Garage Op-Sec

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Drive around almost any neighborhood and you will find homes with wide-open garages, expensive tools and equipment in plain sight . . . and no one around.

Tools are portable. Often, they come in their very own carrying case – with a handle and everything.

Anything on wheels – like a generator or air compressor – rolls.

A bold thief could just walk right up in broad daylight, grab your expensive set of Snap-On sockets or your digital torque wrenches and say sayonara. Maybe a neighbor will notice but probably not. If the guy acts like he’s supposed to be there, most people assume it’s ok for him to be there.

Bye-bye tools.

Garages are goldmines – full of easy-to-steal stuff that’s even easier to turn into money via the local pawn shop or Craigs List.

In addition to being susceptible to the random snatch and grab artist, an open garage with everything you’ve got on display is an invitation to the more serious thief who makes plans and comes back later.

Either way, it’s a good idea to not advertise what you’ve got. Keep the door closed unless it needs to be open.

Anything easily portable – like tools – should be stored in heavy chests and other such that aren’t easy to just grab and go.

And that can be locked, too.

Even better, bolted to the wall – or floor.

Classic cars generally don’t have anti-theft systems, unless you’ve installed them; they are also ridiculously easy to hot wire.

It’s not a bad idea to install some kind of disabling system, even if it’s something simple like removing the coil wire and keeping it hidden someplace no one knows about except you. It’s not likely a thief will have the right coil wire to start up your vintage car.

A friend of mine – who lives in a not-great neighborhood – sank eye bolts into the concrete floor of his garage and uses them to chain the axle of his antique car to the floor. Chains can be cut, but it takes time and the harder you make it to steal something, the less likely it is to be stolen.

If you have motorcycles, remember that they can be quickly rolled (or carried) onto a waiting trailer or into the bed of a pick-up, to be hacked up later at the thief’s convenience.

It’s smart to lock the steering head to the left and then take the keys out and put them somewhere else. It’s much harder to roll a bike with its front wheel locked up this way.

It is also a really good idea to secure the barn doors.

It’s often the case that thieves don’t have to break into anything. They just heave the garage door up or walk in the side door.

Electric garage doors are fairly simple to break open – and to hack, too. Which is why it’s smart policy to use a secondary means of securing the door. An easy and cheap way to do this is to drill a hole in one of the tracks on either side of the door, the ones that the roller wheels ride in as the door goes up and down. Drill a hole the diameter of a common Master combination lock (or similar). When you’re going to be away, slip the lock in place. That door isn’t going up – even with a crowbar.

Many garages have a side door with a large glass window. This is pretty . . . and also pretty stupid. The glass is easily smashed and if it’s a large enough opening, the thief can just shimmy through the hole (or reach in and undo the dead bolt). It’s almost pointless to even bother with a lock at all.

A solid side door is the ticket. Or one with a small window – too small for anyone to climb through – mounted up high, too high for anyone’s arm to reach down to the locks.

If you have an outside electric keypad opener, don’t use an obvious code (e.g., 1234) or tell too many people what the code is.

Mark expensive tools/equipment with a punch, Dremel tool or some such in a not-visible/hard to access place so that if your stuff is stolen and turns up later at a pawn store, you’ll be able to prove it is yours.

A bright exterior light – motion triggered – is a good thing. An even better thing (cheap, too) is a closed-circuit camera system, obviously sited so that a thief can see he will be recorded if he proceeds.

Plus another that’s not obvious.

Camera feeds can be piped right to your sail fawn, too.

I like to sprinkle some spent .45 brass near the garage door, out on the cement pad. Near the exterior windows. It sends a certain message… .

Finally, find out whether your homeowner’s policy covers your tools and equipment. It’s a not-bad idea to inventory everything – with pictures or video for back-up in the event you need to verify a claim.

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37 COMMENTS

  1. I’ve found a convincing human head replica on a spike in the yard by the garage to be an effective deterrent to theft…..

  2. As a minimalist I have reduced my property down to stuff no one would waste their time trying to steal. But I do have a few valuable “items” and a somewhat cheap safe. But only a fool puts his valuables in a safe and it is fun being creative as to how and where to store these valuables from theft.

  3. I like the idea of spent .45 brass, but I’ve always been leery of things like that. I don’t want to advertise to anyone the fact that I may have guns inside my home or vehicle. It’s why, despite my enthusiasm for guns and self defense, I’ve never put a gun-related bumper sticker or sign on my vehicle or home. “I don’t dial 911” or “Protected by Smith & Wesson”, in my mind, only gives a thief another reason to target MY property over others because there are probably guns inside. I also realize some may do it as a bluff to scare potential burglars, but I like to try to be the grey man. Excellent tips though, Eric. Thanks!

