Recent headlines from across the United States are disturbing. “Police chief: Carjackings on the rise in Albuquerque”; “Nearly 40 carjackings in two months have Atlanta drivers on edge”; “Carjackings on the rise in Memphis”; “Safety Alert: Increased incidence of carjackings in Cleveland.”

Carjackings are violent, unexpected incidents that leave victims violated, traumatized and even injured or dead. Each year, tens of thousands of motorists are left standing in the street as they watch some dirtbag drive away with their vehicle or are left bleeding or dead on the side of the road.

This driver is under attack and is being forced out by a carjacker with a gun.


National data is sparse because carjackings are typically classified as “armed robberies”—a classification that does not paint an accurate picture of the prevalence or increased incidence of this specific crime. The last comprehensive report on carjackings was conducted by the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) between 1993 and 2002. Most compelling is that during 38,000 incidents, a weapon was used 74 percent of the time.

In 45 percent of those cases, the weapons were firearms, 11 percent were knives and 18 percent were other weapons. In many cities across the United States, carjackings are on the rise. The reasons range from criminals looking for a getaway vehicle to cash in on the underworld of stolen vehicles and parts or just nitwits looking to have some excitement at someone else’s expense— financially and emotionally.

Sadly, it’s a convenient crime of opportunity with little time for the victim to defend themselves or their companions. Most recommendations made by law enforcement and personal protection professionals are that, when confronted with this harrowing scenario, just surrender your vehicle because it’s not worth losing your life over. The problem is, what if your child is in the vehicle, secured in a car seat? Alternatively, what if you just don’t want to give the dirtbag the satisfaction of stealing your hard-earned vehicle?

A criminal breaks into a parked car in a dark part of a parking area at night.
He is taking advantage of the shadows to break into the car.


One solution is to be a licensed concealed-weapon carrier and fight back—as did two Albuquerque, New Mexico, motorists, leaving two would-be carjackers bloodied and thinking about their life choices.

Last November, an Albuquerque couple was approached in an apartment complex parking lot by three teenagers who were part of a violent local gang. The teens wanted the vehicle, but the male driver would have none of it. Being a licensed concealed-carry weapon holder, he drew his weapon and shot a 16-year-old alleged gang member who, incidentally, had an outstanding robbery warrant and was recently released from probation. The other two took off running.

In an earlier incident in July, a would-be carjacker in an Albuquerque WalMart parking lot had the misfortune of attempting to carjack another concealed-carry holder. The suspect, also with a lengthy criminal past, was wounded and arrested.

In both cases, the drivers were not charged by police, who cited self-defense as the reason.

This attempt to steal the driver’s property might have been averted if she had kept her window closed.


Not every driver wants to—or can—carry a firearm. Not to fear: There are viable options for you to employ so you don’t become a statistic.

The first and most important step is your mindset. There is nothing shameful in surrendering your vehicle if you believe that is the best decision to ensure your safety and that of the passengers in your vehicle. If you choose to fight, you must be decisive, fast and ferocious. This is not the time to be timid or second-guessing yourself.

The best way to handle a carjacking is to prevent it from occurring. This might not always be easy, but the following simple steps can definitely give you the advantage.

As soon as you head to your vehicle, place your keys in your hand in weapon preparation.
Here, the author simulates a carjacker making his initial move against an unsuspecting driver with her car window open
The intended victim elects to quickly and securely grab the weapon, control the slide, aim the weapon away from her and rapidly pull it across her chest. This will also pull the suspect closer to her, because he will be trying to hold onto  the weapon.
The attacker is now close enough to the driver for her to begin simultaneously punching him in the face and bending his wrist up to free the weapon.

After the driver gains control of the weapon, her next move is to get the attacker clear of her vehicle and drive to safety (if the attacker hasn’t already fled).


This is not one of our strong suits as Americans. We are often distracted with our children, conversations, traffic, tablets and the ubiquitous cell phone. I always tell my students and my children to “live your life, but keep your head on a swivel.”

