How To: Deal With A Smash and Grab

You've thought about staying safe on the trail, but have you considered how to make your car less tempting to trailhead thieves? In this first-hand account from Gabrielle Orsi, learn from her hard-won lessons how to make your vehicle less appealing to thieves.
Gabrielle Orsi Gabrielle Orsi
Leader & Super Volunteer
February 27, 2019
How To: Deal With A Smash and Grab
Smashed car window (James P. Orsi)

On Monday, February 11, a quick jaunt to a local park in the Issaquah Alps to enjoy the fresh snow on skis had a less-than-happy ending. The snow itself was delightfully powdery, and the skiing was memorable and fun! But when the fun ended, we came back to a smashed car window, with items stolen from the vehicle, and yet another nasty surprise awaiting us: our home had been burglarized as well.

The car registration swiped from the glovebox, plus the knowledge that we were away from home, made for an easy crime of opportunity. The thieves mapped from the trailhead to our house to find out if it was feasible to drive there quickly. The house keys stolen from our car meant the thieves simply unlocked the front door on their way in.

We all know it’s best to remove anything of value — and anything that might look valuable — from an unattended car. Even a bag containing odds and ends may attract unwanted attention. However, the notion of using a car’s registration to rob the car owner’s home was something I’d never considered, until it happened to me.

More than 450,000 cars currently belong to households in the metro Seattle area and Seattle Times reports that nearly half of property crimes in Seattle involve a motor vehicle. Opportunity doesn’t knock, it drives!

Prevention Tips

In the future, I'll be making sure my car is empty as possible, and that my car registration is not conveniently in the glovebox. Oh, and I'll definitely be advocating for more public transit service to popular trailheads, like Trailhead Direct. Carfree just might equal carefree!

The Seattle police department has tips on car prowl prevention online. Taking your car registration with you is one way to avoid inadvertently sharing your address with a car prowler, whether you're out for a hike or spending a few hours shopping or at the movies. The Washington State Department of Licensing (DOL) will accept post office boxes as your mailing address and print your post office box on your car registration, rather than your physical home address, so that's a good option as well.

What to do if your car is broken into

If your vehicle is broken into, you can call the local police department and they will direct you to the right law enforcement agency. For example, the city of Issaquah has a police department, but some public lands and unincorporated areas near Issaquah are under the jurisdiction of the King County Sheriff’s Office. The King County Sheriff's Office has a 24-hour non-emergency line that you can call to report a car prowl, if it's over: 206-296-3311. They will guide you through the next steps to take.

To report a car prowl to the Seattle police, call the non-emergency number at 206-625-5011, or file a report online at There is no need to remain on the scene to report a crime. 

If you need immediate help from the police, medics, or fire department always call 911.

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Anita Elder
Anita Elder says:
Feb 28, 2019 01:36 PM

Good advice. But why would you leave keys in your car?

Suzette Dutton
Suzette Dutton says:
Mar 04, 2019 12:38 PM

i leave mine all the time so i only had to carry one key... the car key... on the hike... i won't no more tho... :-((

Suzette Dutton
Suzette Dutton says:
Mar 04, 2019 12:37 PM

sad to hear this... unfortunately the police don't care... they just write the report to give you a case number... then your on to the insurance hassle... i'm glad nobody was physically involved or hurt... I'm going to empty my glove box since reading this... thank you

Katie Mullinax
Katie Mullinax says:
Mar 06, 2019 09:26 PM

I used to drive a (piece of junk) car that had locking issues. When parked at a trailhead, or in a high crime areas, I would leave it unlocked to avoid a smashed window - should someone feel so tempted. I also kept the glove box emptied and the back seats folded down with a clear view of the empty trunk compartment. This is when I started keeping my vehicle registration and insurance paperwork on my person. Only once did I return to find my vehicle had been rifled through. Some thief thought a bag of trash was too tempting an offer to say no to. But, it spared me a busted window.
Now, I'm not suggesting that we all start leaving our vehicles unlocked, but I certainly second the idea of clearing all compartments and leaving them opened and the insides visible to passersbys. Also, keeping vehicle registration and insurance on your person is it good idea in general.