Car Security 101

Masked Teenager Breaking into a Car
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Car security systems and technologies can be broken down into three main categories: deterrents, immobilizers, and trackers. Deterrents are often successful at warning or scaring off potential thieves, immobilizers make it difficult or impossible to drive a stolen vehicle away, and trackers facilitate the process of finding vehicles after they have been stolen. Since each of these categories addresses a different issue, car security systems often use more than one type of device.

Car Security Warning Devices

Common deterrents include things like:

  • car alarms
  • steering wheel locks
  • tire deflators
  • window etching
  • decals
  • etc

Some deterrents are high tech while others are decidedly low tech, but they all have the same basic function. While a device like a steering wheel lock can be defeated easily enough by a knowledgeable car thief, it may be enough of a hassle that the would-be thief moves on to another target. The same is true for car alarm decals and LED indicators, which serve to warn off potential thieves before a break in ever occurs.

Warning devices like car alarms are often closely tied into a number of systems in a vehicle, so they are almost inextricably linked with certain convenience technologies that aren’t, strictly speaking, car security devices. One prominent example is the remote starter, which is often associated with car alarms even though the technology is only tangentially related to car security.

Most deterrents and warning devices are defeatable, which is why immobilizers and tracking devices are also useful.

Car Immobilizing Devices

After a thief successfully breaks into your car, he needs to be able to start it. Unless he has a key, that means he’s going to have to hotwire it before he can drive it away.

That’s where immobilizing devices come in. These devices are designed to prevent a vehicle from starting when a specific event happens or if the key (or key fob) isn’t physically present. This can be accomplished in a number of ways, including:

  • transponder keys and fobs
  • fuse cut-offs
  • fuel or spark disablers
  • kill switches

Some of these techniques can be retrofitted into vehicles with the right equipment, and others are mainly OEM. Many newer vehicles use transponders that are either built into the ignition key or key fob, and the vehicle won’t start if the transponder isn’t present. In other cases, the vehicle may not run properly if the right key isn’t in the ignition.

Other immobilizing devices are directly tied into a traditional car alarm. If the alarm goes off and someone tries to drive off, it may activate a fuel or spark disabler that will either cause the engine to die or to never start in the first place. In other cases, these types of disablers are tied into tracking systems instead.

Also see: How to choose a car security system.

Stolen Vehicle Tracking Systems

The final piece of the car security puzzle is tracking. After a vehicle has actually been stolen, it can be very difficult to successfully track it down and recover it.

If it has some type of tracking system installed, the process is streamlined, and the recovery rate increases exponentially.

Some newer vehicles ship with some type of tracking system from the factory. OEM systems like OnStar and BMW Assist have tracking capabilities that can be activated after a vehicle has been reported as stolen. Other systems, like LoJack, are designed primarily with stolen vehicle tracking and recovery in mind.

See more about: Vehicle tracking.