There have long been warnings about the dangers of leaving the garage door opener in the car where it can be stolen. But now there is another concern spreading, as the public is being reminded that a practiced thief with a coat hanger can open an automatic roll-up garage door in six seconds.
According to authorities, the garage door is one of the most vulnerable entrances to a house and thieves are taking full advantage. By slipping a coat hanger through the top of the garage door, catching hold of the cord on the emergency latch, and pulling to disengage the safety release, a thief then only has to lift the door and they are inside a home.
Originally used by only a small sub-set of thieves, the practice is spreading through the criminal world, and authorities say people need to protect themselves.
Some homeowners already know the coat hanger trick, and have used it themselves if they find themselves locked out of the house, but thieves can watch the same how-to internet videos and with a little practice be much faster than the owner in opening a garage door.
Even if there is an alarm system it takes only seconds for the thieves to get in, reclose the door, and hide inside until security personnel investigating the alarm decide everything looks okay and go away.
Having windows in the garage door makes it even easier for burglars to pull this trick because they can see exactly what they are doing. But even without windows, the process is fairly easy since the emergency release is always right in the middle of the door.
Locking the door between the garage and the house is the first step in protecting a home, but even that is probably not much deterrent, since most of these doors do not have dead bolts. Plus, the thieves are already inside the garage with the door closed, so they can take their time to work on the lock unobserved.
There are some easy and low-tech fixes for the garage door itself that reduce the danger of thieves using a wire coat hanger to open it.
Probably the easiest fix is to remove the plastic handle on the garage door’s release cord. With no handle the thieves have nothing to hook the wire hangar to while fishing from outside. The door can still be opened from inside, even though the safety release cord has no handle.
The emergency release lever on the garage door can be disabled, which experts say is the best way to keep thieves from using the coat hanger trick.
Another method is to secure the release mechanism on the emergency latch with a twist tie or small piece of wire. Both should require only a good yank to break in case of emergency, but will thwart someone trying to get in with a coat hanger. The lever always has a hole in it for attaching the release cord, and some assemblies have holes you can run the wire or twist tie through. The idea is to make it practically impossible for someone to pull the lever with a flimsy coat hanger.
Covering the garage windows will not stop thieves from pulling this trick, but it will slow them down so that the process at least requires a little more time and effort. Even frosted windows help increase security.
Fortunately many authorities are becoming wise to thieves using the coat hanger and garage door trick, and know that the thieves may be hiding in the house waiting them to leave. These responders say they know better than to just drive by and figure everything is okay because the garage door is closed.
By Beth A. Balen