the value of a car alarm

When I bought my 300ZX, I installed a car alarm along with a stereo. One winter evening I heard the sirens of the alarm blaring and since I knew it had become sensitive to small gusts wind, I trudged out to the car to turn it off.

The disarm button on my keyless entry contraption (for lack of a better word) wouldn’t turn it off, even though I pressed it at least a dozen times, believing that maybe the 11th time it would finally work. I sat inside the car and put the key in the ignition, but that had no effect. By that time the alarm had been going for at least ten minutes and I hadn’t been approached by anyone. The only thing I got were a few annoyed looks as if to say, “Would you please shut off your dang car alarm?” In other words, if I had been stealing the car, no one would have cared or tried to stop me.

That experience made me much less confident in the value or utility of car alarms.

It turned out that the car had two alarms. Something had set off the factory alarm, which explains why my keyless entry for the after market alarm didn’t work. Unlocking the car door with my key instead of the keyless entry silenced the noise.

I sold the car a few months later and have not purchased a car alarm since. I’m content to remove the stereo faceplate to deter would-be thieves. I also make sure to remove any items in the visible interior that might catch the attention of a potential thief’s eye.

Strangely enough, my car has been right next to two cars that were burglarized, and both times it went untouched. The first time I was parked next to a car that had its antenna broken off. The antenna was used to break a window of the car next to it and a high-end video camera valued at $10,000 was stolen from the back seat. My stereo faceplate was on at the time because I had forgotten to remove it, but I didn’t have anything else in the car. I felt very lucky that day.

A year or so later, living in a different city, I came out to my car to go to work and found a police officer inspecting the truck next to me. Pieces of the driver’s side window were all over the cement floor. She informed me that it had been burglarized the night before and asked if there was any damage to my car, or if anything was missing. I checked things out and everything was where it was supposed to be and intact. Again, I was grateful.

Why I wasn’t a victim with those close calls I don’t know for sure, but I think it may be due to the blinking red light on the dash. It could cause just enough concern to make a thief move on to another car. In fact, any deterrent helps, because if there are ten cars in the garage and one doesn’t appear to have anything to steal and might cause them problems, they’ll move on. It reminds me of the joke about the two hikers walking through the woods. They both spot a vicious-looking bear. The first hiker immediately opens his backpack, pulls out a pair of sneakers and starts putting them on. The second hiker looks at him and says, “You’re crazy! You’ll never be able to outrun that bear.” The first hiker replies, “I don’t have to, I only have to outrun you.”

Our condo association had a police officer talk to us about security and he said cars that are backed into a parking spot are much less likely to be stolen or broken in to. He didn’t know why, but conjectured that it might be easier for other people to see a thief if the front of the car is facing outward.

The graph on automotive thefts from 1994 to 2001 shown in this article on automotive theft shows that car burglaries are on the rise. For some reason it dropped every year from 1994 to 1999. If we only we knew why it was dropping.

I’ve heard a lot of people say the Honda Accord and the Toyota Camry are the most stolen cars in the US, but did you ever stop to think about how many of them there are on the road? Not only are they popular, they last for a long time, so of course they are stolen most because of their sheer quantity. A study by HLDI, a research group funded by insurers, adjusted for the total number of each vehicle and looked only at 2000 to 2002 model-year vehicles. The study was mentioned in this CNN article about car theft, and it found that the Cadillac Escalade was at the top of the list.

In spite of my initial reaction that anyone who buys a gas-guzzling abomination like that deserves what they get, I still feel bad for the owners. However, with an MSRP starting at $54,700, I feel a lot worse for the Dodge Stratus owners in the number two position with an MSRP starting at $19,880. The Escalade owners could have bought 2.75 Dodge Stratuses. (or maybe that’s Dodge Strati?)

I find it amusing that after finding out their vehicle topped the most frequently stolen and highest amount paid out by insurance lists, General Motors issued a statement, “While we regret any vehicle being stolen, this is clear evidence that the Cadillac Escalade is in high demand.”

Now that’s marketing.


