What Car Thieves Think of the Club

In the SuperFreakonomics chapter on global warming, we describe pollution as a negative externality, a cost that is generally borne by someone other than the party producing the waste. In so doing, we discuss the difference between two anti-theft devices for cars, the Club and LoJack. Because LoJack is a hidden device and thieves cannot therefore know which cars have it and which don’t, it cuts down on overall theft. Which means it produces the rare positive externality. The Club, meanwhile, works in the opposite manner:

The Club is big and highly visible (it even comes in neon pink). By using a Club, you are explicitly telling a potential thief that your car will be hard to steal. The implicit signal, meanwhile, is that your neighbor’s car – the one without a Club – is a much better target. So your Club produces a negative externality for your non-Club-using neighbor in the form of a higher risk that his car will be stolen. The Club is a perfect exercise in self-interest.

Having read this passage, a man named Jim Burns wrote in with an interesting background story:

Back in the ’90s, I was working as a design engineer for Chrysler. I had responsibility for key cylinders and door latches. At that time auto theft rates in Europe were increasing and driving the insurers to put pressure on the Euro governments to require increased theft deterrence devices on all new cars. As part of our attempt to figure out where best to invest our design dollars, we hired some professional car thieves to provide a more hands-on perspective than us engineers had (well, maybe not all of us).

At some point, the Club was mentioned. The professional thieves laughed and exchanged knowing glances. What we knew was that the?Club is a hardened steel device that attaches to the steering wheel and the brake pedal to prevent steering and/or braking. What we found out was that a pro thief would carry a short piece of a hacksaw blade to cut through the plastic steering wheel in a couple seconds. They were then able to release The Club and use it to apply a huge amount of torque to the steering wheel and break the lock on the steering column (which most cars were already equipped with). The pro thieves actually sought out cars with The Club on them because they didn’t want to carry a long pry bar that was too hard to conceal.

Ah, the beauty of unintended consequences. And do not pass too quickly over the fact that a car company hires car thieves for consultation. If you are a businessperson, do you regularly engage those who wish to do you harm? If you are an intellectual, do you regularly sit down with those who wish to call you names?


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  1. Eric M. Jones says:

    A police detective friend of mine told me that car thevery would be easy to stop if anyone cared. The auto sales people (used and new) and one would suspect the insurance companies silently campaign again better approaches to car theft.

    The Club might work if the steering wheel were made of a 1/2″ hunk of hardened steel, but it is usually plastic with a steel wire inside. Easy to defeat.

    Surely tracking devices should enable us to find chop shops. When I lived in LA an auto recycling yard worked like crazy all night long. I wonder what they were doing?

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    • John says:

      “The Club might work if the steering wheel were made of a 1/2″ hunk of hardened steel, but it is usually plastic with a steel wire inside. Easy to defeat.”

      – Brilliant.. a 1/2″ hunk of hardened steel to drive into my chest during a frontal crash.

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  2. jeffreytg says:

    This makes sense but only with regards to so-called “professional thieves”. This rate of theft for Club equipped autos may or may not be higher than cars without the Club depending on:

    1. What percentage of cars are stolen by professional thieves?
    2. What percentage of cars are stolen by non professional thieves?
    3. At what rate are professional thieves encouraged by the Club?
    4. At what rate are non professional thieves discouraged by the Club?

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  3. jonathan says:

    Your chapter also left out the more obvious point that doesn’t require technical skill of thievery: the club is a sign that the car doesn’t have an immobilizer or other anti-theft device built in. It’s an advertisement that the only thing the thief needs to overcome is this simple device. I learned that years ago from talking to cops.

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    • Bob Watkins says:

      Here in the Memphis area this would be giving the local thugs too much credit. They are mostly stealing for the hell of it and are going to take the easiest one. I used the club on a show worthy El Camino for 7 yrs and had zero attempts while several friends had their mommy vans stolen.

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  4. Rich Wilson says:

    “If you are a businessperson, do you regularly engage those who wish to do you harm?”

    I think that’s a poor analogy. Car thieves aren’t trying to harm anyone, they’re trying to steal a car. I think the car companies sat down with someone who could help their business. I would hope an intellectual would be willing to sit down with someone who had criticisms of their position.

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  5. Sushi says:

    Most modern vehicles now have electronic ignition locks with, I believe, an RFID chip in the key.

    This makes them very difficult to hotwire and steal by driving away (although they could still be rolled onto a flatbed and taken to a chop shop).

    I would like to see a Freakonomics analysis of whether car theft has declined because of these chips and, if so, why insurance rates haven’t fallen accordingly.

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  6. Yasha says:

    Further to #2, I figure if a pro wants my car, he’s going to get it regardless. So I have a Club, which I use to make my car less desirable to non-pros.

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    • Cameron says:

      You’re assuming that “non-pros” don’t use the strategy outlined by the pros in this article. I don’t think your Club is fooling ANYONE into thinking your car is protected. A fake sticker for an alarm system will probably do you more good. The Club will not really slow your vehicle’s theft, and can actually make your car seem MORE desirable to opportunistic thieves who haven’t come prepared with a crowbar for the steering column, not to mention alerting the criminals to the fact that the only protection your car has is a piece of metal poorly connected to your plastic steering wheel.

