Anti-theft system components

Anti-theft system componentsAutomatic system arming (aka: passive setting):
  • Costs: Free - Included with most better systems, and most built-in alarms.
  • Benefits: The best alarms arm themselves automatically when you leave the vehicle and include an automatic kill switch (see below).
  • Drawbacks: None, unless you lock both your keys and your transmitter in your vehicle. Insurance discount only available in Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, and Washington.

Car Alarms: The typical car alarm is equipped with motion sensors, impact sensors and a loud siren or series of tones in the 120-decibel range.

  • Costs: $150 to $1,000
  • Benefits: The best alarms arm themselves automatically when you leave the vehicle and include an automatic kill switch. The best models flash the headlights and honk the horn in addition to sounding a siren.
  • Drawbacks: After years of false alarms, people have stopped paying attention to alarms. There is no statistical evidence that they reduce auto theft.

Electronic Keys (aka immobilizers): Some car manufacturers have pre-installed electronic immobilizing systems that allow the vehicle to operate only with a correctly coded key.

  • Costs: Standard item in some models (all European vehicles and most high-end GMs).
  • Benefits: These interrupt your car's ignition systems when an incorrect key or no key at all is used to start the car. Systems are easy to use and reliable.
  • Drawbacks: Because they're invisible to thieves, inexperienced criminals will tear apart your steering column before discovering this disabling feature. Unfortunately, your steering column will need replacement and you probably won't be able to start your car.

Electronic Tracking Devices: An electronic transmitter hidden in the vehicle which emits a signal that is picked up by the police or a monitoring station. Alpine's Mobile Mayday, ForceTracker, Ford's Rescu, GM's OnStar, LoJack, BlackJax, and PageTrack2 from Motorola start at $300, plus any monthly subscription charges. There are a variety of services offered by each company, such as mapping services and vehicle-location if your car is stolen.

  • Costs: $300 to $1,500
  • Benefits: Very effective in helping authorities recover vehicles before they can be stripped or chopped up.
  • Drawbacks: In addition to the high initial cost, a subscription charge ($15-$40) must be paid each month.
  • Effectiveness: LoJack has been around the longest and has some statistical evidence to back up their claims. Aside from the 95 percent recovery rate claimed by Lo-Jack, a National Bureau of Research study found that if an area has Lo-Jack installed in 2 percent of cars, theft losses can be reduced by 40 percent in central cities and 13 percent in Lo-Jack's entire range. Lo-Jack is currently available for use in 15 states and 20 major cities. Because frequent thefts (5 or more per day) are a characteristic of the professional auto thief, apprehending a few key players can significantly reduce an area's theft statistics.

Flashing LED warning lights: Warning lights typically identify a vehicle whose alarm system has been armed. At a quick glance, the thief doesn't know that the warning light is bogus and may go on to another vehicle rather than take a risk.

  • Costs: $10 to $20
  • Benefits: An inexpensive way to bluff a car thief.
  • Drawbacks: None

Hood locks: A hood lock will keep a thief from getting to your car's battery to cut the power going to the alarm.

  • Costs: $75 to $175
  • Benefits: Prevents thieves from gaining access to your vehicle's engine compartment.
  • Drawbacks: None - Usually standard equipment on vehicles made in the past 20 years.

Keyless entry: Increases your personal safety by enabling you to enter and exit your vehicle without fumbling with your keys. Keyless entry enables you to lock & unlock your vehicle without using your keys, thereby increasing the chances that you will lock it. It's also handy when you've got your hands full and need to open your car doors or trunk. Keyless entry comes as standard equipment on many makes and models and can be retrofitted to any vehicle that has electric door locks.

  • Costs: $150 to $800
  • Benefits: Enables you to lock & unlock your vehicle & truck without using your keys. Increases your personal safety by enabling you to enter and exit your vehicle without fumbling with your keys. Also eliminates problems caused by frozen lock cylinders.
  • Drawbacks: None

Kill Switches: Kill switches prevent the flow of electricity or fuel to the engine until the switch is activated. Starter disablers are also growing in popularity.

