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

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

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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3 of 13 comments
  • Justice_Gustine Justice_Gustine on Dec 01, 2012

    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

    • Nikita Nikita on Dec 03, 2012

      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.

  • Tooloud10 Tooloud10 on Dec 02, 2012

    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.

  • Carlson Fan I think it is pretty cool & grew up with a '75 Ford window van so I can attest to their utility. $60K is a lot for any vehicle and I'm not convinced EV's are ready for prime time for a number of reasons. It would make an awesome 2nd or 3rd vehicle in a multi-car household but again the price would keep most from considering it.I agree with the other comments that those who have to have it will buy it and then sales will drop off. Offer a panel version for the commercial market, that could have possibilities.
  • Wjtinfwb Panther Black? or Black Panther? Shaped like a decade old Ford detectives sedan? Seems like an odd way to send out your marquee car...
  • Kwik_Shift Instead of blacked, how about chromed? Don't follow the herd.
  • Carlson Fan Nicest looking dash/gage cluster ever put in any PU truck. After all these years it still looks so good.
  • Wheatridger Correct me if I'm wrong, but has the widescreen digital dash usurped the space formerly occupied in every other car by an HVAC vent? I see one prominent vent well right of center, where there should be two. I rely on twin driver's side vents to warm my hands on cold mornings, and I wouldn't give that up for more screen area.