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March 22, 2011

Anti-Theft Systems — The Pros and Cons

200_thief Security is important, and even though many cars are coming with anti-theft devices as standard equipment, have we become too complacent with our car security?  Our friends at Esurance.com break down the most common anti-theft devices in use in today's vehicles and make sense of it all - which devices do their jobs well, and which ones you may be placing a little too much faith in.  Read the entire very informative article after the jump, and maybe it'll help you feel a little bit safer.

Though auto theft has declined over the last 10 years by as much as 31.5 percent, a motor vehicle is still stolen every 40 seconds in the U.S. And, believe it or not, the Insurance Information Institute calculates that only 12.4 percent of the nearly 800,000 motor vehicles stolen in 2009 were ever recovered.

These statistics may seem a bit abstract on the page, but in real life they equate to real costs. In 2009 alone, the FBI estimated $5.2 billion in losses, which of course translates into increased insurance premiums for all of us.

But it’s not all bad news. With a few simple anti-theft measures in place, you can avoid becoming an auto-theft statistic and save money in the process. To help you figure it out which systems work best, we broke down the specifics of car alarms, immobilizers, VIN etching, tracking systems, and aftermarket security systems.

Factory-installed car alarms

Factory-installed car alarms come standard nowadays on most newer vehicles. While these car alarms are good at waking us up in the dead of night, they aren’t that effective at preventing theft. “In general, factory-installed car alarms don’t incorporate sensors that would deter thieves before they break in,” said Rob Elliott, a mobile electronics expert with 25 years of experience and the executive director of In Car Experts. Furthermore, for the experienced thief, factory-installed car alarms are easy to disable. So, though they may be the most economical (their price is already included in the cost of the car), they probably aren’t your best bet.

Immobilizing devices

Often standard in many newer, higher-end vehicles, immobilizing devices like smart keys prevent cars from being started unless the correct key is present. Generally, they’re effective at preventing thieves from hot wiring your vehicle and taking it for a spin around the block, but that’s about it. They won’t stop thieves from towing your car (yes, it happens!), breaking in and stealing your valuables, or stripping your car for parts.

VIN etching

Recommended by the police and car insurance companies, VIN (vehicle identification number) etching marks your vehicle identification number (a serial number unique to your vehicle) onto the windshield, windows, and other components. Since chop shops can only resell untraceable vehicles and parts, VIN etching makes etched cars unattractive to thieves who scavenge for car parts.

The cost of VIN etching is minimal. Additionally, in certain states, you could qualify for a car insurance discount from Esurance if your VIN is etched into all the windows of your vehicle.

Aftermarket security systems (car alarms)

Professionally-installed aftermarket security systems give you the most value for your dollar as they layer the protective devices, Rob Elliott explains. For example, AudioVox’s Code Alarm (which Rob argues is the best on the market) integrates remote start, keyless entry, an impact sensor, a weatherproof siren, a GPS tracking system, and an engine immobilizing device to give you the most well-rounded protection. Keep in mind, however, that aftermarket security systems tend to fall on the higher end of the price spectrum and will require expert installation.

Tracking systems

Tracking systems typically use a GPS transmitter (for vehicle tracking), cellular technology (for communication with the monitoring center), or radio frequency technology to recover stolen vehicles. The most well-known brands are OnStar and LoJack, but they’re all very effective at tracking down stolen vehicles. (As an added plus, if you have an approved electronic recovery system, you could score a car insurance discount from Esurance.)

Here are a few specifics about the most well-known brands:

  • OnStar is only available on GM vehicles. Standard on all GM vehicles since 2007, OnStar offers automatic crash response, emergency services, stolen vehicle assistance, and many other features. Though the first year is free, subscribers will have to pay a fee, around $199 per year for the basic plan.
  • LoJack is available in 26 states and Washington, D.C. Sold as an add-on service at dealerships (around $700 MSRP), LoJack is about 90 percent effective at recovering stolen vehicles. LoJack uses radio frequency technology to track down cars, whether they’re taken to garages, chop shops, or even densely wooded areas. (GPS and cellular technology can fail when the vehicle is out of range and/or when satellite signals are obstructed.) Furthermore, LoJack is directly integrated with the police — more than 1,900 police departments use LoJack Police Tracking Computers. However, because of its high cost and limited capability (it’s only good at vehicle recovery), experts at Edmunds recommend it for higher-end vehicles and collector cars.
  • Aftermarket GPS tracking units like Mobile IQ, Zoombak, and AudioVox also offer effective alternatives if you choose to opt out of the OnStar and LoJack routes.

So, with all the options out there, what’s your best bet? The experts at the National Insurance Crime Bureau recommend a layered approach. If you have a factory-installed alarm, consider investing in VIN etching or a GPS tracking unit as well. Generally, the more layers of protection, the safer your car will be. But since none of these systems are 100 percent theft proof, it’s a good idea to make sure you have reliable comprehensive car insurance coverage as well. Of course!

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