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The Blue Brief: How To Survive a Carjacking

We run you through how to prevent a carjacking and what to do if you're faced with this kind of situation. Come read up on how to stay safe!

Carjacking is near and dear to a lot of the motoring public, and it is absolutely something worth considering.

These crimes are on the rise in certain parts of the country. Places like Minneapolis have seen as much as a 537% increase in carjackings in 2020.

Are you prepared for a carjacking?

So today, I’m going to address how to deal with this potential threat.

Since things do not always go to plan, we’ll discuss multiple scenarios.

Also, keep in mind laws vary from state to state. I am not an attorney, and you should not consider this information as legal advice.

Rather, it is food for thought to help you prepare for a possibility.

Table of Contents


Prevention is the Best Medicine

I’m going to focus heavily on prevention because all the options south of here are a downhill slide of diminishing returns.

In the world of prevention, there are a few key ideas to consider.

First, the concept that carjacking is a crime of opportunity.


This means a criminal sees a victim create an opportunity and the criminal seizes it.

So, what’s the fix here?

Don’t make it easy for bad guys.

If they were inclined to hard work, they would likely have a normal job like most of us.

Consider this position. All the approach angles provide a reactionary gap and you can clear the columns when you pull in.

In Gavin de Becker’s The Gift of Fear, he teaches us to trust our inner voice. You know, the one that tells us when something looks sketchy.

In essence, we have learned through polite society to dismiss that voice for fear of making someone feel bad.

Do not do this.

If something makes you uncomfortable, trust that feeling. Act immediately.

So, if someone approaches your vehicle and you feel weird about it, drive away.


Practical applications of this mean setting yourself up for success.

Any time you are in a vehicle, in a setting where close interaction with other people is possible, be prepared to act.

One of the most critical junctures is getting in or out of your car.

Here, criminals can lie in wait and approach you from blind angles while you are distracted.

Unfortunately, many people are carrying things, using the phone, or both.

Carjacking Distracted on Phone
Are you guilty of this?

Awareness is the best medicine to prevent carjackings, particularly when getting in or out of your ride.

When Exiting

Park in a manner that allows you to have a wide field of view. Give a high preference for well-lit areas that afford you quick access to your destination.

This might mean a combat park or backing into a spot, especially if an area is making you uncomfortable.

Carjacking Combat Park
Combat parking allows you to exit quickly.

It is much easier to drive forward under high stress than it is to back your vehicle up.

Also, keep in mind, nothing short of an appointment forces you to leave your vehicle.

Observe the situation from a vehicle that’s ready to move and leave if you’re not convinced it’s safe.

When You Approach

Keeping your hands free, if possible.

If you can’t, keep at least one hand free, so you can address threats.

Definitely have your keys ready.

Don’t create that opportunity to get jacked by digging in your pockets or purse for keys, head down, unaware.

Carjacking Distrated in purse
Digging in a purse means you’re not paying attention to the things around you.

Keep a steady eye on trouble spots like a column someone could hide behind or the abductor van that parked real close while you were away.

Once in the car, lock the doors immediately.

Some vehicles will lock automatically when you reach a certain speed but be more proactive than this.

When you take your seat, get the car in motion. Until you are underway, you are still at risk.

When Stopped

Whether at an ATM or a traffic light, leave yourself an escape route.

Do not pull up to the bumper of the car in front of you. If you know your car’s turn radius, leave at least that much room so you can pull out and move away from trouble.

Visualize where you would go — the more avenues of escape, the better.

With an ATM approach, use the option that limits lanes of approach to your vehicle.

If you park against the building, no one can easily hide and surprise you, and you will stand a much better chance of seeing someone come from the front.

Check your side or rearview mirror frequently.

Handle your business, but scan your environment as you do using plain view and your mirrors.

Bail at the slightest hint of an issue.

Leaving your card behind or even cash is easier to deal with than a carjacking.


Stay Aware

You might think you are relatively safe once you leave higher-risk locations and get back into traffic.

Think back to many of the police chases you’ve seen captured on video.

