Survival Basics


You are stopped at a red light, checking text messages on your phone, when you are interrupted by a tap on your window.  You look up, and find yourself staring straight down the sights of a Glock 9 from the wrong end.  Quickly, you search your memory for any unpaid parking tickets or traffic citations, until you realize that there is not a badge being worn by the individual at the other end of those sights. As you attempt to recall any enemies you’ve recently made (business deal gone wrong, creative accounting with your tax filings, forgot to pick up kids from soccer practice), the individual gestures for you to exit the vehicle and give him the keys.  You’ve just been carjacked.

Carjacking is a crime that occurs some 40,000 times annually. The vast majority (93%) occur in urban areas, and roughly 75% involve the use of a weapon. Carjacking victims have suffer a 30% injury rate, with 20-30 fatalities each year.  The focus of this article is to avoid being one of the 30% that is injured.

How to avoid injury during carjacking?

To understand how to avoid injury, it is helpful to understand the motivation and tactics of a carjacker. In general, there are two reasons for a carjacker to forcefully take a vehicle from its owner:

  1. He needs to get somewhere quickly, or
  2. He really likes your car. Expounding on the latter, your car could be valuable for its parts, a joyride, or an opportune vehicle to cause damage to something else.

In addition to the gunpoint takeover mentioned in the introduction, carjackers also look for running vehicles without a driver in the seat. They have even been known to cause a reason for the driver to get out of the car, such as a minor collision or flagging down the driver for help.

A carjacker’s ideal crime is to quickly obtain the vehicle without causing damage or injury, and avoiding notice. In many cases, they will select a different target if the crime cannot be conducted quickly or covertly. In the gunpoint scenario, the fact that you are being asked to exit the vehicle probably means that he prefers not to shoot you outright (risks to detection and damage to the vehicle). Find some comfort in this fact should you find yourself in this situation.

How to avoid becoming a victim?

There are plenty of tips on how to avoid becoming a victim, which will be briefly summarized here: situational awareness, locked doors/windows, and avoiding dark or isolated areas. There is also some good guidance on how to recover and mitigate losses from a carjacking: automobile insurance, contacting authorities quickly (hopefully you have your license plate memorized), vehicle tracking systems, and not keeping your house keys on the same chain as your car keys.


As a carjacking victim, the time between that tap on the window and watching your taillights speed away are the critical 20 seconds that determine if your next ride will be in an ambulance. Since it can be generally assumed that it is in the carjacker’s best interest to do this nonviolently, compliance is usually the safest option.

Should you choose to escalate force on somebody who already holds the advantage, you do so at great peril to yourself. Be calm, attempt to gather your belongings (phone, purse/wallet) if given the option, and exit the vehicle. It hurts to willingly give your vehicle to a criminal, but consider the cost decision you are already in: a $500 automobile insurance deductible, or a $2000 health insurance deductible. In nearly all cases, it is economically advantageous to accept the lower deductible, rather than pay them both.  And it is most definitely better than a $250,000 death gratuity to your next of kin.

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As difficult as it is to hear, just let him (or them) have the vehicle, and don’t resist. Even if it is a beloved vehicle with your favorite Lynyrd Skynyrd cassette in the tape deck, just let it go. No vehicle is worth your life or serious injury.

And please, don’t text and drive. Even at a stoplight.

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