By on August 13, 2011

Having spent most of my driving years in car-theft-prone neighborhoods in California and preferring the please-steal-me Honda Civic as my daily driver of choice, I learned many years ago that a secret starter and/or fuel-pump cutoff switch is a must-have. Such kill switches have prevented theft of my past Civics on three occasions that I know about. Last week, the maddeningly hard-to-find kill switch I installed in my 18.2-second quarter-miler 1992 Civic left a Denver Honda thief empty-handed.
I’m not going to give away the type and location of the kill switch in my ’92, other than to say that it cuts power to both the starter solenoid and the fuel pump and it doesn’t look like an electrical switch. The first Civic kill switch I installed (in an ’85 hatchback that was stolen out of the Oakland Coliseum parking lot and then recovered a couple months later when other thieves stole its license plates while parked near 98th and Edes, attracting police attention) was pretty crude: a spring-type clothespin ziptied into the underdash wiring harness, with electrical contacts in the jaws; I would stick a guitar pick between its jaws to interrupt the power to the starter circuit and remove the pick to enable starting— crude but effective, and just about impossible to identify at a glance. My current setup is much more sophisticated as well as more invisible; the thief used a key to get into the car and turn the ignition switch (Hondas of the 1980s and early 1990s had a depressingly small number of possible key configurations, so a thief need only carry a few dozen in order to have a good chance of starting any random Honda of the era; try your Honda key on junkyard car locks to see what I mean), but the starter wouldn’t crank for him. So, he removed the steering-column cover— busting the wiper switch in the process— and tried to jump wires to fire the starter. No dice. On to the next 1992-95 Civic!
Nothing other than the wiper switch was broken and nothing was stolen from the car (not even my snazzy five-cell red-anodized MagLite), so I got off light. Still, I needed wipers, so off came the shattered switch. Next stop: junkyard!
The fifth-generation Civic has become something like the ’55 Chevy of the 21st Century, with huge demand for parts (no doubt the motivation behind the scrote who tried to steal mine). This means that they’re quite rare in self-service junkyards. I found this switch in good condition on a junked ’94, but there was a problem.
My car, a one-notch-up-from-the-bottom DX model, has a rear wiper/washer, and this CX does not. The switch would physically bolt up, but the rear wiper couldn’t be actuated. The lever on my car’s switch was pretty well busted, so I couldn’t buy this switch and swap levers. Sorry about the blurry cell-phone photos here; I was in such a hurry to fix the car that I forgot to grab a real camera.
The only other 1992-95 Civic at the yard was a ’93 hatch that had had its interior completely torn apart. It did have the correct wiper switch (buried beneath greasy suspension parts on the back seat), but its case was cracked and internal components were missing.
Still, I had enough components between the two junkyard switches, plus the one from my car, to make one good one.
The lever and wiring harness from the broken ’93 switch joined the guts of the ’94 switch. I had to swap the grease-coated electrical-contact sliders to make the lever actuators work correctly, but such is the nature of finicky automotive electrical components.
Honda was thoughtful enough to enable wiper switch replacement with the steering wheel installed (in stark contrast to many Detroit cars, which tend to be all about ease/cheapness of initial assembly, to hell with everything else), so installing the Frankensteined wiper switch was a three-minute task.
All fixed! I’m sure glad the thief didn’t have a tow truck.

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23 Comments on “Would-Be Civic Thief Thwarted By Hidden Kill Switch, $21 In Junkyard Parts Fixes Damage...”

  • avatar

    Your replacement switch is $100 at RockAuto, so I suppose your time and minimal parts cost was worth it – maybe. At this point in my life I might have sprung for the new part. But I appreciate your creative ingenuity!

  • avatar

    Any chance you could show us some ideas for kill switches? Maybe in a future post.

  • avatar

    Ingenuity at its finest!

    I had an ’83 Civic DX hatch myself during the 1990’s and it was such a blast to drive and I never had any issues with it being stolen here in Seattle where it sat on the street when I wasn’t out and about in it.

    Had to do the same thing, but I found out that at least in the 2nd gen Civics, the switches differed by the year so HAD to find one from an 83 Civic to make it work when my wiper stalk switch, which was a flat lever that you moved up and down, rather than the rotary switch found later on, the rear wiper switch was a rocker switch on the dash to the left of the steering wheel.