Fleeing suspects may not have had carjacking in mind that day, but when they crash their car, their only motivation is escaping the cops. If you are handy and unprepared, you may provide their next ride.

Car Chase

Again, this goes back to awareness, listen for sirens, pay attention when you see many police cars and a helicopter overhead.

Another huge part of awareness is having the ability to communicate where you are geographically.

If you have never called 911 before, one of the first things they ask you is the location of your emergency.

You may be surprised, but a lot of callers are actually stumped by this and cannot give a nearby intersection. Help needs to know how to get to you quickly.

What to Do if You’re Carjacked

1. Life Is Priority

During a carjacking, the only actionable priority is life.

No property is worth dying for.

As a result, temper your reactions accordingly.

If awareness and prevention have failed you and you find yourself in a scenario where you are confronted with an armed carjacker, exit the vehicle as safely as you can.

Try to keep your phone with you so you can call for help.

Home Defense Phone 911

Be a good witness and make mental notes of the description of the driver, what they were wearing, and the last known direction of travel.

That said, more modern vehicles have fobs that must be present for the vehicle to operate. This is not even relegated to luxury vehicles anymore.

If a jacker forces you from the vehicle, having the fob in your pocket is handy.

Use your opportunity and run like the wind to safety.

Chances are, when the felon realizes their error, they may come after you but will likely find the next best option if you are nowhere near.

2. Get Outta There

This option is great, provided you have laid some groundwork from the awareness level.

Say you pull up to a light and stop a car length behind a few cars.

You have identified two routes that would allow you a relatively safe exit from the intersection, a right-turn lane that is empty and a sidewalk clear of pedestrians.

Green represents choice one with minimal risk. Yellow is choice two with greater risk. Red is the last best choice but I’ll take it if I have to.

A driver gets out of the vehicle in front of you and approaches with something in his hand.

In this scenario, I whack it and flee in the direction least likely to jam me up.

I’m not giving out autographs, and I can’t think of a good reason for someone to come at me like that.

People are often surprised at what a vehicle will do when handled properly.

Blues Bros
Don’t use a crowded mall to escape a carjacker!

Curbs, fences, and other barriers, even other cars, will rarely stop 4,000-pounds and 150 horses.

Keep in mind; you will be responsible for your escape and any damage you cause. But cops and prosecutors are far more understanding if you can articulate a viable threat to your safety.

3. When to Fight

There are a couple of scenarios where resistance to the highest degree is necessary.

Keep in mind you are held accountable for your actions, and your use of force will be weighed against the level of threat you faced.

Never let anyone take you.

If anyone ever tries to force you to go in the car with them, do not comply.

Pick your best opportunity, distract them if you can, then make a break for it.

Rocky running

Anyone willing to abduct you likely has laid out some dubious plans.

They will take you somewhere that gives them the advantage of accomplishing those plans while minimizing their risk of being caught and your chance of escaping.

You are literally better off running from someone trying to shoot you at close range than hoping for a better outcome after being kidnapped.


This scenario is a nightmare for parents.

There are many tales in law enforcement of cars being stolen with children still in them.

First off, never leave kids alone in a vehicle, particularly a running vehicle.

Carjacking Kids in Carseat
Carseats, am I right?

Sometimes when the weather is hot or cold, folks leave a car running to keep the kids comfy while they quickly pop into the store. Take your children with you.

I know this is a hassle, but the possible risk your kids face is egregious.

People who care for kiddos know how difficult it can be to quickly remove smaller kids from car seats, so this is often unfeasible.

My approach while transporting precious cargo has always been awareness and avoidance. Flee if possible, fight like hell if forced.         

By the Numbers

I cannot emphasize enough how important the arts of awareness, detection, and avoidance are in staying safe while driving.

Always strive to avoid the situation upfront, so you do not have to flee or defend yourself with violence.

Develop good habits like locking your doors, staying aware of your surroundings, knowing where you are, visualizing avenues of escape. Then make these practices habitual in your daily travels.

Door Lock
Lock those doors!

The risks you avoid may not even be a carjacking targeting you.

Being aware that the car in the next lane cut off another driver may tip you off to some pending violence.

Forewarned is forearmed. Start moving away.

