Stick shift as a theft deterant

I have read a number of media reports which basically report the same story - a would be car thief breaks into a car with a manual transmission and then fails to steal the car because he does not know how drive stick. Supposedly, manual transmissions are now so unusual that many up and coming car thieves are mystified by ye old clutch.

As the owner of a car with a manual transmission, this type of story gives me the warm fuzzies. Nonetheless, I was wondering if anyone had any hard evidence of a trend. Are manual transmission equipped cars now less likely to be stolen?

Note that this phenomena is probably confined to the United States. The last time I was in Europe - manual transmissions were still more common than automatics.

On the cable show Bait Car, there seem to be some car thieves that have trouble with a stick.

They also seem to have some problems with their inevitable arrest . . .

So… allow me to be the first to float this idea.

Go to junk yard. Buy a stick shift. Mount it between seats. Thieves walk by. See stick. Keep going.

Money well spent !!


Uh - what are you going to do with the automatic transmission shifter, since it is probably in the same place?

Of course, your typical joy-riding thief is not concerned about long-term care. If it takes a bit of smoking or high-revving to get the vehicle in motion, so what? If the gears grind, or he slips the clutch too much, so what? If the car jumps unpredictably and hits an obstacle trying to get going, so what?

Once you are moving relatively fast, shifting with or without a clutch is not as big a challenge and the major problem is - why stop at lights if you may have trouble going again?

Maybe they’ll be deterred by the stick-shift, maybe they’ll treat it as a challenge and an oppportunity to learn. If it’s an older car, maybe they’ll plow the car into a wall trying to jump-start it in gear. I’ve seen a few instances a while ago where remote car starters (for cold weather) basically caused a standard car to come when called, making a mess of the restaurant walls.

I have friends who had their house robbed last fall while they were sleeping. The theif took the car keys from their kitchen counter, stole an ipod from their car but left the car. They believe that the car was left behind because it was a manual transmission and the theif didn’t know how to operate a stick shift.

There was a rash of home robberies in our town in the weeks following this incident. Some of the robberies involved the theft of cars, so it is possible that there is some truth to their belief that the would be car theif was thwarted by the stick shift.

Personal anecdote.

Way back when, OK about 1993, I owned a manual Honda CRX. One night thieves busted the steering column apart and attempted to hot wire the car; they were unsuccessful.

It is my belief that they didn’t take into consideration that the clutch has a safety switch on it. You need to push the clutch to the floor in order to complete the circuit and turn the starter. I’m convinced this is what prevented my car from being stolen, because the way the steering column and ignition switch were busted apart made me think that they had done this before and knew what they were doing: apart from the clutch interlock.

My sister, who has had some (unsuccessful) lessons in driving stick from both me and her previous boyfriends, was unable to even get my car started last time she tried (and she tried for a good ten minutes). She wasn’t pushing the clutch in far enough. So that’s a possibility.

My insurance company doesn’t care that my car is equipped with a manual trans, but let’s be realistic here: There is no way 100% of car thieves know how to drive a manual trans, so those non-manual driving thieves have to pass on manual trans cars.

The illegal parts market is also wanting the automatic transmissions, and since car theft is somewhat connected to this market, I’d think that’s the more likely target.


In the late 90s there was a ring of thieves operating in Albuquerque that specifically targeted manuals. Mine and two friends of friends lost trucks to them. (I alone, among those I heard of got mine back) They were all parked facing downhill. I suspect the thieves coasted them a ways then bump started them.

A neighbor’s was found in front of my house. They coasted that far but were unable to start it.

Mine was recovered by the Chihuahua (Mexico) State Police near Neuvo Casas Grandes. A convoy of stolen trucks was caught trying to bypass a checkpoint on back roads. When I went down to get it, I saw the group that was recovered. All Ford 4WD trucks with manual transmissions and receiver hitches.

If you dug out the statistics, they could be be distorted by high performance cars being over represented by both being stolen and by being manual shift.

As many anecdotes as I have heard, I am sure some thieves can’t drive manual shift and avoid stealing them. However, I will continue to lock my car and take the key out.

When I lived in Seattle in the 90’s, we attributed the near-epidemic theft levels of Hondas to the racer/drifter rice-rocket scene. Manual transmissions were hugely preferred by those sorts. If you had a red manual transmission Civic, you were suprised it if was in your driveway in the morning.

But I’m pretty sure my three-on-the-tree Chevy truck is safe, though.

ETA: the lack of a shift lock also makes manuals a lot more vulnerable to snatch-n-grab flatbed jobs.

I’m with md2000. Anyone can drive a manual. It’s not destroying the clutch in the process that can be tricky.

Maybe anyone could if they had some idea of what to do. However, what we’re talking about here isn’t people who haven’t developed good skills using the clutch, but people who don’t even have a clue about what they should try to do. They haven’t gotten to the tricky part yet because they don’t know where to start.

I don’t know about thieves, but having a stickshift has greatly reduced the number of people wanting to borrow my car.

Wonder how many non starts are due to not putting the clutch in?


Sorry, I was just visualizing the Chihuahua Police. :smiley:

Yeah, I was thinking the same - given a middling worth of car, stick shift would probably offer some protection, but I would not count on it offering any if you have a high-end car! And stick shifts are of course more prevelent with those.

I actually had an acquaintance’s kid ask me if my (manual) car was “broken.”

Yep. I have had many “thanks for the offer anyway” comments when I offer to lend my manual transmission.

When I lived in Philly shudder an incredible number of cars sported “No Radio” signs to stop break ins.