    Thing was, it took, like you getting one from the base Civic sans intermittent wiper and I switched out not only the wiper switch, but the head light switch too if I recall as they were all one piece.

    The Civic gave way to an ’88 Honda Accord who’s headlight/wiper switch stalk had a crack in the case and would rotate along with the headlight switch so I had to hold the stalk while turning but it functioned just fine just the same.

    I didn’t know about the very few key codes for this era of Civics but what you’ve done is essentially what today’s modern immobilizers do, they require the use of a chipped key to talk with the ECU and if it matched, it’d allow the kill start switch to not activate, but if the key didn’t match, well, the would be thief would be thwarted.

    Which is why modern Hondas aren’t as stolen as the older ones thanks to the immobilizer units now required.

  • avatar

    And to think yesterday reading your article about the strip I almost posted that swapped Hondas are very desirable to thieves but didn’t want to seem all pessimistic.

  • avatar

    The best place to hide an ignition kill switch is to get a switch for an option your car doesn’t have and wire it into the circuit. My 91 hatch doesn’t have a rear wiper or A/C, adding the stalk or button from a car that is so equipped makes for an easy on/off toggle.

    A friend of mine acquired a Buick Regal with a 1/8″ headphone jack on the dashboard near the stereo with an appropriately sized Allen key pushed into it. Without that Allen wrench inserted the car wouldn’t start. He kept the wrench in his ashtray in plain sight so he wouldn’t lose it, and a spare in the glove box.

  • avatar

    The issue with only a few key combos didn’t end in the early 90s. Early in my marriage, we were a one-car household so my wife’s 2001 Civic was my daily driver. Then I got my very own ’98. Not long after that, I hopped in my new car and when I reached my destination i realized that (a) I had started my car with the key to my wife’s car; and (b) they key went in, but it wouldn’t come out. Had to find a locksmith for that.

  • avatar

    I saw something similar to this rigged up for a theft prone Toyota 4Runner, but it used the dimmer switch on the dash to act as a fuel pump cutoff.

  • avatar

    Hmmm…I used to rock a ’91 LX sedan…as far as i know, no one ever tried to steal it…i guess it’s just the hatchbacks that are appealing to the young punks…Still, I’m sure lots of parts off my sedan would have fit a hatchback.

  • avatar

    A guy I once knew used matching halves of a multiconductor connector to immobilize his vehicles. He cut the wires to the fuel pump, ignition and starter solenoid, ran leads from each side of each circuit underneath the dashboard and soldered them to random pins on one half of the connector. The other half of the connector had jumpers which completed the circuits when the connector was put together. When he left the car, he took one half of the connector with him. Since all the leads to the other half were the same color, a thief would first have to realize what had been done and then figure out which leads to connect before he could start the car.

  • avatar

    Kill switches are good but can you beat (or defeat) a hidden/buried kill switch, remote controlled with with built-in relays?

    Mine kills the fuel so the truck will start & run for about 10 seconds plus it activates the 4 way flashers. Can also be set up to kill the starter and or accessorized power plus it’ll arm itself if you wire it to a switched circuit. Powered mine directly off of the fuel pump power-supply so it was simple and well hidden.

  • avatar

    if you’re really paranoid, you can install one of these bad boys.

  • avatar

    I’ve been doing the kill switch thing for years and years now with a number of different vehicles. I have a few tips to throw in.

    The name of the game is inconvenience: slow down and frustrate the lowlife thief enough so that they will give up and move on.

    Try to avoid cutting into factory wiring. Utilize existing connectors and add new wiring whenever possible. Factory wiring and connectors are quite reliable IF you don’t hack them up. The best installation is one that you can remove and put back to stock configuration without having to rewire or resolder.

    I generally try to find a way to make a kill switch a passive part of a circuit rather than an active one. For example, a switch that connects the ignition coil to ground (thus killing the ignition), rather than cutting off power to the coil. This ensures that voltage flow needed for the normal operation of the vehicle is not dependent on the kill switch.

    Another example: a kill switch to open the circuit on the starter safety switch on the clutch pedal of a manual transmission vehicle. While the kill switch will be an active part of the starter circuit when firing up the motor, it is not needed once the engine is running. Similarly, you can also take advantage of the neutral safety switch circuit on an automatic transmission, although they can be a bit trickier to find and work with.

