Layers of Security
Theft-deterrent systems fall into two general categories: active and passive. Active devices, as the name implies, require owners to take some action, such as setting the alarm, installing a locking device, etc. Passive systems require no action; they engage automatically once the keys are removed or the doors are locked. Engine immobilizers are a popular passive device.
Experts like Kim Hazelbaker, senior vice president of the Highway Loss Data Institute, and Ed Sparkman, an agent for the National Insurance Crime Bureau, agree that theft-deterrent devices don't guarantee your car's security but they decrease the chances for theft. Thieves spotting such devices likely will move on to easier-to-steal vehicles that aren't protected.
To that end, the NICB recommends what it calls "layered protection." The rationale states that the more layers of protection on your vehicle, the more difficult it is to steal.
The first layer of protection is simple common sense: remove your keys from the ignition; lock your doors and close your windows; and park in safe, well-lit areas.
The second layer of protection is a visible or audible device, which alerts thieves that your vehicle is protected. Besides audible alarms and visible protection devices, other favorites include:
- The vehicle identification number etched or written on all of the car windows and major parts of the vehicle that thieves know make it easier for the stolen car to be traced. This can be an inexpensive, do-it-yourself project because the number can be painted or written with an indelible marker under the engine hood, on the trunk lid or on the battery. Do-it-yourself kits can be bought for about $20.
- A brake-and-steering-wheel lock system that secures the steering wheel to the brake pedal and immobilizes the controls.
- A steering-wheel lock that consists of a steel rod that attaches to the wheel and hinders steering. Winner International has marketed its well-known lock, the Club, since 1986. Blockit Lockit Systems offers a menacing device called the Wrap. Prices range from about $40 to $75 for introductory models.
- An ignition and steering-column collar, which is made up of a lockable steel shield that encases the steering column to prevent access to the ignition. Most column covers are custom-made by aftermarket suppliers and usually apply to a certain make or model. Prices start in the low $30s.
Immobilizing devices comprise the third layer of protection. Tools such as starter disablers, fuse cutoffs and kill switches prevent thieves from bypassing the ignition and hot-wiring the vehicle. Other systems feature smart keys, which carry computer chips or coded radio frequencies. The engine can't be started without the exact key. Vehicles with engine immobilizers generally are stolen by hauling them away on flatbed trucks, a visible act that takes more time.
Tracking devices comprise the top layer of protection. These devices are systems that help recover stolen vehicles. Such systems as General Motors' OnStar communication service and LoJack allow police to track the vehicle if it is stolen. OnStar is available on more than 30 GM models.
LoJack installs a transmitter the size of a chalkboard eraser in one of 20 potential spots on a car. The location is kept secret so thieves can't easily disarm it. The transmitter starts working only when police, who receive a stolen-car report, activate it by remote control. This system also costs about $695 and is installed on new vehicles by a dealer or can be purchased directly from LoJack.
The Insurance Information Institute reports that LoJack offers more than a 90 percent recovery rate on stolen vehicles.
If you choose to install OnStar, LoJack or another tracking system, be sure to apply warning decals to your vehicle. By making them aware of these tracking devices, thieves may think twice before stealing your car.
What you drive should help determine the kind of protection you need. Heavier layers of protection should be considered if you drive a car that's a favorite among thieves, such as the Cadillac Escalade EXT or Nissan Maxima.