  4. I love your site Eric. I live in a neighborhood that has not had a burglary in the memory of any of my neighbors. Look for those neighborhoods.

    • Some of my neigbors had stuff taken because they are stupid. They leave home for several minutes to get a take out, then come home and miss a tool box, chain saw or grass blower. Two near me got robbed. Any area of town is a risk, even better subdivisions unless it is a gated community. People come and go and no one pays attention, especially with those who have more friends visiting.

        • Bruce: We have little, basic tools, two bikes, a lawn mower twelve years old, a lawn blower and weed eater up on racks. I am a minimalist and declutter regularly. I Q my neigbors intel and their cluttered garages packed with crap. Why the H do folks use garages as storage units? They are for cars, tools and bikes, not household stuff, old furniture or boxes of unwanted clothing.

          • Laura, I was just joking. I meant what are you going to with all the stuff you’ve gotten from your neighbors’ open garages.

  5. The days of leaving things unlocked is over nearly everywhere now. My family has a cottage up in Michigan, and my aunt and uncle had the one next door. Not only did they never lock it during the summer, the front door would be left standing open (it had a huge screened porch so it wasn’t real obvious, and it couldn’t get rained into). Imagine doing that now? Not a chance.

    • A lot of this has to do with drug addiction. The flawed temperance-era drug policy of our nation means eventually people burn though all their income and end up doing the only thing they can, steal from others, to get their fix. The amount of money wasted on the War on Drugs would easily get these people into treatment, or at least keep them addicted until they die, but the Puritans who were raised up to believe every decision we make is a mini morality play won’t hear of it.

  6. I turn off the garage door power with a remote. No side door…condo.
    When I return, I turn the power on with one remote and then open the garage door with another.
    Carry extra batteries…lol

    I like the lock idea on the track…for long term absences.

  7. Another source of entry is the emergency release on an automatic door opener. That cord that hangs down a few inches away from the door is pretty easy to snag with a slim jim or modified tape measure. Then just pull the release and (if you haven’t engaged the bolt lock) the door pops right open. No captured codes or high tech stuff needed.

    A few years ago I had a break in. My fault, I missed the office window on the way to work. Cops were no help at all, the only reason I called them was because my revolver’s hiding spot was rummaged through and I didn’t see it in the mess. Turns out I got lucky because the thieves didn’t see it ether. But it was an expensive lesson learned. Not enough to file a claim with the insurance company, since it wasn’t any more than my deductible anyway, but not cheap either. So now I have enacted security protocols, added a monitored security system (and lots of stickers letting everyone know there’s a security system) with cameras. The garage door is kept down unless I’m doing work at the time that requires it to be open, and the deadbolt is engaged almost all the time. Yes it can be a pain to get out, go inside and undo the deadbolt, but at least I increase the odds of my stuff being there when I get home.

  8. When my parents moved, a couple years ago, my father had a load of junk he left in the garage. He called a junk removal and then left the garage door open for them. Couple days later he came back and someone had done him the favor of getting rid of it for free.

    • Friend of mine used to run a tire store on the south end of San Jose California. Tnat wasin the days before regulated tyre disposal but just after the landfills began charging per tyre to leave them there. Knowing he was in “tha tpart of town” he finally hit on how to make the juny tyres find new homes. Ever couple of weeks he’d “forget” to roll the big two-;level racks back inside before closing. That rack would have all the junks on it. when he left for the night. Withuot fail, the rack would be empty the next morning. They never nicked the rack, just the junk tyres on it. ¿Huarachis? He didn’t care. Saved him a pile of monmey over the years.

  9. This always astounds me. Back in the marital estate, we kept our cars in the garage (that’s what cars are for she said) and the doors locked. The solid steel door from the garage to the house had a bolt lock too. Garage door was always down unless we were working in the yard.

    Before I left that development, we had a rash of vehicle content thefts one halloween. Folks stole gps devices, cellphones, laptops, etc that were left in unlocked cars parked in the driveways. WTF? How the hell leaves crap like that in unlocked cars? That’d be my once neighbors. Dumbasses.

  10. I lived in an apartment complex with an attached garage, large enough to store two cars, tools, a bike, etc…. Unfortunately, (1) there was an overlap in garage codes, (2) the same remote was used to open the garage and the entry gate, and (3) my apartment was close to the entry gate. After a couple instances of the garage door being open when I came home, I had maintenance change my code and I bought a Garage Butler (tried to post a link but I keep getting rejected as spam) to close the garage door if opened inadvertently while I was away.