    But, sometimes breaking an active circuit with a kill switch is the best way to go. Proceed with caution. Make sure the switch and the wiring you use is adequate for the amperage needed by the circuit. Try to find relatively low current circuits to interrupt if you can. For example, I’ve traced out ground lines used by fuel pump and starter relays and then installed a switch to break the ground connection, rather than, say, trying to run main power for a fuel pump through the switch.

    In all cases, make sure your wiring and connections are well protected and well-assembled. Being stranded or having your engine cut out in traffic due to crap switches, inadequate wiring or a piss-poor install will definitely ruin your day.

  • avatar

    Part two: Switches and locations.

    You can either conceal the switch or you can have it in plain sight; I’ve done both.

    One car had an all-black pull switch wedged WAY up under the dash, well concealed in a sea of other black components, but I could reach it easily with my seatbelt on.

    In another car, I used the switch for an inoperative rear defogger, and in yet another a switch for factory fog lights that I’d removed. They were really convenient, but many thieves are hip to this trick, so a hidden switch is better.

    If you have the patience to put up with them, multiple switches are even more insidious! As is the multipin connector trick mentioned by Kendahl above. Pull the connector out and take it with you… pretty slick.

    One downside: kill switches can be exceedingly frustrating for other users of your car. A few past girlfriends of mine come quickly to mind. Again, proceed with caution!

  • avatar

    I used to protect my ’69 Mach I Mustang by removing the coil to Distributor wire and using a padlock on one of the hood pins.

  • avatar

    I had an electric fuel pump on one of my hot rod cars so I hooked up a magnetic reed switch behind a plate. would stick a small magnet on the dash and it would engage the switch, take the magnet with me and no worky.

    I rigged a relay to the TBI injector on my neighbors car. Switch was under the seat, the relay got power from the PCM supply and that was that.

  • avatar

    Chipped keys are pretty much standard now though Japanese cars are the last not fitted thus. Subarus are the most popular cars to steal easy to take and turbo models are popular with ram raiders. The Police in NSW were issued with WRX Subies for in town pursuits so they could catch RRs though once outside city streets Subarus are easily caught by V8 Holden regular police cars.

    • 0 avatar

      My 2010 Honda Fit has a chipped key that cannot be duplicated with the equipment that most locksmiths have, only the dealer, so thats pretty secure, if expensive and inconvenient to replace a key.

      I remember that 1960’s Honda motorcycles had only about six possible key combinations. One key happened to fit my CB-175, my Dad’s Trail 70 and my brother’s 305.

      • 0 avatar

        I’m not sure if they’ve eliminated it or not but in the older transponder key equipped Hondas had an easy back door. The right combo of applying the brake pedal and hand brake would bypass it. The aftermarket will also likely offer a clone key option before to long.

  • avatar
    cRacK hEaD aLLeY

    I protected a red VW Gol GTS in the streets of Rio from 1988 until 1993 with a kill switch wired to the left driver air vent. It was professionally installed by a Hungarian cold-war refugee that did very-high-voltage electric fences for industrial storage lots alongside Avenida Brasil in Rio. That man was a craftsman.

    Vent turned to the left position (facing window) car would run.
    Vent turned all the way to the right, car would run. But if ignition was interruped (you parked the car) battery would act as if it was 1/2 dead. The crank would turn slow for 4 seconds or so and stop as if battery was a goner. I do not know how that was accomplished. You could do this for as many times as you wanted. Once you moved the vent to the left, it would start.

    Furthermore, every time driver’s door was opened with engine running (for car jacking) engine would run for 3 minutes and stop. Then the battery would do its thing.

    The only drawback is it could not be deactivated. It made it for a nightmare at restaurants and the like.

  • avatar

    You should try changing the wiper switch on a ’78 MG Midget sometime. It’s both simple and utterly ridiculous and complicated at the same time. You only have to remove 5 bolts to get to the switch but they are the bolts that hold the steering column into the car! Once the column is out it takes only a couple of minutes to replace the switch so the whole job only takes 15 minutes so I could not complain but it’s a typical BL solution, right up there with the components that are bolted to the firewall with a bolt and a non-captive nut, what the hell were they thinking?

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