Shots fired between those two vehicles may not have involved you at the start, but they involve everyone within range when they ring out.

Before you are forced to use violence to defend yourself or others, learn how to do it effectively.

Get training on how to strike and grapple.

In addition to trigger time you should be getting training in handgun retention and force-on-force. Be a well-rounded shooter, not just some guy who punches holes in paper while standing still on a firing line.
In addition to trigger time, you should be getting training in force-on-force.

Find a reputable firearms instructor who will train you to carry your weapon and deploy it from a vehicle.

You can shoot for years on a static range, learn good skills, and then get hung up in a seatbelt.

Of critical importance, learn the laws regarding self-defense that apply to your area.


Avoidance is the highest reward category when it comes to carjackings. But remember, the suspect has a say in what happens too. So be ready.

Have you ever been carjacked? Let us know in the comments below. Also, get to know Sean in The Blue Brief: An Introduction.

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30 Leave a Reply

  • Commenter Avatar
    Deaf Smith

    No biggie... I just go to the ATM with my 12 gauge Shockwave on a sling and sun glasses. My wife does the ATM thing while I smile at people....

    May 1, 2021 1:30 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    Boy, that toupee looks terrible!

    April 30, 2021 7:16 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Sean Curtis

      Some of us with follicular challenges just shave it.

      May 8, 2021 3:27 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Lew Wickman

    The reference to "The Gift of Fear" is spot on. I bought the book for both my daughters and my girl friend. If your senses are trying to tell you something LISTEN! I to was on a flight in the southern US in the summer. A guy shooting the shit with a young lady had on a fully buttoned shirt. LOL! In Texas? In the summer. He had enough ink on him to stop a southbound freight and they wern't the sweet ones. When in doubt, RUN. I'm 6'3" 205 lbs with a tombstone disposition but I've never been afraid to run from an attacker.

    April 15, 2021 10:44 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Sean Curtis

      The book is amazing as it reveals a layer of polite society that predatory individuals are using to prey upon others--it should be required reading.

      Thanks Lew, that's a great point. Throughout my career I tried to find other methods for dealing with potentially violent encounters. If it can be avoided altogether, it's a wise investment.

      April 20, 2021 9:39 am
  • Commenter Avatar

    Good advice. However, numbers alone don’t tell the whole story. Many people, particularly in South Florida, claim to be victims of carjackings when they are just arranging it as such because they can’t afford the vehicle. In other words, be highly critical of figures and numbers.

    April 14, 2021 6:11 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Sean Curtis

      Jaqo, you're absolutely right. I always advise folks to be critical consumers of media. While a percentage of that number may well include the sub-category you referenced, multiple sources are citing upticks in violent crime in the U.S. This gives us some context for this increase.

      April 20, 2021 9:43 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Dexter Winslett

    This old School popo days shoot the car jacker.

    April 14, 2021 9:14 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Sean Curtis

      Dexter, it is certainly an option if justified! I've seen plenty pursuit footage of people trying to jack drivers without using a weapon so the devil is in the details.

      April 20, 2021 9:46 am
  • Commenter Avatar

    Ok fine but even policemen are not trained that well, I mean that you can take a policeman by surprise too and they are not nearly as vigilant of surroundings as you would think. Carjacks are worse than a home invasion because there is only one second to act. Few, if any, can. Nobody has the energy to hold focus of the attention needed ALL of the time. They can be vigilant nine times in a row but werent on the 10th time and got, well, bad luck.

    April 14, 2021 5:32 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Sean Curtis

      Charles, you make some excellent points.

      On the whole, it has been my experience that law enforcement is generally more observant than the average person. However--and this is a salient point I'll cover in the future--cops are human and entirely fallible.

      The best security approaches always include redundant layers. Being alert is wonderful. Being alert, locking your doors, and leaving yourself an exit strategy is far better.

      You are correct about the quickness of this crime. It's why all the above are so important.

