By on November 30, 2012

Being an avid proponent of resolution—whenever reasonably possible and prudent—I had to pause to make sense of what certainly appeared to be the aftermarket equivalent of Anti-Theft Engineering Overkill, which had been residing for some time under the front seat of my newly purchased 1991 Eagle Talon Tsi AWD (Some of the circumstances surrounding said purchase are explained at the end of Part One.)

Not that the installation looked a mess, or anything like that. It was really rather well organized, in truth. At least a half dozen standard circuit relays, a control unit, and all of the accompanying wiring neatly gathered into a substantial loom and routed under the carpet to points North, East and West. Due to, if nothing else—especially my aforementioned disdain for automotive anti-theft systems of all stripes—the apparent age of all of the components I was viewing, there was no worthy consideration of actually diagnosing and repairing the arrangement. And considering the fact that this Diamond Star creation was equipped with an annoyingly comprehensive original equipment anti-theft system—rightfully worthy of suspicion in its own right, as it turned out—there was already too much of a “good thing” happening within the confines of the sheet metal for the “greater good”.

Fairly overwhelmed with the Eternal Why, cranial circuits, synapses and gear drives were all engaged in the quest for answers as to the need for such a system. What possessed someone to go through the pains to actually bring this all to fruition? Answers were not far away.

The original paperwork, much of it still with the vehicle, and just one (yes, only ONE) owner removed, pretty much told a satisfying enough story to qualify for True Resolution.

Apparently, the original owner performed vehicle break-ins over in Germany(!), while working for some branch of the U.S. military there. I was thinking probably the Air Force, as military aviation is truly the “poster-child” for engineering redundancy. This vehicle is equipped with a factory anti-theft alarm system? Fine, but we better install another one, just in case the first one fails.

This guy must have truly loved his Talon, and didn’t want it to fall into enemy hands!

But now, some twenty-odd years and half the globe away from those days, circumstances had changed. I just needed the thing to RUN RELIABLY enough to make it worth future—and considerably less complex—efforts at theft-proofing!

Since having achieved resolution, Step One toward this goal was well underway.

As it turned out, the add-on system was tapped into all of the electrical circuits that the factory system controlled: door locks, horn, headlamps, starter solenoid, and ignition/fuel delivery system. And don’t forget the POWER WINDOWS, for heaven’s sake! I felt like some surgeon carefully removing an elaborate fibrous growth, systematically restoring original anatomical function.

The operation turned out to be a success, and for about a month or so, I was able to regularly drive the Eagle, systematically sussing things out, and correcting other issues. I started using it as transport for friends, as I felt that it had achieved a level of dependability worthy of subjecting outside parties to. It was kind of a familiar “acid test” of sorts, also: put the vehicle in a situation where any failures would be compounded by the addition of a third party into the mix.

Sure enough, it worked. New and exiting problems arose—Ghost in the Machine kind of intermittent phenomena. Door locks locking and unlocking at random. (Never got locked out, fortunately. I knew better than to tempt fate to that degree!) Power windows not always obeying all commands. Alarm activating at what were often inappropriate moments of entry and exit. Then the final straw: the engine intermittently shutting off while the vehicle was in motion!

Taking the process in logical sequence, I eventually isolated the problem to a malfunctioning control unit. Since the frequency of the dead-stick episodes had abated—not the intermittent no-start issue, though—I was still using it for solo commutes to points of interest in Los Angeles, sometimes into the wee hours, without too much worry. If I did experience a spin-no-fire episode, a few additional attempts would yield ignition, and I’d be on my way. I figured if the worst happened, I could get some tow assistance, and do some D.O.A. diagnostics back at my shop.

I finally got that opportunity on the return trip from a Hollywood music club one Saturday night (really, Sunday morning). This time, it shut off while motoring South on La Brea near Melrose. Somewhat extensive attempts at a restart proved fruitless, It was time to call “The Triple”, for a flatbed.

On a “Party Night”, with the hour approaching 2 AM?? Yeah, RIGHT!!

Without boring you with the details, we did eventually make it happen.

Had the wounded Eagle off-loaded at the shop, and was motoring away in the backup at around DAWN!

After procuring a wire-for-wire schematic (which became extinct after about the 1995 model year)—an absolute necessity for solving the problem in as unobtrusive fashion as possible—I found the solution lied in merely disconnecting the control unit (once I FOUND it!). The only other modification I needed to do to restore normal function to all else (except key-triggered power door lock operation), was to install a bypass wire at the control unit multi pin harness, in order to restore horn function! Since the vehicle was now worth stealing, I decided to use the unnecessary (in my opinion, which I will share in the next entry) clutch start safety switch circuit for installation of an anti-theft kill switch of my own design, to handle those duties.

Much All-Wheel-Drive Motoring Fun ensued for the next decade, with nary a breakdown! It made the weeding-out process completely worthwhile, for sure! Maybe one day I’ll commit that to print, too.

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 Two ...”

  • avatar

    That’s one car I would want a time machine for (Eagle Talon TSI AWD). Go back to the 1990s and buy one fresh and brand new before someone thrashes it.

  • avatar

    You, sir, are a mechanic after my own heart! I have done the same thing to more than one vehicle. Many if not most cases of electrical problems that I have come across in my 30 years of automotive work have been the result of poor-quality aftermarket wiring modifications.

