What Anti-Theft Equipment Might Your Car Have?

Four pieces of theft-deterrent tech your vehicle could already be equipped with.

Man in driver's seat of Chevrolet vehicle presses OnStar button above rearview mirror.Chevrolet

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Thanks in part to advances in technology, modern vehicles are generally more difficult to steal than their older counterparts. The level of anti-theft protection vehicles leave the factory with, however, can vary greatly by automaker.

If you aren't sure what your vehicle has installed, consider consulting your vehicle's owner's manual or a dealership for specifics. There's a variety of theft-deterrent tech that may not be on your car, ranging from noisy alarms to motion sensors.

Engine Immobilizers

Although it costs less than $20,000, the current Mitsubishi Mirage comes equipped with keyless entry and an engine immobilizer. This tech isn't complicated, but it can make the Mirage harder to steal than vehicles with only door locks and a unique key. The simple immobilizer tech could have, for example, helped prevent the recent wave of Kia and Hyundai car thefts, which were made possible in part by a lack of immobilizers.

Engine immobilizer tech consists of a key or fob with a special transponder chip that communicates with a sensor somewhere in the car. If the car senses that the right key is in the ignition (or just in the car), it will give the go-ahead to start the engine.

Car Alarms

Just because your car has a remote key fob doesn't mean it has an alarm. Basic remote keyless entry systems are a way to unlock the doors without having to insert the key in the door. They don't necessarily double as alarm systems.

Key fobs that do come with an alarm will typically sound the horn, a siren, or the lights — or some combination of the three — if they've been armed and a door is opened.

Alarms are attention-getters. Even the most hardened pedestrian will probably look in the direction of a car with its alarm blaring. Many alarm systems will also activate a blinking light on the car's dashboard when they're engaged, which could dissuade potential car thieves from touching your vehicle.

Glass-Breakage and Motion Sensors

Sophisticated sensors can "listen" for the sound of glass breaking, not just a door being opened up. They'll then honk the horn or blare a siren, similar to an alarm that sounds when a car door is opened during a theft.

If a car thief doesn't want to go through the hassle of driving off in your car, they may try to tow it. Some higher-end cars have interior motion sensors that can detect when a vehicle's position has changed, such as when it has been attached to a tow truck. Some of these motion sensors also can tell when someone is inside a vehicle, though these can be temporarily disabled.

Telematics Systems

Many new cars are available with a telematics system consisting of cellular and GPS antennas. These pieces of tech provide myriad functions, including the opportunity to track the vehicle and send an alert when its alarm has been activated. While they don't prevent theft on their own, their mere presence could be enough to scare off some would-be thieves.

General Motors' OnStar system is the great-grandparent of these systems, which are commonly serviced by SiriusXM Connected Vehicle Services. Working with law enforcement, OnStar can track and slow down a stolen vehicle to help officers recover it more easily. If a thief turns off the vehicle, OnStar can also prevent it from being restarted.

Telematics systems usually include a basic trial period with a new (and sometimes certified pre-owned) vehicle purchase, but they will generally incur a regular subscription fee after that.

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Mark Hacking
Mark Hacking is an award-winning writer with over 20 years’ experience covering the automotive scene for some of the leading publications in the world. Mark holds an FIA International Race License and has his sights set on competing in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in the future. He was the first automotive journalist to race in the Ferrari Challenge Series (in 2013) and the Jaguar I-PACE eTrophy Series (in 2019).