Car owners guide to: Car Security

We all still have to deal with the threat of having our car stolen or broken in to, but things are much better than back in the early 1990s when car crime, including car theft and so-called joyriding, was a number one target for government action.

Initiatives were put into place to make people more aware of how to protect their vehicle and its belongings, and government pressure on the British insurance industry and car manufacturers led to a vast improvement in the quality and effectiveness of automotive security measures.

After media coverage showed just how easy it was to break into the average vehicle, in many cases using little more than a bent coat hanger to pull up the internal door lock button, the automotive and insurance industries responded by the setting up of not only guidelines but strict testing procedures to assess and improve the level of vehicle security. This covered both vehicle design (no more easy-lift door buttons!) and active devices such as engine immobilisers and car alarm systems.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, car alarm systems were notorious for not only being relatively ineffective and easily bypassed, but also prone to false triggering. While some of the seemingly 'false alarms' were actually the result of thieves rocking cars and banking on the fact that owners would get fed-up and switch off their alarms, there was a genuine problem of noise pollution. This gave rise to complaints that either prevented people from setting their alarms or led to confused car owners not fitting one at all.

Car security has come a long way in the last ten years, especially in terms of effectiveness and reliability. It takes many forms - from immobilisation and car alarm systems, to tracking devices and advanced anti-hijack measures.

Few security devices that can be DIY-fitted by motorists themselves are effective. Locking wheel nuts offer specific protection for high value alloy wheels and are a must-have, and a good steering wheel lock provides some visible deterrent and may slow down an attempted theft of the vehicle. But DIY-fitted car alarms are easily defeated by all but the most rookie thief or joyrider.

It is the professionally fitted car security systems that are by far the most effective. Many insurance companies offer discounts where a Thatcham-approved security system has been fitted, but all will demand a certificate showing that the system has been fitted by an accredited professional installer.

I have a factory-fitted approved car alarm, so I'm covered, aren't I?

Modern cars are now being delivered with insurance-approved security devices fitted on the production line. This is the car manufacturer's way of showing concern for their customers and most do provide a valuable deterrent. But manufacturing cost considerations usually dictate that the supplied car security system will be no more than adequate, and there is often a drawback to these factory-fitted devices.

Since most of these are usually clones, fitted in the same way on the production line, once a career thief has worked out how to overcome one, he has the key to overcome them all. Modern factory-fitted security systems are effective but only up to a point.

Given enough time and determination, any anti-theft device can be overcome. The key is to make it as tricky and time-consuming for the thief as possible, as they will become increasingly more anxious about being caught in the act, especially if you sensibly parked in a well lit area where there is some traffic passing by. And it's no longer a case of a siren simply being ignored. Paging systems can alert you of a triggered alarm status by SMS Text message to a mobile phone. And if they do manage to overcome the anti-theft system, the thief could also be up against a hidden 'after-theft' system that tracks them and allows the police to pin-point the vehicle's exact location.

Aftermarket devices fitted by MMSA members can also offer added comfort features, such as automatic window and roof closure, remote boot opening and remote headlight switch-on.

General advice on protecting your vehicle and its contents

There are some basic measures you can take to reduce the chances of becoming a target for car crime. Many are common sense but worth remembering all the same - it's all about getting into the habit of being security conscious, so it becomes automatic:

Lock the doors and arm the alarm whenever you leave your vehicle, even for a short time. The opportunist thief likes nothing more than seeing someone rush into the newsagent or petrol station with the keys still in the ignition, or a laptop on the passenger seat. Get in to the habit of never leaving the car vulnerable and you'll be much less likely to accidentally leave it unlocked or unarmed.
Remove valuable items or place them out of view in the boot or in a lockable glove-box. Remove the cradle of a portable Sat Nav, not just the Sat Nav itself, and wipe away the mark left by the suction cup. It's inconvenient yes, but worth the effort, especially if you've parked in an area you're not familiar with.
Periodically check that all your doors lock when you operate the central locking, and check the driver's door each time you leave the car.
Park in a well-lit street or in a secure car park.
Never leave your keys on view, on a pub table for example, or close to a window or the letterbox at home. If you play sports, make sure keys are stored in a truly secure locker or with someone you know.
Lock your doors while driving and roll up the windows when stopping at lights, especially in towns and cities.
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