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Cop Corner - Auto Alarms: What Works And What Doesnt
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Automobile thefts occur once every 27 seconds in the United States. One in every five vehicles stolen has the keys inside. In Oakdale, we have had 58 vehicles stolen and 36 vehicle burglaries in the city in the last 10 months. There are many ways you can reduce your chances of becoming a victim.

When buying a car, you’re faced with a lot of decisions, such as make, model and other options. One option that you won’t want to overlook is your security system. Shopping for car alarms can be a little confusing, since there are a number of different devices on the market offering one form of protection or another. Also, their prices vary considerably. The high-end devices provide the ability to track a stolen car to its current location, while the lower end options may simply lock the steering. Some are more effective than others in scaring off thieves, but any type of alarm or lockout device is better than none.

Here are some different types of alarms:

• Passive alarms: these systems automatically turn on when the ignition is off and the doors are closed. If the car is opened incorrectly (forced) without a key, the alarm will sound.

• Audible alarms: these systems have sensors all over the vehicle and use a remote to activate. These alarms have door sensors, window sensors and motion sensors. Unfortunately, the public largely ignores this type of alarm because it frequently activates through motion or sound. They also can get you in trouble. People who live next to the neighbor who has the car alarm that goes off constantly can tell you how annoying they are.

• Active alarms: These anti-theft devices must be manually turned on by the user. The downside to this system is that the car owner must always remember to activate the alarm when the car is unattended. We do recover stolen cars equipped with manual alarm systems only to learn that the owner forgot to activate it. These systems were common in older cars that didn’t have the kind of technology found in today’s cars. During my college days, I installed one in an older car that I used for transportation. A common type is the “kill switch” or hidden toggle switch that interrupts the flow of electricity to the starter or gas to the fuel pump. They are relatively inexpensive and easier to install than the more technologically advanced systems. But remember, kill switches are only as good as you remember to activate it each and every time you leave your car unattended.

• Tracking devices (e.g., Lo Jack and On-star). These are not alarms but GPS tracking devices. When you discover that someone has stolen your car, you contact the product provider and report it missing. The company then activates a transmitting device built into the car that helps guide the police to the vehicle. Typically, product providers, such as Lo Jack, provide the GPS tracking devices to local law enforcement for the cost of the sale of the system to their clients. These systems are very effective. There are a number of GPS systems on the market but none are cheap and often require you to pay a monthly service fee. I have recovered vehicles using these devices and have seen other agency use these devices too. It is a good system if you can afford it.

• Locking devices, such as the well-known Club, lock the steering wheel, preventing suspects from steering the vehicle. There are also locks for the steering column and even the brake pedals.

You should consider having a professional technician install sophisticated alarms or GPS systems so they activate properly. Make sure that the product you purchase is warranty-equipped. Some insurance companies will even give you a discount for certain alarm systems. Keep in mind that any device that adds seconds to the time it takes a thief to steal a car is a deterrent. Mere seconds count. Remember: the easier your car is to steal, the greater the chances that you will fall victim.

Myth: Stolen vehicles are usually recovered and are in good condition.

Drivers who believe their stolen car will be found in good shape may be in for disappointment, especially if their vehicle has been missing for more than six days. The longer the vehicle is in the possession of the thief, the more damage the thief will do to the vehicle. From stripping it, to wrecking it, or driving it to the point that it will break down. The longer the thief has your car, the greater the chances that you will never see it again.

Also remember that even the simplest steering wheel lock is better than nothing at all and, the only way an alarm system will work is if you turn it on. Many forget to turn on the alarms and fail to lock the car doors. Don’t make it easy for the thief.


Cop Corner is a monthly column provided by officers of the Oakdale Police Department, offering a variety of information and safety tips.