In tactical terms, this would be referred to as the Cooper Awareness Color Code Chart:

White: Essentially, you are oblivious of your surroundings. You are walking to or sitting in your car, texting or talking on the phone, not noticing who is walking near you or your vehicle.

Yellow: You are more in touch with your surroundings—keeping your head on a swivel. You are aware of who’s walking in your area and their apparent demeanor.

Orange: You suspect something might not be “right.” Your pulse might be increasing or the hairs on the back of your neck are standing up as you notice someone checking for unlocked vehicle doors or that a guy is following you from the mall exit. Or, maybe it’s that vehicle that has been following you for the past few blocks.

Red: The threat just became reality, and it’s time to make a decision. The guy that was following you from the mall has targeted you and your vehicle. Do you fight or surrender your vehicle? Do you have your child or significant other with you, and how will you protect them? What are you going to use to defend yourself? Is anyone around to help you? Start dialing 911.

Black: Go time! You are not becoming a victim today.


There are numerous scenarios within which a carjacking can occur. Self-defense classes can educate you regarding ways to avoid these situations or defend yourself if you’re attacked. These response techniques do not guarantee you will leave the encounter unscathed, but hopefully, through continued training and practice, you can mitigate the impact of an attack.

Plans for Self-Preservation

1.) Parking or approaching your vehicle in a parking lot:

  • Avoid parking near potential carjacker hiding places, such as dumpsters or bushes.
  • Park in well-lit places. Plan for this when parking during daylight hours.
  • Try to park as close to the entrance of your destination as possible.
  • Conceal valuable items in your vehicle. Don’t leave cell phones, electronics, backpacks or purses on the seats.
  • Be sure to lock all the doors and shut the windows.
  • Before returning to your vehicle, survey the parking lot for potential attackers.
  • Look in and around your vehicle before entering it.
  • If you do not feel comfortable walking to your vehicle, call security or have someone accompany you to your vehicle.
  • Walk to your vehicle in a “yellow” state of awareness. If you are going to use your cell phone, don’t text; instead, be on the phone, talking to someone. If you are attacked, you will not have time to send a text, but you will be able to yell your location and situation into the phone.
  • Walk confidently to your vehicle. If you have pepper spray or a stun gun, know where it is and have it at the ready in case you need it. Otherwise, put your keys between your fingers and clench your fist. This makes for a very effective improvised weapon. Other available items that can be used as weapons are pens and even a cell phone.

2.) While driving your vehicle:

  • Once again, be in a “yellow” state of awareness.
  • Keep windows and doors closed and locked.
  • When you enter the vehicle, don’t dawdle. Start it and drive away immediately.
  • When stopped, be sure to leave enough room between vehicles to maneuver.
  • Put your seatbelt on immediately after you start your vehicle. If you put it on while parked, the seatbelt can cost you valuable seconds if you have to bail out fast.
  • Regularly scan your rearview and side mirrors for anyone approaching your vehicle.
  • Do not stop for hitchhikers or a motorist with what appears to be a disabled vehicle. It’s hard not to be a good Samaritan, but times have changed. To assuage any guilt, call police or a roadside service as you drive by.
  • Be cautious of what is referred to as the “bump and run.” Carjackers use this strategy: They bump their vehicle into another one, and when that driver gets out to assess the damage, a passenger in the offending vehicle will get out and attempt to steal the bumped vehicle.
A scenario in which the carjacker is in the passenger seat. This situation often occurs after a good Samaritan picks up a hitchhiker or motorist whose vehicle appeared to be disabled
Again, speed is the key. The driver reaches across her body, grabs the attacker’s weapon arm, pushes the knife back and simultaneously pummels the suspect’s face with her right hand.
She then grabs the top of the suspect’s hand and rolls the wrist forward while trying to separate his fingers from the grip.