  11. “I also like to sprinkle some spent .45 brass near the garage door, out on the cement pad. Near the exterior windows. It sends a certain message.”

    Well played, sir. Living in Texas also sends a message – “There’s a non-zero chance that trying to steal shit from this garage will result in the homeowner shooting your sorry ass.” The spent brass would be … almost … redundant.

    • Spent brass eh? Not much deterrent for thieves who’ve done their homework. A friend who lived in a big suburban sprawl had a plethora of guns, locked up tight in a Browing Pro Steel safe, old cheap guns like W O/U, lots of Sake rifles as well as classics, Colts, Brownings, Sigs of all flavors. He also had a garage sale now and then.

      Gone for a week or two with the family to the mountains he comes back to no safe since he hadn’t bolted it down. 4 huge black guys carried it out said the neighbors. So much for letting your neighbors know when you’ll be gone and so much for safes(that safe weighed 1150 lbs…..bare).

      People make their living going to garage sales and simply surveying what they can see, going back and using the opener they have for your brand door till one works. The suggestion of a lock in the door rail is a great one and shouldn’t allow the door to move over a quarter inch. It’s what I use on the barn and lock the regular doors with a key.

      So my friends move to an even larger city, San Antonio and keep having garage sales. The only night their new Suburban had ever not been in the garage it was gone from the driveway the next morning. It was finally found in a part of town with vacant businesses and streets. The thieves did him a favor, the sign of professionals by pounding what was left when they dropped it off and ruining the remaining bodywork and topping it off by going from end to end with the battery. No issues with insurance, just get the price of a new one and be done with it. Garage sales, rent a stall in a storage unit and have them there.

    • I don’t have a Garage so my Motorcycle (until I sold it) was parked in front of my house for almost a year (excepting winter) as is my vehicle. I had no fear it would be stolen, but I live in an area where it just doesn’t happen (I went through the police blotter columns of the town – a real burglary is front page news here as are biennial reminders to lock your car doors when the rare event happens in a “bad” part of town). But there are lots of guns and Christians here and everyone is very polite.

      One current debate in libertarian circles is now a right-left. Tom Woods is talking secession and partition so California can go full socialist. But the larger issue is replacing Cops and Courts with DROs misses the point in that if there are no criminals, and enough agreement to avoid civil suits you wouldn’t need either infrastructure. Both Heinlein (Moon is a Harsh Mistress) and Rand (Atlas Shrugged) had a way to exclude those who would loot or mooch.

      If crime or hard to resolve disputes are a 5-sigma or rarer phenomenon it will be easier to establish a libertarian society than if it is an ordinary part of every-day life like dealing with snow or ice up north in the winter.

  12. Another critical issue is the fact that most houses built since 1970 have an access door to the inside of the house. So you want to keep that door locked….”and” the garage door down.

  13. In interviews that have been done with professional thieves, there’s four main types of things they look for in your house: Cash, Guns, Tools, and Electronics. They know where to look for these items, so they can be in & out quickly. Cash & Guns – in the bedroom. Tools – in the garage. And Electronics – in the living room. For the most part, keeping these things out of sight means they’ll have to spend more time than they want in your house. Putting obstacles in their way also increases the time they have to spend, and they may leave without them.

  14. Every once in a while I’ll leave the house for work in a daze, on auto-pilot. Then I’ll snap out of it a few blocks later and have to double back to make sure I closed the garage door. Of course the garage door actually IS closed, but the (OCD) Force is just too strong to resist.

    • FACKFIUT: We stay in the driveway in the car, to make sure garage door shuts all the way. That way there is no Q. My OCD : using germ wipes in the car, house, purse, keyboard, mouse, car door handles, steering wheel etc. Folks, wipe car down where hands touch, esp. during flu season with Clorox wipes.

  15. I’ve also been thinking about doing a serious remodel – floors, new shelving & benches, you know, turn it into a real man cave. Wife isn’t too thrilled about spending $ on that though. Ah, but with this added security angle, I might just be able to get away with it! I’ll owe ya one if I manage to pull off the whole thing.

  16. Thanks for the article Eric. My garage has a lot of security holes, and I’ve had in the back of my mind that I should do something about it for quite a while. This is just the reminder I needed to finally get off my butt and start fixing this stuff before it’s too late!

    • Thanks for the kind words, VZ!

      I think this is a pretty common issue; people tend to think about their houses… but the garages get left out…

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