you to actually listen to the conversation taking place in your car. I guess this way you can pursue your own stolen car while monitoring what the car thieves think about your chase skills. Heck, you might even be able to call the car thief by name if he bails-out on foot!
My car came with an alarm system that is quite common in Costa Rica. Along with the standard keychain remote door lock/unlock & alarm activation with siren - there is a hard-wired button in the car that must be deactivated or the ignition will be disabled. This adds a little more protection from thieves walking through
parking lots with stolen or universal remotes of some kind.
Once I took possession of my car, I had the windows tinted for visual security. It is now difficult to see who is in the vehicle; ie: 3 fully grown Tico men -or- a 95lb Gringa woman and child ... its your guess, choose wisely ;o) The tinting also helps obscure what may appear to be valuables sitting on the seat when the car is unoccupied.
Prior to buying a car in Costa Rica I had observed a few other anti-theft devices I thought might be good complimentary physical deterrents to an alarm. Remember "The Club" from those TV commercials years ago ... the red plastic covered steering wheel lock that physically as well as visually deters potential car thieves?! The generic version of this 'club' device is alive and well in Costa Rica with most stores keeping them in stock; right next to the floor mats and car wax. Although I see cars with these knock-off 'clubs' almost daily, I will always remember watching one of those television programs like 20/20 or 60 Minutes where a professional car thief showed how to remove "The [original] Club" like it was a child's toy. So no 'club' for me.
The physical device that seemed to be the most approved deterrent in Costa Rica by those in the know was a "shifter lock". This basic u-shaped hardened-metal locking device is attached to the car's frame and wraps around either a manual or automatic gear shifter. It is extremely visible to any potential car thief - which just may be its best feature. I was also told by several people, including a San José Municipal Police Officer that has been quite helpful on this and other security issues that the shifter lock is not easily defeated. So I had one installed:
So what's the cost for the pictured Israeli security designed shift lock?! ...depends on where you go and who goes with you! Be sure to SHOP FOR PRICE.
The all knowing Dr. Roy Nicholas (506-8381-1816, HolisticCR@yahoo.com, www.CostaRicaProblemSolvers.com) was kind enough to take me to a couple shops in the Northwestern San José automotive meccas of Paseo Colon and Uruca - between downtown and Juan Santamaria International Airport. The first quote at the 'name brand' shop of "Mul-T-Lock" was ¢115.500 colónes (or $231.00 USD). We finally found shop called Techno Auto (506-2256-3622, Paseo Colon) that installed my shift lock in about two hours for a final negotiated price of ¢50,000 colónes ($100.00 USD).
Additionally: For an extra ¢1,000 colónes ($2.00) the installation technician quickly bolted both my fire extinguisher and gun box into the trunk - he already had the tools out, so for a few more moments of his time I bought him lunch (a win, win, win ;o) .
Be sure to visit our other blog posts similar in topic: Driving in Costa Rica, Buying or Importing a Car in Costa Rica, How to Get a Costa Rica Drivers License, How to Navigate Costa Rica and Costa Rica Gas Prices - all available at: www.CostaRicaBlogger.com