Basic Deterrence Devices
Theft-deterrent systems not only provide drivers with immeasurable peace of mind, but they may also lower their insurance premium by 15 percent to 30 percent. According to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, 14 states — Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas and Washington — require insurers to give car owners discounts on their comprehensive insurance for anti-theft devices. Passive devices such as ignition cutoffs, some types of alarms and electronic auto recovery systems may qualify for up to a 30 percent discount off of the entire premium.
"We looked at specific vehicles as the immobilizers were installed in them compared to the same model without them. ... They typically reduce insurance losses by 50 percent."
Besides the potential insurance discounts, the systems themselves are becoming more affordable and are appearing on a wider range of vehicles. Engine immobilizers, for instance, were first introduced on luxury automobiles but are now offered on numerous vehicles, including compacts like the Honda Civic. If they're not offered as a standard feature, buyers can order them as an option for $100 to $300 or purchase them from aftermarket suppliers. With an average insurance deductible of $250 if a vehicle is stolen, according to the Highway Loss Data Institute, that makes immobilizers well worth the price.
Automakers also consider personal security as part of the package when they develop theft-deterrent and safety systems on their vehicles; they offer panic buttons on key fobs that, when pushed, sound the horn and/or flash the lights. General Motors' OnStar communication system also has a panic button to call for emergency help.
Immobilizers Offer Protection
Engine immobilizing devices installed by the vehicle manufacturer are the most effective form of theft deterrence, according to experts who have studied them.
"We looked at specific vehicles as the immobilizers were installed in them compared to the same model without them. We found that, while the nuances of the systems vary slightly from one manufacturer to the other, they typically reduce insurance losses by 50 percent," said Kim Hazelbaker, senior vice president of HLDI.
Before 1999, the Nissan Maxima did not feature a factory-installed anti-theft device. Its overall theft losses totaled 7.8 for every 1,000 vehicles, or about 770 claims per year. But after immobilizing anti-theft devices were introduced as a standard feature in 1999, theft losses for the Maxima declined to 3 claims for every 1,000 vehicles, which is about 112 total claims.
Factory-installed engine immobilizers cost less and are increasingly available as standard or optional equipment. Further, security systems are usually covered by the vehicle's basic warranty. However, if thieves can't see an engine immobilizer, it may not act as an effective theft deterrent. So if your vehicle has an immobilizer, apply a decal to the window to warn would-be thieves.
If a factory-installed system isn't available or is too expensive, automotive aftermarket companies offer theft-deterrent devices from the very basic steering-wheel lock, like the Club, for about $40 and remote alarms starting at about $50 to the complex and expensive systems made by Alligator, Clifford and Inspector.
Before you buy any anti-theft device, you should check with your local law enforcement officials. They should be aware of common theft techniques used in your area, which can help you select the proper deterrent.
The Future of Theft Deterrence
Recognizing the importance of reducing auto thefts, automakers and aftermarket suppliers are continually developing new products.
For instance, Mercedes-Benz introduced the world's first keyless entry and ignition system, called Keyless Go, on the 1999 Mercedes-Benz S-Class. Jointly developed by Mercedes and German supplier Siemens Automotive, Keyless Go is about the size of a credit card and fits in a wallet or pocket. As the owner approaches, the vehicle's computer system reads the card and unlocks the doors automatically. The engine is turned off or on by a button, and the vehicle will function only when the card is inside. A keyless card system has 4 billion potential codes that randomly change each time the vehicle is entered.
Since then, smart key technology has come down dramatically in price and it's available in relatively inexpensive makes such as Hyundai and Suzuki.
Another technology under development by various automotive supplier companies is a fingerprint identification system. The systems use a fingerprint scan to secure access to compartments of the vehicle, ignition functions and other personalized features. The Volvo SCC, a 2001 concept, featured a fingerprint sensor in its hand-held personal communicator unit.