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  1. The literal Latin word ‘stratus’ is a form of the verb ‘sternere’, meaning ‘to lay down, to spread out’. It would be incorrect to attempt to make a Latin verb plural! The noun form would be ‘stratum’, meaning ‘layer’, and its plural is ‘strata’.

    Therefore, you would expect the plural of ‘stratus’ to be ‘stratuses’, but the dictionaries say ‘strati’. It makes no sense, but there you go.

    Comment by Levi on January 20, 2005 @ 6:59 pm
  2. Ah, memories. That was my antennae that was used to break into the other guy’s car. And living in New York, I saw a lot of stolen cars — some torched on the street, others raised on cinder blocks with everything of value removed. Luckily, none of them were my cars.

    Comment by Cameron on January 20, 2005 @ 11:22 pm
  3. Ah…I’m not a believer in the car alarm, either. I don’t know if you remember, but a year or so ago my car alarm went off and wouldn’t stop. I called a couple of different garages and the dealership and they were absolutely no help. I tried everything I could think of, including unplugging the battery and push starting the car. The car started then, but the alarm was going off. I didn’t really want to drive an hour home with the alarm blaring the whole time.

    Eventually somebody gave me the idea to check the wires at the door hinge. Sure enough, the wires had fatigued and broken. I twisted them together and viola! So, I drove home without incident and took the car into the dealer to have them replace the wires. Well, they charged me $100 and gave me back my car. I checked the wires to see what they had done, and they had put a couple of 10 cent splicers on them (the crimp kind). I was furious. Since then I’ve decided that a flashing LED is all I want. I’ll keep the doors locked and windows rolled up for insurance purposes, but you can keep your lousy alarm. Nobody listens to them anyway, as your story shows. :)

    Comment by mckay on January 21, 2005 @ 9:33 am
  4. Levi: Thanks for the input. I was just trying to be funny, but I guess I got it right (except for the second ‘i’ which I just removed)

    Cameron: I was going to point out that it was your car, but decided not to. It would be an awful feeling to have your car stolen, but an even more awful feeling to find your car on cinder blocks with everything removed.

    Comment by dan on January 21, 2005 @ 9:34 am
  5. McKay — interesting experience with the car alarm, and a little letter switching made it even funnier to me: “I twisted them together and viola!” I guess we all know you meant “voila!” but I like how that typo gives you another actual word, like “I twisted them together and cello! It was fixed!” ;)

    Dan — why worse to see your car on blocks and stripped than stolen? …

    Comment by DavidH on January 21, 2005 @ 9:22 pm
  6. If it’s gone, you assume it’s stolen, but there’s the chance they just took it on a joyride and it will be recovered. If it’s on blocks, you know for a fact you’ll never have your car again.

    Comment by dan on January 21, 2005 @ 11:18 pm
  7. Ahhh …

    Comment by DavidH on January 22, 2005 @ 3:47 pm
  8. Hmmm…I actually meant to say ‘voila’, but I always pronounce it ‘viola’ just to raise the hackles of any grammar fascists that happen to be around. I’ll have to be more careful from now on. :)

    Comment by mckay on January 23, 2005 @ 5:34 pm
  9. Our neighborhood gets hit about once every three months. The thieves rarely do any damage by breaking windows. More often than not, they rummage through unlocked cars and boats looking for spare change and quick things to sell. I’m amazed at how many people have two or three car garages and yet use it as a storage shed rather than for their cars.

    I’ve always wanted to rig a stun-gun or something to the car handle, so that when a thief comes along and tries to open the door, they get electrocuted. Unfortunately, there are laws against that sort of thing. For now, anyway.

    Comment by jason on January 24, 2005 @ 8:55 am
  10. well i was jus searchin the internet and i came across this and read it, because my car was on cinderblocks last nite. The people had put two of the blocks on the rear axle and keyed a car next to me and broke a light, and put a dead skunk on one and did the same as my truck to another truck…

    Comment by Thomas on October 16, 2005 @ 4:58 pm

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