As anti-theft technology in modern cars improves, criminals are also getting wiser, learning how to circumvent features designed to keep your car in your driveway.
While most in-built new car technology is effective at preventing all but the most determined and sophisticated thieves, there are a number of measures to give an extra edge if unsavoury characters are eyeing your pride and joy.
Steering or wheel lock
In an era of advanced electronic security systems, simple mechanical solutions still have a place in preventing car theft.
A simple steering wheel lock or wheel lock might not look flash but that’s the point. Any would-be car thief that spots a mechanical lock knows your car is going to take extra effort to get away with and that’s a powerful visual deterrent.
Downsides include having to carry the cumbersome kit around in your car when not in use, and the process of installing devices when you leave the car, but prevention is better than cure and the relatively inexpensive option is a powerful visual signal.
Alarm and immobiliser
Many cars are equipped with factory-fitted alarms from new but if your car isn’t you might be able to have one retrofitted.
Very few systems are impenetrable but in most cases they will add to the time a thief needs to get into or start your car, which increases the chances of them being scared off or not even attempting a break in at all.
Unlike mechanical locks, electronic systems leave the appearance of your car largely unaltered and are simple to operate, but range widely in price depending on the functions, security level and quality.
Engine immobilisers are required by law on all new passenger cars sold in Australia. Some car makers offer their vehicles with more feature-rich immobilisers that can even prevent it from being towed, or even taken for a joyride by a valet parking service.
Similar to an immobiliser, a kill switch is an electrical switch installed somewhere in the car to cut a vital part of the engine electronics. With the switch active, the engine will not start.
The principle is a simple one but requires an experienced automotive electrician to select the location for the switch and safely wire it to the existing vehicle systems.
The essence of a kill switch’s effectiveness is in its unique installation for each vehicle. If all switches were in the same place, thieves would know exactly where to look so a little creativity and inventiveness can turn a simple device into a very effective tool for deterring and defeating car theft.
All the options explored so far prioritise preventing the vehicle being removed from its rightful owner, but if the thief has been successful, tracking technology has proven to be very effective in tracing the car and returning it to its owner.
The technology is activated if the vehicle is moved without authorisation. It sends a signal via GPS or mobile phone networks that pinpoints its position. The system requires the assistance of police to locate and seize the vehicle.
Most tracker packages include the hardware and installation, and also a subscription fee. The systems can be pricey, but if theft cannot be prevented, there are few other more effective strategies for recovering your car.
Most thieves would not realise a car has the technology fitted and are unaware they are being followed. The tracker also minimises the risk of a criminal maliciously damaging or destroying the car to hide evidence, with most cars returned to their owners unscathed.
Basic care and common sense
In most cases and applications, anti-theft technology fitted to modern cars including dead-locks, central locking, alarms, immobilisers and steering locks is adequate to deter most unwelcome car enthusiasts. However, it is worth remembering that most cars are stolen either using the original key or by opportunists.
Following some simple common sense steps can avoid giving thieves the easy ride.
- Keep keys away from the front door or windows where criminals can reach in through letterboxes or break in easily.
- Do not keep spare keys in the glove box. Even the ‘wallet’ or ‘valet’ key can be used to steal a vehicle and these slim, sometimes plastic keys can be overlooked by an owner.
- Don’t leave anything on display in the car, even if you think it is worthless to a thief. Anything that draws attention to your interior increases the chance of someone breaking a window for a closer look or even making off with the car.
- Be vigilant in securing your car. It may sound obvious, but ensuring windows, sunroof and doors are closed and locked each time you leave your car reduces the chance of an opportunist taking advantage.
- It’s the same for choosing where you leave your car. Well-lit and busy areas minimise the time thieves have to concentrate on your car without drawing attention to themselves.