While camping or staying in areas where bears frequent is often a rewarding experience, bear break-ins into your car can make the experience much less rewarding and far less fun. Unfortunately, bears that live near areas that humans tend to occupy on a regular basis have become habituated to attempting to take food from humans, and they’re smart enough to know that a locked car door is no bar to their strength. Neither do car alarms tends to work very well to protect your car from bear intrusions. They’ve become used to it, and aren’t that likely to be frightened by the noise.
Bears have an excellent sense of smell, much superior to humans, and they have also learned in human areas to recognize certain things as possible sources of food. For instance, bears appear to recognize coolers, and a visible cooler in a car may be enough to cause bear break-ins. Unfortunately, bears are not particularly good at opening car doors. So they will smash windows, dent car doors, and the like to try to get to a cooler in the car.
To this end you should never store visible coolers in your car, not even in your trunk, unless there is no other place to store such food. Most campgrounds do have safe bear lockers where you should store all food. Avoid strong smelling foods, which will be natural bear attractors.
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Most importantly though, you need to keep any types of food, food wrappers, or even things like toothpaste and gum wrappers out of your car to prevent bear break-ins. Before you plan to vacation in bear country, do a thorough cleaning of your car’s interior. Look under seats, vacuum, and make sure there are no left over food receptacles. On your trip to bear country, choose to eat any snacks outside the car, instead of in the car, where crumbs or the smell of food is likely to linger. Bear break-ins have occurred for as little as a wrapper of gum, so this should be a hard and fast rule for travel. Also, avoid any “food” scented car deodorizers too so as not to attract bears.
So what occurs if you notice a bear break-in in progress? If you're in an area where there are black bears, you can make some noise from a safe location to try to scare the bear away. This may not work with larger bears like grizzlies or polar bears, and you have to remember that you are more important than the car, at any time. Do not attempt under any circumstances to approach the bear. Sometimes it’s a far better choice to allow the bear to attack your car, if it means it keeps the bear from attacking you.
It’s also important to do all you can to minimize bear break-ins to protect bears. Bears that habitually roam through human inhabited areas can become a nuisance. By keeping them from human food sources, they have less chance of becoming nuisance bears. And unfortunately in some areas, bears labeled as nuisances are killed. Thus as you protect your car from bear break-ins, you’re also protecting bears from humans, creating a better situation for both species to coexist without damage to each other.