What's our anti-theft advice? Hint: it doesn't include car alarms.

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Mar 01, 2002

Dear Tom and Ray:

We just bought a new Toyota Camry -- one of the most-wanted cars ... by thieves! I would like to buy an alarm system of some sort for this thing but am having trouble finding any information or comparison data. I hesitate to go to a dealer, since their job is to sell me stuff. Any help would be appreciated. -- John

TOM: Geez, this is a tough one, John. We're pretty much opposed to car alarms.

RAY: Think about it. When you're lying in bed and you hear a car alarm go off down the street, what do you do? Do you jump out of bed and run toward that car in an attempt to thwart a crime? Of course not. If there were a crime in progress, that's the last place you'd want to be. And most likely, it's just that someone bumped into the car and set off the alarm. So you ignore it. And then -- as it goes on for 10 minutes -- you curse it.

TOM: So we find that in reality, audible alarms are more of a deterrent to neighborhood sleep than to car theft.

RAY: Plus, criminals get to know the new alarms pretty quickly, so they learn to cut the wire to the siren anyway. At least THEY'RE considerate of your neighbors' need for sleep, even if you're not.

TOM: That's why our alarm of choice is a Rottweiler. That will deter most thieves, although I'm told it can be defeated by a bucket of extra-crispy Kentucky Fried Chicken.

RAY: If you want an inanimate theft deterrent, John, I'd have to recommend an ignition-kill device. There are several varieties of kill switches. The general idea is to cut off electricity to something that the engine needs in order to run.

TOM: The simplest ones cut off current to the starter. But if they just interrupt the hot wire under the dashboard (which is the easiest way to install them), an experienced thief can splice that wire back together and still get your car started.

RAY: That's why we prefer ignition-kill devices that are installed further down the line. They can be used to cut off power to the fuel pump, the fuel injectors or the spark plugs. Then the car will crank, but it won't start. And that makes it much harder to figure out what's going on.

TOM: And most thieves are not going to hang around long enough to diagnose your car. They're going to get out of there and move on to something else. Or they're going to call their buddy with the tow truck.

RAY: So the option we like best is getting good insurance, keeping it paid up and living your life without worrying about your car. After all, they sell about 400,000 Camrys a year in the United States. Remember, it's just a car, John. It's hardly irreplaceable.

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