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Tool and Material Checklist:

  • Tapered door lock buttons 
  • Fuel-Interrupt device
  • Gas and brake pedal locks 
  • Ultrasonic and current
  • Hood lock sensitive sensors
  • Trunk guard 
  • VIN stencil kit
  • Cult lock 
  • Engraving tool
  • Hubcap locks 
  • Safety glasses or goggles

Every 26 seconds a car is stolen somewhere in the United States. Although more than halt of the million plus cars stolen every year are luxury or sports cars, any vehicle can become a part of these statistics. However, there are some steps you can take to slow down thieves or even scare them off. And you can also make it easier to find your car it it is stolen.

There are three basic types of antitheft devices available: locking devices, disabling devices, and alarm systems. These differ greatly both in price and ease of installation. Prices range from a few dollars to more than $500; some devices must be professionally installed, while others you'll be able to install easily by yourself. Combination systems that pair an alarm with a disabling device or lock are also available.


A variety of locks are available that are designed to deny entry to the engine, passenger, and trunk compartments of the car as well as to prevent a thief from driving the car away.

Tapered Door Lock Buttons

This is a very simple theft protection measure. Simply unscrew the old golf-tee-shaped door lock buttons and replace them with the tapered style. This will effectively prevent thieves from using coat hangers to unlock the doors.

Cane Locks

A cane lock is a telescoping rod that hooks around the brake pedal and steering wheel to immobilize them. It can be purchased for $10 to $20, but there are definitely more convenient antitheft measures that can be taken; cane locks must be fit in place and removed each time you get in and out of the car.

Gas and Brake Pedal Locks

These metal bars that lock the gas and brake pedals are more effective than cane locks because they are harder to get at. Of course, they too must be constantly installed and removed.

Cuff Locks

These ignition locks have pick-resistant cylinders and steel collars that wrap around the steering column. In effect these locks surround and protect the ignition somewhat like a bracelet. They cost about $35.

High-Security Ignition Locks

These locks are stronger than standard ignition locks and more difficult to pick and rip out. However, they are only available for a few makes of domestic cars; steering columns with molded plastic housings are not rugged enough for these locks to work. High-security ignition locks are effective on cars with an unbreakable metal steering column; they cost about $65.

Hood Locks

There are both internal and external hood locks available to prevent theft of anything under the hood. These locks are especially useful if you have a battery-powered alarm system because they prevent a thief from disconnecting the power source or disabling the siren. Chain and padlock hood protection kits and cable hood locks are available. The cable-type have a key-operated plunger mounted under the dashboard. When the plunger is pushed, it forces the cable end through a bracket, which in turn prevents the hood from opening. Hood locks cost about $20.

Trunk Guard

This is simply a hardened steel plate that fits around the trunk lock's keyhole. It prevents anyone from prying or drilling and removing the lock cylinder.

Antitheft Wheel Lug Nuts

These are very effective in preventing your tires and wheels from being stolen. A special key-type wrench is required to remove antitheft wheel lug nuts, and it is available only from the manufacturer. Hubcap Locks

These are wheel covers equipped with an antitheft locking system. A special key wrench is required to pry off the center hub ornament and remove the lock bolt.

Disabling Devices

Disabling devices can be either actively or passively armed. Actively armed units are controlled with either a key, a coded sequence or a digital touch-pad, or a hidden button mounted under the dash. Passive devices are part of a combination antitheft system. The more expensive models have a bypass provision that allows you to leave your car at a service station or valet-parking lot without telling anyone about your alarm system. These models, however, are more expensive, costing up to $300.

One problem with these systems is mat the control features, including toggle switches, keys, or keypads, might be visible. Also, disabling devices have been known to engage at unexpected times under less than advantageous circumstances, such as in the middle of traffic.

Ignition-Kill System

An ignition-kill system interferes with the ignition to such an extent that the car cannot be hotwired. In fact, when the ignition kill is activated, not even the ignition key will start the car. There is nothing particularly elaborate about this device. A simple switch that breaks but does not ground the ignition circuit will keep a car from starting; a knowledgeable do-it-yourselfer can install one in about 30 minutes. The switch and wire connections should be placed where they are least likely to be found. A determined thief will usually look for the switch on or under the dashboard, under the seats, or in the glove compartment.