Now, she can either turn the tables on the attacker to restrain them or flee the vehicle, screaming for help.
In this scenario, the driver is walking to her vehicle when a would-be carjacker sticks a gun in her back, demanding her vehicle.
She turns into the attacker, squaring her feet to his body. She then grabs his gun arm, taking care to lock his elbow against her body. With her opposite arm, she repeatedly strikes him in the face with her elbow. She can also effectively be kneeing him in the groin at this time. With his gun arm locked against her body, she reaches across and grabs the gun by the top to lock the slide and rapidly turns his hand out-ward to relieve him of the weapon. Once she has control of the gun, she will order the attacker
to the ground. If he opts to run off, she should get a good description of his appearance and what direction he is heading, stay with the vehicle and place the weapon on the ground until police arrive.


  • Decide whether you will fight or surrender your vehicle.
  • Commit to your decision, especially if you choose to fight. Indecision is your enemy.
  • React rapidly and violently until you have overcome the attacker.
  • If the attacker flees, get a good description for the police of physical appearance, tattoos, piercings, clothes and the direction of escape. Take photos, if possible, and make notes in your phone or on paper—don’t depend on your memory after this kind of encounter.
  • Even if you win the fight, call police and file an incident report. The next driver might not be as lucky as you.
  • If you have taken a weapon from the suspect, and the scene is secure, make sure the weapon is safe and place it on the ground before police arrive. Do not be holding it when they show up.
Keep windows and doors closed. When you enter the vehicle, don’t dawdle. Start it and drive away immediately.


You’ve done all you can to mitigate a carjacking, but even the best-laid plans could sometimes fall short. Here are some self-defense tactics to consider when confronted with an attacker wielding a gun or knife, whether you are in your car or outside.

  • A major precaution is to stay in your vehicle as long as you can with the windows closed and doors locked.
  • Call for help with your phone in speaker mode. Be sure to tell the dispatcher what is happening and where you are, and give a description of your vehicle and the person(s) trying to carjack you.
  • If you can drive away before surrendering, do so—even if you have to strike other vehicles or objects to escape. Get away fast!
  • If necessary, use your vehicle as a weapon against the carjacker.
  • If you are grabbed in the parking lot, try to remotely lock and disable your vehicle and/or activate the horn. Then toss the keys as far as you can.
  • Run away, screaming for help at the top of your lungs, if you have the opportunity.
  • Don’t try to reason or bargain with a carjacker. By virtue of their life choice, they have very little reasoning ability.


I can’t neglect discussing the complications of multiple assailants or an attempted kidnapping. Unless you are armed, your only choice is to run from the scene if you can, screaming for help, or to drive quickly away from the attack. At no time should you allow yourself to voluntarily be taken hostage.

Kidnappings do occur during carjackings, but don’t give up your freedom in exchange for the criminal’s “promise” that they won’t hurt you.


If you are going to fight, you have to mean business. If the assailant has a weapon, it must be neutralized through blocking and disarming techniques—which are best learned in a serious training environment and rehearsed regularly. Part of what you will learn is that in the case of a semi-automatic pistol, try to get both hands on the slide while pointing the muzzle away from you and your companions. In the case of a revolver, get your hands on the cylinder to prevent rounds to progress. Even with the best-executed techniques, there is still a chance the assailant could get a round off, which is why pointing the muzzle away from you is so important.

Some of the better techniques are based on the Israeli Defense Force Krav Maga self-defense program. They are very effective but only work as well as you have learned and practiced them. You can find demonstrations of this program online. However, you will need to invest the time and effort in self-defense classes taught by reputable instructors and then periodically practice these strategies under supervision before you attempt to use them.

Remember, the best option is to always avoid trouble. By maintaining a high level of awareness, taking responsibility for your actions and ensuring your environment subjects you to the lowest probability of an attack, you will greatly reduce the odds of becoming yet another carjacking statistic.

Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the June 2017 print issue of American Survival Guide.