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Auto Security

And now a few words about automobile security. The recent theft of my own van has highlighted to me the growing problem of auto theft and joy riding. The summer months, when school is out, seems to be the time of greatest risk. Here are a few of my personal thoughts and suggestions on this matter:

While it might seem too obvious to mention, always lock your doors when parked, and NEVER leave the ignition running while you dash quickly into the local corner store.

Keep all valuables out of sight within the car. Something of value visible to a thief will tempt him to break in to your car, which may then lead to its being stolen as well.

If you own two vehicles, block the "high risk" vehicle in your driveway from behind with the other, or better yet, keep it out of sight inside the garage

If your vehicle is a high risk model (Dodge Shadow, Honda Accord, Dodge or Plymouth Caravan, Jeep Cherokee or virtually any sport/utility vehicle), it is mandatory that you take extra precautions. As a minimum, I would consider use of the proper model of steering wheel "club", especially when parked in high risk areas such as shopping centres, or (as in my case) even your own driveway. (Use a truck version of the club for vans not the shorter automobile version !!) Remember, minivans and expensive luxury cars are the choice of professional thieves as well, who sell these in the developing countries for three times their Canadian purchase price. Heavy security can go a long way to discouraging professionals as well as the kids (in spite of what some people say who should know better)

You may wish to consider installation of a vehicle alarm system, especially for high risk vehicles. Here the advice is the same as for homes - have it done professionally !! The best systems activate the horn, and disable the starter. Personally, I now prefer the "passive" devices which (speaking from personal experience), you can’t forget to turn on, which require some form of "chip" to be inserted into a special socket in the dash before the car will start. (Several good ones I am personally familiar with are put out under the name of ProLock (now out of business) and Otomax). Be sure that whatever system you purchase comes with warning stickers and a blinking LED light to warn off potential thieves BEFORE they break the door locks. Also, when having any professional system installed, insist they put any master kill switch on a key lock in the dash, rather than simply hiding the toggle on/off switch somewhere in the dash area, where it can be easily discovered, and your system disabled. A lot of the newer, high-end professional systems are activated remotely via a transmitter carried with your keys.These systems come with a variety of additional options too numerous to mention, and vary in price from $199 to $600 installed. They are the option of choice for more expensive vehicles, leased vehicles, or ones you plan to own for a few years. Once purchased, they can be removed and reinstalled in a newer vehicle for a reasonable fee. Many also carry a lifetime guarantee.

A simple ignition kill switch installed somewhere in the car by your mechanic will also discourage theft when your car is parked. One insurance company is currently offering insurance discounts when such an arrangement is installed in your car (approximate cost $70 if you can't install it yourself). Talk to your dealer on this one. Remember, all thieves are discouraged when they meet unexpected, uncommon "custom" precautionary measures that they have not previously encountered. So be original !!!

Retailers such as Walmart, and Price Club (to name only two), have perfectly usable non professional systems from $100 to $200, which are exceedingly easy to install. These contain "remote" units for activation and de-activation of the system. For anyone "handy", these are probably your best buy. They also have the added advantage of being easy to transfer between vehicles (Do-it-yourselfers should check with a mechanic to determine which wires to route to the alarm, since it is possible to damage some modern electronic ignition modules with an incorrect hookup arrangement). Electronic alarms offer their best protection when used in areas where the alarm sounding is likely to solicit some direct response by people (ie: your own driveway versus the parking lot of a large shopping plaza where a car alarm is largely ignored). So physical locking devices, even though they can be defeated, are still important because they increase the time and exposure involved in stealing the vehicle.

When you are asking yourself whether it’s worth doing the numerous things I have mentioned above, remember "there’s no free lunch". Insurance companies are plagued with the growing and costly problem of home burglaries and auto theft, and these costs ultimately get passed along to everyone through higher insurance premiums. If we all collectively work together - insurance agents, police, individual homeowners, Neighbourhood Watch captains, and all those in the security and real estate business - we can make our communities a safer and more secure environment in which to live.

This page last updated Thursday, August 14, 2008 .