Memoirs Of An Independent Repair Shop Owner: Now This is Alarming-My Ongoing Cold War Against Anti-Theft Systems-Part One

Phil Coconis
by Phil Coconis
memoirs of an independent repair shop owner em now this is alarming my ongoing
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.

Join the conversation
2 of 13 comments
  • SCE to AUX SCE to AUX on Nov 27, 2012

    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.

  • Darth Lefty Darth Lefty on Nov 27, 2012

    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.

  • NotMyCircusNotMyMonkeys for that money, it had better be built by people listening to ABBA
  • Abrar Very easy and understanding explanation about brake paint
  • MaintenanceCosts We need cheaper batteries. This is a difficult proposition at $50k base/$60k as tested but would be pretty compelling at $40k base/$50k as tested.
  • Scott ?Wonder what Toyota will be using when they enter the market?
  • Fred The bigger issue is what happens to the other systems as demand dwindles? Will thet convert or will they just just shut down?