By on November 27, 2012

Recently, while dining with friends, the subject turned to what else but things automotive. (This tends to happen with marked constancy, and long ago I learned to embrace, roll with, and otherwise enjoy the process.)

The hostess, an avid bird-watcher, related an anecdote regarding an in-field faux pas, wherein their transportation for the day—an early millennium Ford Explorer equipped with an intermittently malfunctioning anti-theft system—was the catalytic device that made them the unwelcome center of attention—albeit a momentary one.

It was in the pre-dawn darkness of the Southwestern United States, where they and a fair amount of other fellow aviary enthusiasts were gathered, and in the process of quietly positioning themselves for optimal viewing in advance of the imminent event of sunrise.

Apparently, on or about the moment her husband shut his door to join his already en route Misses to their chosen site, the aforementioned semi-crippled anti-theft system chose to suck it up and “state its creed”.

To say the least, the volume at which this “statement” was made was altogether inappropriately excessive for prevailing circumstances!

Timing is, of course, just about everything, isn’t it?

I remember when anti-theft systems—beyond the usual mechanical lock and key devices of the time—first started appearing on the scene, supplied by forward-looking aftermarket companies back in the mid-70’s.

They were directly powered by the vehicle battery, and consisted of primarily a motion detector and a siren; so that in the event of any sort of unauthorized movement of the vehicle, the siren—and I might add, a very emergency vehice-authentic sounding siren—would do its thing for what seemed like an eternity before cycling off. If the movement hadn’t stopped by then, it would repeat the process.

Flaws in this design were soon apparent.

For instance, these early systems had no other feature to prevent the vehicle from being started and driven, free of any sort of impending immobilization event. I recall seeing not only once, a vehicle being driven down a main thoroughfare with siren ablast, with nary the sight of any law enforcement activity in the vicinity.

Speaking of law enforcement, the other main flaw of this design (from their point of view)—coincidentally timed with the evidence that the whole system was largely ineffective—was the previously noted authenticity of the siren. All a private citizen had to do to transform their daily ride into a reasonable facsimile of a legitimate emergency vehicle was to install the siren from one of these defunct systems in an appropriate place under the hood, wire it to the battery via an underdash toggle switch, and get one of the readily available (at the time) dash-mounted cigarette lighter-powered revolving emergency lights. You then had at your disposal, a form of road-going diplomatic immunity the likes of which has yet to be seen again!

Boy, I do miss those times!

From that point in history, as far as my relationship with just about anything to do with vehicle anti-theft systems (save for their removal and destruction) is concerned, it has been a long and sometimes lurid downhill slide.

In the ‘80’s, as vehicle manufacturers were getting up the nerve to actually offer the gizmos as optional, and then standard equipment on their products, aftermarket anti-theft and alarm system installation rose to become a good-sized sub-industry in its own right.

There were all kinds of flavors, from virtually unobtrusive and minimalist, to full-blown, fully integrated sci-fi level systems.

Engineering and production quality seemed to be equally all over the proverbial “map”, and sometimes system complexity didn’t equal the high levels of those ingredients required for quality installation, or reliable operation. In some cases, the results were, at best, amusing—and at worst, really disastrous!

I will not go into detail about this; but if I don’t ever see another cheeseball circuit board, ill-placed hook-and-loop mount, or blue plastic “quick-connect” (can’t use trade name here) wiretap—often sourcing current inadvisably—that would be just fine!

Probably the epitome of ridiculous, as far as my experience with these aftermarket systems, was found in a vehicle I purchased. It was a very early ‘90’s Eagle Talon Tsi AWD, which was bought from a customer on the cheap—mainly because it had a propensity for shutting off at the most inappropriate intervals. I had confidence I could solve the problem, but at that point, the customer was pretty well “over” the entire ownership experience; and since the Eag’ didn’t fit in with future family plans (they did fit just fine with mine), I got to exercise my option to purchase.

What followed will be related in my next entry.

As an ASE Certified L1 Master Tech, Phil ran a successful independent repair shop on the West Coast for close to 20 years, working over a decade before that at both dealer and independent repair shops. He is presently semi-retired from the business of auto repair, but still keeps his hand in things as a consultant and in his personal garage.

