Car bike racks are rather valuable items as their price can reach $1,000 for just one rack. So it is a very reasonable question to ask whether you can leave a bike rack on a car and be sure that it is still there when you come back.
In a nutshell, even though most car-bike racks are equipped with a lock that is supposed to prevent your bike rack from being stolen, it won’t be a problem at all for at least a slightly experienced and prepared thief.
To be more specific, the answer depends on a bike rack type since different bike rack types provide a different level of protection due to their nature:
- Trunk-mount bike racks are the easiest ones to steal. The only thing a thief needs to do is to cut off the straps (normally there are 6 straps so it definitely won’t take long). The straps can be replaced so cutting them off won’t ruin the rack.
- Hitch bike racks are getting attached to a trailer hitch, and, basically all hitch racks include a lock. All locks I have seen so far are of a very low quality so it will only protect you from a complete newbie. On the other side, a hitch bike rack with two bikes loaded will weigh around 80 lbs so it won’t be easy to carry it.
- Roof bike racks also go with a lock most of the time. The problem will be the same though. You can’t rely on them at all. Anyway, a thief will be much more exposed while stealing your rack in comparison with hitch racks so it is not that obvious which one is safer.
Jumping forward, it is impossible to make a car bike rack even somewhat theft-proof. The best workaround in my experience is to accept the reality and get the bike rack (and bikes on it) covered by your insurance.
However, there are definitely some steps that can be taken to make your bike rack harder to steal which is our final goal by the way. To make a thief think twice and go after a lower-hanging fruit.
With that being said, let’s go through each bike rack type and best practices of how to make a bike rack harder to steal.
Are trunk-mount bike racks easy to steal?
Trunk-mount bike racks are super easy to steal. The reason is that they are getting attached to your car with straps. As a result, just simply cut off 6 straps (sometimes only 4) and the rack is gone. Won’t take longer than a few seconds.
You might be wondering what is the point of stealing a rack if the straps are destroyed in the process:
- The straps can be easily replaced. So the thief will be able to sell the rack, and for a buyer there will be no way to tell that this bike rack was stolen. It is true that most trunk bike racks are under $100 so it won’t be worth the hassle. However, there are premium models on the market as well ($300-$400), and they are not harder to steal than cheaper versions.
- The bikes on the rack are probably the target, not the rack itself. Trunk bike racks are pretty much lightweight (10-15 lbs). On top of that, trunk racks are relatively small in size, not conspicuous at all. Carrying a rack with 1-2 bikes on it won’t be a big problem (the whole construction with 2 bikes will probably weigh around 40 lbs).
The bottom line is that trunk bike racks are basically a magnet. Especially for someone who is desperate to steal it to buy drugs.
Are hitch bike racks easy to steal?
Hitch bike racks provide at least some level of protection since most of them come with a lock installed by the manufacturer. Though don’t get encouraged. A typical car bike rack lock is very unsophisticated, can be easily cracked by someone who has done at least some homework (there are videos teaching how to do it).
As a result, a lock on a hitch bike rack will only protect you from someone who has no experience, has not been prepared.
Then the thief will buy a new lock and replace it (costs around $50) so that a buyer won’t have any idea that it was stolen. Given that a typical hitch rack costs somewhere around $500, it becomes a profitable “venture”.
However, if you are planning to buy a hitch bike rack, I have some good news for you. Even though it is technically relatively easy to steal, this bike rack type provides a rather high level of protection. Why? Because a rack itself normally weighs 40-60lbs, plus two bikes on it will add another 40 lbs (80 lbs in total). It won’t be easy to carry it for even not a long distance. Moreover, someone carrying such construction will definitely get a lot of attention.
Are roof bike racks easy to steal?
Basically all roof bike racks go with a lock preinstalled. It is supposed to prevent a rack from being stolen. In reality, a lock on a typical roof bike rack does not get the job done.
So if someone wants to steal your roof bike rack, he will do it given that he has some basic knowledge of how to break simple locks.
On the other hand, it might not be economically justifiable. A good roof bike rack costs around $200. Then the thief would have to replace the lock (around $50) and give some discount as he definitely won’t be able to sell it for $200 as a new one.
Everything is starting to make sense from the thief’s perspective if a rack has a bike on it. It will be easy to steal and easy to carry even for a long distance (an average roof bike rack weighs 10-16 lbs).
How to prevent a car bike rack from being stolen
Unfortunately, there is no way to make a car bike rack theft-proof. It is even impossible to make it reasonably hard to steal. For someone who has very basic “breaking locks” skills, it won’t be a problem no matter what you do. Will take less than a minute to steal a rack with a lock.
However, car bike racks with locks do provide very high protection against someone who has never done it before and doesn’t know how. For example, a desperate drug addict who is not prepared and want to steal anything to buy drugs.
Get a bike rack with a lock
This is the only thing that you can do to make it harder to steal your bike rack. Does it work? Well, not really, to be honest, if someone really wants to steal your rack.
However, many people use trunk racks which are much easier to steal (does not require any skills or tools except for scissors) in comparison with racks with locks. So there will be good chances that a thief will go after someone’s trunk rack, not yours with a lock.
Park your car in visible areas
This piece of advice is super obvious. However, so many people still neglect it.
I get that this is not possible all the time and not that convenient, but it really works. Remember that our strategy is very simple. To make our rack one of the hardest to steal in a particular area.
Get your bike rack insured
This is the only solution if you would call it a solution, I would say. If thefts is a big concern in your area, then making your insurance policy to cover such accidents will be the only real workaround.
Summing up, car bike racks are pretty much easy to steal. Some are easier than others though.
Trunk-mount bike racks have virtually no protection against thefts. There is no workaround. Simply get an insurance policy for your rack. This is the only thing you can do.
Roof bike racks can definitely be stolen by someone who has been prepared since such racks always have a lock of a low quality.
Hitch bike racks provide the highest level of protection from thefts. The main reason is that they are quite heavy with bikes loaded. Their lock won’t be much help.