      April 20, 2021 9:51 am
  • Commenter Avatar

    Something that I was taught by a self defense instructor many years ago was that if you do end up having someone jump in your car and you are unable to get out, look for a tree or something to crash your car into. 9 times out of 10 they aren't going to have a seat belt on and if they did they aren't going to stick around the scene. Your chances of survival are higher than continuing on to wherever they are planning to take you

    April 14, 2021 4:58 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Sean Curtis

      Amy, this is a high-risk strategy and although it might be effective, I would still advise leaving the vehicle first if avoidance is no longer an option.

      April 20, 2021 9:53 am
  • Commenter Avatar

    My wife and I are utterly amazed at the lack of situational awareness of people especially young women, who seem to have their head buried in their phones at all hours, and when my wife goes for a run her phone goes with her but never headphones

    April 14, 2021 1:33 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Sean Curtis

      It's alarming John. I've recently yelled at someone crossing a street and looking at their phone while an oncoming car approached. Had the driver of that car also been viewing their phone, it could have been bad.

      April 20, 2021 9:56 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Desi Santanna

    Great discussion on car jacking. Gonna go over this with my family and The Gift of Fear is a definite read. Thanks.

    April 13, 2021 8:43 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Sean Curtis

      Thank you Desi, I really appreciate that.

      April 20, 2021 9:57 am
  • Commenter Avatar

    I was car jacked by an individual who was high on spice and running from the police. He fled the initial traffic stop and caused multiple accidents on his way out of the city. I came upon him ‘crashed out’ in a traffic lane just sitting there. No police or any other signs of danger were present. My vehicle was a Jeep Wrangler with no doors so I was a prime target. Out of nowhere, he opened his door, and jumped into my passenger seat, telling me to drive him to a house north of there. As I started driving, he began to act erratic and started throwing my CDs (yes, I’m old) out the open door. I pulled over to the side of the street as told him that he needed to get the h out of my car. He told me that he’d hurt me if I didn’t take him where he wanted to go.
    I had my hand on a sub-compact Glock that was tucked into the right side of my seat and out of his line of sight.
    I stated that if he didn’t get out of the Jeep immediately, I would use force to remove him. He looked at me and initially raised his arm to hit me or something. I told him he “better not”, so he let a few f-bombs drop before he got out of the Jeep. I drove off and called 911 as soon as I could safely stop.
    He was ultimately arrested for the initial charges of felony eluding, fleeing the scene of an accident, aggravated battery on a police officer and drug charges.
    I eventually received a subpoena to testify in front of a grand jury for the incident. After my testimony, he was indicted for all of the previous charges along with an additional charge of Kidnapping (the most serious of the charges).
    I no longer drive with the doors off the Jeep...

    April 13, 2021 8:12 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      Thanks LB for telling everyone about being carjacked. Glad you came out ok ... Certainly was a frightening experience

      April 14, 2021 7:17 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Sean Curtis


      Man what a tale! I'm glad you came through it okay and no one was hurt. This is a great example of a scenario where using lethal force was not absolutely necessary.

      Additionally, you stuck with it through prosecution, and that is crucial. It is difficult to hold people lastingly accountable when the victim does not want to testify.

      Well done on all counts (Jeep too)!

      April 21, 2021 6:28 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    H. Fiedler

    Good info! Around here carjackings are common while people are getting gas. Several will pile out of the car, stick a gun or guns in your face and demand your car. Wallets, purses, and phones are bonus items. They are not patient and will resort to violence if they don't get their way in a few seconds.

    A few ways it could play out at a gas station.
    If you left your keys in the ignition, they'll take your car and be gone.
    If they find you locked your car, they may stick a gun in your face and demand your keys.
    If you didn't lock your car, they may hop in to find there aren't keys. This might buy you some time for options like running away, pressing your remote's panic button, or using the gas pump nozzle as a weapon. It will give an armed thug a chance to test his knowledge of Darwinism if he pulls the trigger while soaked in gasoline.

    If a group confronts you on the street, you will likely be outnumbered and outgunned. On the security footage they show on the news, most people bail out and run when they are surrounded by two or three armed thugs. Running is probably the smart thing to do.

    The type of car you drive plays a role too. Carjackers prefer luxury cars and newer SUVs. If you drive a car a carjacker would be embarrassed to be seen in, they won't bother you.
    Another defensive ploy is to drive a car with a manual transmission. 99% of them won't know how to drive stick shift.