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13 Comments on “Memoirs Of An Independent Repair Shop Owner: Now This is Alarming—My Ongoing Cold War Against Anti-Theft Systems—Part One...”


  • avatar
    -Nate

    Having been in the same position , I can hardly wait for the next installment ! =8-) .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    d524zoom-zoom

    I’ll say it Scotch Lock!!

  • avatar
    geozinger

    I love the pix at the top of the post. I have a similar arrangement for my house, I call it doggie doorbell. I have three very hyper dachshunds that bark at anything that moves. Nothing gets up to the house without them alerting me…

    I have walked away from some very nice used cars just because of the issues encountered with add on anti theft alarms. Several years ago, when looking for a car for my daughter, I ran across a rather well preserved late 90′s Chevy Cavalier Z24. It had all the stuff kids like, the big stereo, sunroof, factory remote entry, power everything. The car had right miles and was priced well and was the seller’s daughter’s car. (This is before C4C).

    It all looked great until I popped the hood and found the aftermarket alarm equipment. That’s when I told the seller, thanks, but no thanks. He was trying hard to keep me engaged, as I think this had been a sticking point with other people too. He told me it had been installed professionally by the daughter’s boyfriend who worked at a local car stereo chain.

    That explained the big stereo and the alarm system, but my experiences with non-factory radios and alarm systems usually meant there would be electrical issues sooner or later. To this day, if a car has an aftermarket radio, I will walk away.

    I had to laugh, when later that week, I saw the guy jump-starting the Cavy. I speculated it was due to poor installation of the accessories in the car, but I have no way of knowing for sure. The car languished in his driveway for MONTHS after I looked at it; I never asked the guy, but I wonder if he finally gave up and took it to the auction. I saw the car on lots of test drives around the neighborhood, but no takers.

    I stand by my preferences, no aftermarket alarms or radios. And my cars start everytime.

  • avatar
    ajla

    It’s not aftermarket but Delco-loc and Passlock in all its variations piss me off so much.

  • avatar
    jacob_coulter

    There was a very small window in time where car alarms were actually useful, but then their popularity exploded in the early 90′s.

    Once a lot of people had them, they became completely useless. I remember car alarms were ALWAYS going off in parking lots in the 90′s, it was just a part of the soundtrack in that era.

    I will say nowadays, I rarely hear car alarms going off in public places, at least not like I used to. Thankfully, once the OEMs started taking anti-theft seriously it spared our ears a lot of the hack jobs.

  • avatar
    Detroit-Iron

    AWD Eagle was a very cool car for the time.

    The funniest alarm I ever saw was in Queens in the mid-late 80′s. On the way to the bagel shop from Grandma’s this car would yell at you if you got too close “Step away from the cahhhh!”

  • avatar
    porschespeed

    Personally I *love* badly installed malfunctioning aftermarket alarms. I can get a car on the very cheap or scrap value because the owner doesn’t want to risk the “possibly many hundreds” of dollars a shop wants to diag and correct. Plus the tow fee. Not that I blame a shop – customers often get squeamish when you give them the ’1 to 10 hours, maybe more’ estimate.

    So I spend an hour or (once) a day with a wiring diagram, an ohmmeter or three, and maybe a test light. De-install the whole thing and splice back to normal. More profitable than one needing a trans swap and no grease.

  • avatar
    cognoscenti

    I loved the AWD Talon/Eclipse. Drove many of them but never owned one – got addicted to the E30 instead. I bet a clean example of the Diamondstar chassis would still be fun to drive today!

  • avatar
    gslippy

    My 01 Elantra had an annoying tendency to chirp its anti-theft alarm periodically if the doors were locked.

    Long story short, replacing the defective OEM radio with a $45 OEM junkyard radio did the trick. Now we can lock the doors with confidence, although given its age I’d be OK if someone stole it.

  • avatar
    Darth Lefty

    A neighbor at my prior apartment had an alarm and a remote starter on his hot-rodded primered out Camaro. On those cold winter mornings he’d start it from his apartment, and when it warmed up and settled down and got cammy it would set off the alarm so he’d know it was ready. Every single day at 5AM. Wasn’t sad to see him go.


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