With the cost of cars soaring, and the cost of certain parts going even higher, it's no wonder that thieves are having a panic.

More than a million cars will be stolen this year -- one every 32 seconds. And, as the theft rate goes up, the recovery rate is going down. Thieves quickly steal a shiny, new car and drive it to a "chop shop" where key parts and components are removed for resale.

Most parts and components don't carry the car's serial or identification number and are almost impossible to trace. The Ford Motor Co. is experimenting with identification numbers stamped on major parts that the thieves go after (doors, fenders, front and rear ends, hoods and deck lids).

What should a conscientious owner do?

The first thing, police say, is obvious. Lock the car and take the keys with you.

Don't laugh. One out of every five stolen cars had the keys conveniently dangling in the ignition. Don't leave an extra set of keys or the originals in a "secret" hiding place. The thieves know where to look.

When you leave keys at a parking lot, don't leave one with your duplicate code number. Just leave a plain ignition key -- no trunk or house keys.

It's a good idea to keep a record of your license tag number and your car's serial number on a little piece of paper in your wallet. Police say valuable time is lost when victims report stolen cars and can't locate their license or serial numbers.

There are all kinds of anti-theft devices, and some are better than others. Police seem to like the "fuel-line lock." This gadget shuts off the gas after the theft has driven a hundred feet or so.

Here's how it works. With a key you turn a valve that cuts the gas supply.

This leaves just enough gas to start the car and get it rolling. Then it stops.

To be able to burglarize your car, the theft has to know if you have fuel-line lock (and there's no way of telling from the outside). He must also have a special wrench that exactly fits your fuel coupling.

Fuel-line locks run from $15 to $50, depending on whether you do the installation or someone else does.

You can protect your trunk lock with a special steel plate which fits over the top. This will deter most amateur and semi-pro thieves. The guard plates cost anywhere from $15 to $25.

Thieves are always on the outlook for tape decks and CB radios. One gang goes through big shopping mall parking lots looking for CB antennas. They serve as dandy locators for the cars to be hit.

You may have your CB or tape deck bolted into the dashboard, but thieves often look on this as a sort of challenge. Victims have often returned to their cars to find the CB or tape deck gone and $200 to $300 worth of damage done to the dashboard.

Your best bet is to buy special frames to hold the tape deck and CB radio. With these, you can slice the equipment out when you leave the car and lock it in the trunk or take it with you.

Another good idea, police say, is to get a portable CB antenna that fits on the roof with a magnet. When you leave the car, you take down the antenna and store it in your trunk (which already has a steel guard plate on the lock).

You can buy alarms to protect your car, but they're often costly to install.

Your best bet is to not leave anything of value in your car. Don't tempt the thief.

Q. Which is cheaper, flying to some place and renting a car, or driving your car? With the price of gasoline going up almost every day, I thought it might be cheaper to fly.

A. On longer trips when there is only one person involved, it's probably cheaper to fly and rent a car -- especially if you can hit a supersaver air fare and a discount auto rental.

If it's a shorter trip, say, less than 250 miles, you're probably better off driving your car. Of course, when you have several people involved, driving your car becomes much more economical even with soaring gasoline prices. There's a new trend in vacation travel. It's called "stage-coaching." You team up with another couple or other singles and carpool your vacation dividing up the costs. It can save lots of money if you don't mind rubbing elbows.