Car Alarms: Are They Any Good?
Are car alarms of any use?

Car Alarms: Are They Any Good?


It is debatable whether car alarms are as effective as they claim to be. They may even be a liability.

By Ivan Kibuka-Kiguli
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First published: March 1, 2008


A car alarm is an electronic device installed in a vehicle in an attempt to deter any unauthorized persons from taking the car. Most car alarms work by blaring loud sounds (usually sirens, klaxon, pre-recorded verbal warnings, the vehicle's own horn, or a combination of these) when triggered. They can be triggered by vibrations, tilting the car, touching the car, opening or closing special switches (e.g. door, boot, bonnet and sunroof contacts), rapid changes in battery voltage (which might indicate an interior light being activated or turning the ignition), or through the use of ultrasound, infrared or microwave sensors.

The advantages of owning a car alarm are quite obvious. It warns the owner and other people in the locality of the car when an intruder attacks it. If of sound quality and fitted well, a car alarm can scare away such intruders and stop them from messing with or damaging the car further. Most opportunistic intruders will leg it when a car alarm goes off. Some car alarm systems now come with such extras as remote door/boot locking/unlocking – convenient for most users but often misused by some Ugandans who like to show off. Usually, the car locks when the system is armed and unlocks when it is disarmed.


Car alarms do not make cars 100% safe from car thieves. They can neither stop a burglar from breaking the window and stealing that laptop left on display nor prevent him/her from taking the wing mirror. Some basic models can be defeated simply by disconnecting the car battery (although the siren might initially sound when the car door and bonnet are opened to achieve this) and the intruder will be free to steal whatever he wants from the car quietly.

Poor quality car alarms that are installed poorly and made so sensitive often make false alarms and become a nuisance. Not only does this annoy the neighbours (who may damage the car in revenge) but it also drains the car battery. A car with an alarm and a flat battery is not of much use. It is also possible for a car to be remotely opened by its owner without realising it. To a passing opportunistic thief, this is like manna from heaven. Most car alarm fobs (remote control units) come with an 'emergency' button that allows the user to set off the siren if they feel threatened. This helps attract the attention of any passersby to rescue the driver. This option is sometimes abused by drivers, say, to quickly locate their car in a crowded parking lot. This writer once naughtily resorted to using this switch when he could not find his car in near-blizzard conditions…

Most recent car alarms, especially those fitted by car manufacturers in their factories have become too strong to be defeated even by determined car criminals. If such a criminal really wants your car, he will try either breaking into your house or carjacking to get access to your car keys and therefore the car itself. Instead of protecting your car, a car alarm can endanger your life this way.

So, are there any alternatives to car alarms? You bet there are. Most car manufacturers now fit silent but very effective electronic immobilizer systems to most models. Some owners fit tracking systems to their cars (or fleet) which can locate a stolen vehicle anywhere on the surface of the earth via satellites. Even the common steering wheel lock that most drivers ignore to engage when they park can very ably save your car from a thief.

Thieves usually like easy pickings. The more difficult it is to access a car, the less likely a thief will be interested in it. Therefore, common sense actions like always parking a car in a garage when available overnight and not parking in isolated spots help. Perhaps it is also helpful to avoid purchasing a car model that is very popular with thieves. Some Ugandan drivers always leave the car keys with attendants when they take their cars for valeting and go away for hours. In the mean time, criminals access the keys and make copies, ready to pick the car from the driver's favourite parking spot when he/she next makes it convenient for them to do so.

By Ivan Kibuka-Kiguli
more from author >>
First published: March 1, 2008
The author is a pollution control equipment engineer/consultant and a proud active member of UGPulse.