  • Costs: $10 to $125
  • Benefits: It's a hidden switch that needs to be flipped on for the car to start. For their effectiveness as a security device, kill switches are for the most part inexpensive and easy to install.
  • Drawbacks: A risk is that the driver may accidentally engage them while driving. Improperly installed switches can damage the electrical systems on new cars and have the additional drawback of voiding your new-car warranty.

Pagers: Pagers will let you know when your alarm has been set off. 2-way systems allow you to send commands to and get feedback from your vehicle.

  • Costs: Optional in some high-end alarm systems (typically adds $50-$100 to the total)
  • Benefits: Pagers let you know when your alarm has been set off.
  • Drawbacks: Encourages confrontation with car thieves, which is not generally a good idea.

Remote starting: Remote starters allow you to start your vehicle from the safety of your home of office, allowing the HVAC system to warm your car up or cool it down before you get in. Can be convenient for sub-zero mornings in the Northeast or blazing-hot afternoons in the Southwest.

  • Costs: Optional in some high-end alarm systems (typically adds $100-$150 to the total)
  • Benefits: Allow you to start your vehicle from the safety of your home of office.
  • Drawbacks: None, providing you don't leave a key in the ignition.

Steering Column Armored Collars: Collars prevent thieves from breaking into the steering column to hot-wire the vehicle. Some are installed permanently and others must be installed manually each time the driver leaves the vehicle.

  • Costs: $100-$200 installed
  • Benefits: The collar provides an excellent line of defense for older vehicles, which can be easily stolen by breaking open the steering wheel column.
  • Drawbacks: Manual collars must be removed whenever you go for a drive.

Steering Wheel Lock: A long metal bar with a lock that fits on the steering wheel and is designed to prevent the steering wheel from being turned. The locks are visible from outside the car and prevent the wheel from being turned more than a few degrees. A variation on the steering wheel lock is the J-bar or grip lock, an adjustable steel bar rod that hooks under the brake and locks to the steering wheel.

  • Costs: $25 to $100
  • Benefits: Inexpensive way to keep would-be thieves away. Especially good device to use when layering protection.
  • Drawbacks: Only effective against amateurs and kids looking to joyride. A professional can cut through your steering wheel in a couple of seconds, making a steering-wheel locks and most J-bars useless.

Theft-Deterrent Decals: Typical decals identify the vehicle is protected by either an alarm system or national theft prevention company. At a quick glance, the thief may not know that the warning sticker is bogus and may go on to another vehicle rather than take a risk.

  • Costs: $2 to $5
  • Benefits: Inexpensive way to bluff a car thief.
  • Drawbacks: Ignored by professional thieves who recognize bogus stickers.

Tire Locks: Similar to the circular steel "boots" used by many larger city police departments, tire locks make the car nearly impossible to move. The tire locks are also effective in deterring would-be thieves.

  • Costs: $80-$200
  • Benefits: Greatly hampers thieves who are looking to make a quick getaway. Not only is the tire lock a strong visual deterrent, but it also provides a formidable challenge for would-be car thieves.
  • Drawbacks: Bulky and time consuming to install and remove, must be installed manually each time the driver leaves the vehicle. Accumulates dirt from the tires, very inconvenient to use in bad weather.

Window Etching: Etching the vehicle identification number onto the window as well as other parts of the car discourages thieves from taking the vehicle and also aids in recovering the vehicle if it is stolen.

  • Costs: $20 to $100 (Some theft-prevention groups provide etching for free.)
  • Benefits: Chop-shop rings thrive on vehicles with easily removable VINs or none etched on at all. By etching the VIN on important parts of the vehicle, you make your vehicle less attractive to stolen parts resellers.
  • Drawbacks: Unless you make the etchings extremely obvious (which will severely hurt your vehicle's resale value) it won't deter most professional thieves, as they may not have the time to check for etchings before they steal your vehicle.

Whichever anti-theft device you choose, you need to periodically check and maintain it. Electronic alarms go bad if not maintained, from weather or simple wear and tear.

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