An ignition-kill system has definite advantages: there is nothing to transport, no codes to remember, and nothing visible to mar the exterior of the car or to alert a thief. It should be noted, however, that this type of device cannot be used on many cars that have computerized fuel systems because of the potential damage it can inflict on the computer. Always consult with the vehicle manufacturer before installing one in your car. An ignition-kill system can be purchased for anywhere from $10 to $60.

Fuel-Interrupt Device

This device offers more foolproof protection than an ignition-kill system. It shuts off the fuel supply so that the engine can run for only a few seconds; the engine stops when the fuel between the carburetor or fuel injectors and the cutoff valve is gone. However, there is a drawback peculiar to this device: if the vehicle has a carburetor, it will run for a short time. This is sufficient for a thief to start the car and drive away before the fuel in the float bowl runs out. This could lead to a towing bill for you, or even worse, to an accident involving your car. Prices of fuel-interrupt devices begin at $40.

Hydraulic Lock

This device is permanently installed in the brake lines. It blocks the flow of fluid and locks up all four brakes so that the car cannot move. A key lock is used to release the pressure on the brakes.


Even though installing an alarm system is a good preventive measure, an alarm atone will not stop a thief from taking the car or gaining access to the hood or trunk compartments. It will, of course, draw attention to the situation and, in some cases, might even scare the thief away. But generally, it is best to use an alarm system in conjunction with other antitheft devices that physically hinder prospective thieves.

Professional Installation

Sophisticated devices that must be installed by professionals are available for between $300 and $500. Insurance premium discounts of up to 15% can help to compensate for the price tag on these systems. Before choosing an installer, ask to see an installation on another car; make sure that it is a neat job with no easily accessible wires. Some installers use wires that match the car's wiring, which makes it harder for a thief to find the correct wires to cut. Also, make sure the siren is installed where a thief will have a hard time reaching and disconnecting it.


Although these systems are usually less complex, they still require some knowledge of a car's electrical circuitry. Kits are available, or you can custom design your own system. Keep in mind, however, that insurance companies usually do not give discounts for do-it-yourself installations. On the other hand, these installations are less expensive than professional installations.

NOTE: Always wear safety glasses or goggles when using drills or other power tools.

Activating Methods

The two methods for activating alarm systems are passive and active. Passive systems switch on automatically when you remove the ignition key or lock the doors. They are often more effective than active systems (you don't have to rely on your memory to activate them), but they are also more expensive and tend to be more temperamental. Active systems are activated manually with a key, keypad, or toggle switch. This allows you to leave the car at a service station or parking garage without disclosing the secrets of your system to the attendant. The disadvantage is that you must remember to turn the alarm on and off.


Among the number of devices used to trigger an alarm system, mechanical switches are similar to those used to turn on the courtesy lights as the doors are opened. When a door, hood, or trunk is opened, the switch closes and the alarm sounds; it turns itself off automatically (provided the intruder has stopped trying to enter the car) to prevent the battery from being drained. It then rearms itself automatically.

Ultrasonic sensors are like the ones used at the supermarket to open doors automatically. They sound the alarm if someone tries to enter the car, either through a door or window.

Current-sensitive sensors activate the alarm if a change in current occurs within a car's electrical system. When a courtesy light goes on or the ignition starts, the alarm is activated. However, it might not be practical to use this type of sensor in a car in which the light does not turn on when the back doors are opened.

Siren versus Silent

The majority of law enforcement officials recommends siren alarms over silent page alarms. A siren alarm calls attention to the situation and startles the would-be thief. With a silent page alarm, the owner carries a pager that beeps when someone tampers with his or her car. However, this can be dangerous because many people recklessly confront the thief alone rather than call the police.


Since 1981, the vehicle identification number (VIN) is riveted to the upper left corner of the instrument panel on all. domestic passenger cars. Etching the VIN on all of your car's windows makes it less appealing to thieves. For the car to be resold, all of the windows would first have to be replaced. This will cause many thieves to bypass the car for one that is less likely to be detected as stolen.

Several inexpensive kits, consisting of a stencil of your vehicle's VIN and an acid etching solution, are available. With one of these kits, you can engrave a clearly visible number in the corner of each window in less than an hour. You can also use an engraving tool to etch the VIN on wheel covers and the undersides of body panels.


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