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How Effective Are Car Alarms?

Image of a persons hands on a car window

Many people argue that car alarms are no longer effective. Car insurance companies and law enforcement agencies have both completed studies that reveal car alarms do not noticeably reduce car theft.

In fact, the New York Police Department has gone even further, declaring that car alarms are increasing crime, rather than reducing it, due to the growing number of call outs in relation to complaints about faulty alarms.

The reason is that car alarms are so sensitive that they are usually triggered accidentally, with the result that people have become immune to them, ignoring them as false alarms.

Their tendency to go off accidentally can be the result of overly sensitive settings or incorrect installation. Having your alarm professionally installed and set to a level where street noises and small vibrations will not set it off can reduce the problem.

Car alarms are somewhat effective against amateur thieves and joy riders, as they will usually select a car without an alarm before one that is alarmed. Professional car thieves, however, can disable an alarm in just a few seconds. Car theft is now an $8.2 billion a year business in the U.S.

Ineffective car alarms cause noise pollution and stress, waste police resources and do not get a second glance from passers-by. So perhaps the question should not be how effective are car alarms, but how can we make them more effective?

There are a growing number of alternatives to an audible alarm. Many car manufacturers are now installing immobilisers rather than alarms in their vehicles. Immobilisers are silent but effective, rendering the car undriveable. If a car with an immobiliser is stolen, it is generally because the thief has gained access to the owner’s key.

Newer car alarms are also becoming more sophisticated. Rather than making an audible noise, some now notify the owner on their mobile phone or pager when their vehicle has been disturbed. Some law enforcement bodies are critical of these, believing they lead to car owners taking the law into their own hands and jeopardising their own safety if they respond without notifying police beforehand.

There are also passive systems available that only allow the vehicle to start when a microchip in the key sends a signal to the car’s internal system.
In the U.S.A., GPS satellite tracking devices known as ‘LoJacks’ are another option. Police use them to track stolen cars, but these are expensive to buy and do not prevent the car from being stolen in the first place. Nor will they prevent the contents from being stolen or the vehicle from being vandalised or destroyed.

Another alternative to an audible alarm system is a kill switch that prevents fuel from reaching the engine until it is switched off. It is inexpensive, easy to install and, if well hidden, will deter amateur thieves at the very least.

At the end of the day, the effectiveness of your car alarm will depend on factors such as where you live, what kind of car you drive and where you park it. Regardless of the pros and cons, having some sort of car alarm is preferable to not having any deterrent and will normally reduce the risk, which in turn, can reduce the price of your car insurance premium.