Car Care

The slow death of the car alarm

They have become the electronic dawn chorus in our towns and cities, but is it time to kill the car alarm? Not only is the sound of a car alarm annoying, but the alarm itself is increasingly ineffective. What started back in 1919 by a couple of inventors from America, the popular car alarm really hit its peak in New Zealand in the 90s and 2000s.

It was driven by the prospect of cheaper insurance premiums or lower excesses, and the desire to have remote central locking connected. As a side bonus you would get a siren, and if you upgraded you could get a siren with a battery that could not be shut off without a special key. The classic alarm turned into a nightmare for mechanics and a weekend’s worth of electrical installation for budding car enthusiasts.

With an orchestra of car alarms going off at night, it was hard to tell whether a car was being broken into, a cat was jumping on a bonnet, or the wind had blown a leaf onto the car. Either way, we soon grew numb to the sound and it seemed a blaring siren may not be the best deterrent anymore.

What we have now in a lot of cars are built-in immobilisers which are designed to prevent theft. If an alarm is incorporated into the system, it would seem that mostly it would be a door opening that would activate the trigger, instead of old school, super sensitive vibration or microwave detectors (that little magic box with red and green lights).

The secret lies in the smallest little transponder chip tucked away inside the remote, also known as a smart key. This chip opens the lines of communication from the key to ignition sensor to control module to turn on and start the car. With the chip lost or not programmed in, the engine would usually turn over but fail to start.

Whatever you do, don’t lose all of the remotes or take one swimming! A single replacement remote could cost a few hundred dollars, plus a recoding fee to get the new remote to talk to the car and match the spare. Things can get extremely expensive if you lose the only key you have. A new body control module (brain), key receiver and remotes may need to be purchased as a matched system, running up a bill in to the thousands. There is also the hassle of the vehicle being out of action while waiting for parts to be ordered. So if you buy a used car, check if two remotes are included or buy a spare, before you need it.

The biggest break-in deterrent is to keep valuables out of sight - you know the saying “lock it or lose it”. Most vehicles will have a lockable glove box, or boot compartment to store things away, or simply take out any unused items from inside your car whenever possible.

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