    Most of this stuff happens after 10pm. That is when you need to be vigilant and minimize unnecessary stops if you are out late.

    April 13, 2021 6:32 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Sean Curtis

      Hey this is great info too, thank you! I'm also dying on the manual transmission comment, but I think there's some generational truth in your words.

      And yes, the old parental advice about nothing good happening after (insert your time here) is always sage. This harkens back to the primary edict of avoidance.

      April 13, 2021 6:47 pm
    • Commenter Avatar

      Good advice and part of it is easy to take...my car's been on it's last leg for 2 years. Bet they would strip the transmission trying to peel off. May keep the rust spots and gorilla glue decorum on my next ride and add some spray paint.
      A 45lb test magnet bolted into the panels keeps a pew as easy to reach as a gear shift. Problem is, at what point does one fire? Even if you were to detail 1000 scenarios, you wouldn't name the one the reader faced. Dash cams help a jury, a prosecutor, and the next class get a feel for what one has endured. Any budget suggestions?

      April 13, 2021 7:26 pm
      • Commenter Avatar
        Sean Curtis


        As previously stated, I can't give legal advice and you pointedly mention "1,000 scenarios" but the use of lethal force in defense of one's (or another's) life is outlined in your state's laws. It typically involves an imminent threat to life which generally means a weapon of some sort.

        Alertness and observation are free! They are some of the cheapest investments you can make and the dividends they pay in return are enormous.

        Besides that, I saw a video of a jacker who pulled an older man out of a stopped vehicle once. The jacker was being pursued by police and unceremoniously removed the driver from an older pickup. The driver had anticipated this scenario though and slyly flipped a kill switch before getting up to flee.

        The killswitch made sure the truck didn't go anywhere and the panicked jacker moved on to someone else before getting caught. This would be a relatively cheap solution.

        April 21, 2021 6:39 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Len Chelius

    Wow one of your best articles yet.
    Going to make sure my wife reads this and pays attention as she does so.

    April 13, 2021 4:57 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Sean Curtis

      Thank you Len,

      It's pretty easy to lend a critical eye and give folks feedback that might save their lives. You have to sell them on it so they implement it without your continual haranguing!

      I sometimes slip but have a sea of reports I've taken over the years that I can look back on and draw conclusions. I hope you and your wife stay safe!

      April 13, 2021 6:49 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Manny Subia

    Awareness!! Number 1 thing Mom taught us when we were young. Especially my sisters. That awareness has kept me out of trouble numerous times! Awareness was pounded into my sisters heads even more so than myself. Whenever we get together, I can tell that they are aware of their surroundings, just from the comments they make about people, situations etc.

    Also, another thing Mom taught us was to always leave a decent amount of distance from the car in in front of you, especially at stop lights. 1-Just in case you need to get out, and the car behind you is sniffing your tail. 2-Just in case the driver braking behind you isn't paying attention and hits your car from behind. That extra space should save you from hitting the car in front of you............Miss you Mom! (RIP)

    Great article! Loved all the points made. Keep up the fine work Pew-Pew!

    April 13, 2021 4:49 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Sean Curtis


      Your mother sounds like an absolute treasure! I'm giving my kids the same advice and I hope it serves them as well as it has you and your sisters.

      All too often you can be outgunned or outmatched, not matter how you've prepared. However, they've got to catch you first. This makes avoidance the best bet.

      Thanks for the praise, stay safe.

      April 13, 2021 6:52 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    John T Turner

    I have a Cold Steel Safe Maker II attached to my seatbelt. Inexpensive push knife.
    Sheath attaches to seat belt perfectly
    Blade requires sharpening. It’s right there when needed.
    Of course other blades would work but this one is an easy solution

    April 13, 2021 4:41 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      Sean Curtis


      I absolutely love Cold Steel and have been a fan for many years now. It's hard to beat them for an inexpensive, high-value product that absolutely cuts.

      Thanks for your thoughts, and the read.

      April 13, 2021 6:54 pm
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