  • avatar

    A friend bought a used (about 5 years old) Talon TSI AWD, red over silver from a used car lot in Phoenix. His brother in law worked there and told him about the “insanely fast” car they had taken in trade for an F150. Since he was in town, he decided to drive it, and after he did, he bought it and drove it back to Toledo. It WAS “insanely fast”. I always wondered what kind of power it made, once it got the turbo spinning, watch out, it was pretty scary, and would hit 100 very quickly. It would easily beat any stock Corvette from the late 90’s, actually just about anything, as long as you kept it straight, something that always was pretty difficult when it was fully wound up and the turbo was whistling. It had one of the loudest turbo whistles I’ve ever heard on a street car. After about three years of fun, the motor started using oil like crazy, and he took it to a local shop to be rebuilt, but it was destroyed in a fire a couple of days from being finished. It would have been even quicker than it originally was, according to the guy who was working on it. Instead of buying another one, and having it hopped up, he took the insurance check and put a down payment on a new ‘Vette. It wasn’t nearly as much fun as the Talon was.

    • 0 avatar

      I had a mid 90s Eclipse GS-T and they were “insanely fast” in their day. Stock they were 210 HP / 214 TQ, 0-60 in around 6.4 seconds. Third gear was good from 30 to 90 MPH easy because you were spooled up and fully in the boost then. As noted the big issues were torque steer and burning oil. My particular example (green with tan leather plus sunroof) blew the #3 cylinder twice under warranty. Its the only car I’ve ever owned that I keep a quart of oil stashed behind the seats because you never knew when you might need some just to make it home. Starting the car often reviled a small cloud of blue smoke… not good.

      As for alarms – I did the same trick: the clutch safety circuit was the perfect wire to tap because it was so simple. Clutch wire circuit not complete (grounded)? Car no start! I’ve installed car audio systems as hobby since the mid 80s and big stereo + alarm go hand in hand. When it comes to both installation is 90% of the final results. Complete garbage will sound/work fine if installed correctly. And the inverse is equally true: the most expensive kit in the world is junk when installed wrong. I too could have written a book on installations gone wrong that I had to fix. Including some vehicles that found their to me after FLAMES appeared inside the vehicle from ill advised attempts to add various 12V accessories (glass break sensors, remote pagers, headlight flashers, tilt sensors, cooling fans, amps, EQs, fog lights, etc)

      • 0 avatar

        I was hawking Toyotas in the early 90’s in the metro Atlanta area, and my favorite car to get in either as a trade or a used car eval was the turbo versions of the Diamond Star cars. Those things were freakin’ rockets, compared to the Celicas, MR2’s and Supras of the day. And yes, I’m speaking of the turbo versions of those cars.

        I’m with Principal Dan, if I could go back in time and get one from the early to mid 90’s, I would get one of the Diamond Stars.

  • avatar

    My brother had one of these alarms installed on his truck. My god what a pain in the ass. Always going off, loud and annoying. If you bumped the truck, it went off. If you went by it with a motorcycle, it went off. And it would destroy batteries like crazy, it needed a new one every few months.

    I often wonder why more people don’t have a fuel cutoff switch installed, instead of these pain in the ass alarms.

    Simple, reliable, doesn’t make a bunch of racket, doesn’t eat batteries, no weird electrical gremlins….

    Just a switch installed somewhere discrete only the owner would know.

    Thankfully, I rarely hear these alarms anymore at least on my street. People seem to have waken up to what a nuisance they are.

    • 0 avatar

      A guy I used to know made up something similar. He cut the leads to critical systems, like ignition, starter and fuel pump, and ran black wires from all of them to a one side of a multipin connector underneath the dash. The other side of the connector, which he took with him when he parked the car, had jumpers to complete the circuits.

    • 0 avatar

      I got tired of annoying car alarms 20 years ago, but still wanted a kill switch that would set itself automatically after I exited the vehicle without having to think about it.

      I would still wire up those alarms, but only to kill the fuel pump. No siren, no flashing lights, no door locks. Just silent, but deadly. Then I was free to hide the alarm under the rear seat or trunk.

      I would just intercept the power lead to the fuel pump right there and power the alarm off the same lead. Simple. Done. The car wouldn’t go anywhere until you disarmed it.

  • avatar

    Thanx for the humorous and informative writeup , the collected brain trust here makes for good reading , every time .


  • avatar

    This brings back memories, not of the Talon, but a first gen turbo Probe. Thing went like a bat out of hell when the turbo kicked in….and when the turbo kicked so did the torque steer….you could change lanes using the throttle.

    The early 1990’s was an interesting time for cars in Murica. Just about every car company offered a wrong-wheel-drive sport coupe, they all looked so much alike with the flip up headlights, and bulges in the hood to clear air boxes and strut towers. Most where fun to drive, and didn’t use too much gas. You’re never going to see that again. Kids who would buy cars like that don’t have the money and people who are too old and fat to climb down into such a car.

  • avatar

    How many of these alarms were added by the dealership at a huge profit along with the paint sealers, number etchings, road assistance clubs and the like? “it’s only a dollar and eighty nine cents per month added to your payment” the finance guy said.

    I remembering opting out of these add ons for both cars I bought in the 80s

    • 0 avatar

      The ’93 Chevy I factory ordered got a dealer installed system before I had a chance to stop them. I refused to pay for it and they “disabled” rather than removing it. Fast forward a few years and the original battery died. The system woke up and refused to let the truck start. I had to crawl around and physically remove it from the stock wiring.

  • avatar

    This brings back a lot of similar memories. I had similar alarm problems on an identical ’91 Talon TSi AWD. The car was unreliable as all get out but never failed to put a smile on my face. I miss it terribly.

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