      If you want to protect your car from theft, install a killswitch for your ignition. It doesn’t allow the car to be started unless the switch is pressed. Mine is mapped to the AM/FM button on my stereo :)

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      • Phil says:

        Great idea! what’s the make/model of your car and wherebouts you from? 😉

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  7. cjc says:

    @Eric M. Jones

    Making the steering wheel a “1/2″ hunk of hardened steel” is probably a safety hazard. Like anything else here, you’d have to consider whether reducing the chances your car is stolen is worth an increase risk of severe injury or death in the event of an accident.

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  8. Ray says:

    “And do not pass too quickly over the fact that a car company hires car thieves for consultation. If you are a businessperson, do you regularly engage those who wish to do you harm?”

    Car thieves don’t want to do “harm” to car companies; they want to steal cars. If anything, car companies stand to benefit somewhat from theft. For every stolen car, there is an owner who needs a new car. Heck, an argument could be made that car companies would benefit more by making cars easier to steal.

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  9. hmmm... says:

    “If you are a businessperson, do you regularly engage those who wish to do you harm?”

    It is also worth considering that perhaps those who wish you harm will not give you true advice! If I was a car thief hired by a car company I would loudly dismiss any prevention measure that worked and supply a glib story about how bad it is, hoping that it would become an urban legend and do away with the offending device.

    Just saying….

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  10. Quill says:

    Lots of (somewhat) reformed hackers work for security and computer companies. Journalists regularly interview (or field calls) from people who obviously loathe them. And then there are the poor customer service reps, who are hated by everyone.

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  11. Brooke says:

    Rich Wilson #4,

    I don’t see that they’re the same thing at all. Trivializing car theft by saying it “doesn’t harm anyone” is pretty callous. Of course the theft of a large (and often valuable) possession hurts its owner! It’s not the same as being assaulted or murdered, but it still represents the loss of an asset and increased difficulties in going about normal life.

    Sitting down with someone to discuss a difference of opinion is hardly the same thing as hiring a former criminal as a consultant. The act of disagreeing usually doesn’t harm anyone physically or financially. Hiring people who engaged in illegal behavior for the purpose on consulting about that kind of behavior is a bit more of a gray area. While it’s great to get insight into their motives and methods, it’s still rewarding someone for criminal behavior.

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  12. Kent says:

    @Eric (#1):
    No, it still wouldn’t work. A former car thief once told me that all he did was pour a little liquid nitrogen on the lock and shatter it with a hammer.

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    • Cameron says:

      Yeah, but how many car thieves are going to lug around a Dewar container full of liquid nitrogen? At that point, the thief is better off finding a car that hasn’t been Club’ed. But an all-steel steering wheel is stupid- sure, it might prevent a few car thefts per year, but it would also kill hundreds in car accidents.

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  13. Jorge says:

    When hiring professional thieves as consultants it is very important to keep an eye on the numbers and the hiring procedures. You don’t want to hire too many or you could end up like Wall Street…

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  14. bob johnson says:

    Eric, why would insurance companies “silently campaign against better approaches to car theft?”

    They pay out less when fewer cars are stolen.

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  15. Bruce Sanders says:

    In Illinois where I live they have just started to installing a large number of “Photo Enforced” stop lights where a picture is taken of your license plate if you run a red light and you are sent a ticket via mail. I wonder if anyone has studied what happens to driver behavior once these “Photo Enforced” stop lights are installed. Do fewer drivers run red lights that are NOT “Photo Enforced” out of fear that they may get caught by hidden cameras? During the transition time, do rear-end collisions increase because someone ahead of you is stopping for a red light they may not have stopped for before? Over the long run, do these “Photo-Enforced” stop lights improve safety or are they just a source of funds for the state

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    • bob says:

      Studies have shown that rear end collisions increase in intersections with photo enforced ticket systems. People slam on their brakes for fear of a ticket.

      There are also stories of the companies that “manage” the networks (they get a cut of the ticket revenue) changing the timing on the lights, shorter yellow lights.

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      • loop says:

        Perhaps stats prove more rear end collisions, but do stats show that cameras ALSO reduce t-bones and front quartering accidents? Gotta look at ALL of the stats.

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  16. Potato says:

    @Sushi, #5:

    Car theft continues, but now with immobilizers thieves look to steal the keys by breaking into people’s homes, snatching purses, or carjacking, rather than hotwiring the car in the driveway or parking lot.

    Also, theft coverage is usually a small part of the insurance premium — liability/medical coverage makes up the bulk of the cost.

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  17. Rich Wilson says:

    Brooke #11
    I didn’t say no harm was done. I was talking about intent. The intent of the thief isn’t to harm the car company. The customers of the insurance company (including the owner of the car) are certainly harmed.

    But sitting down with a car thief isn’t like sitting down with someone who calls you names. Sitting down with a car vandal is like sitting down with someone who calls you names. I think it’s an important distinction. The thief doesn’t hold you any ill will, so there’s no reason they won’t give you good advice if you pay for it.

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  18. Renter says:

    Years ago my car’s seats were stolen from my Celica, at the time a top target in the parts re-sale market. I facilitated a conversation between my insurance adjuster and mechanic in which the adjuster quoted a price for factory seats that seemed amazingly low. Upon checking the source, my mechanic discovered that my insurance company (still a major provider in California) was purchasing stolen parts to settle theft claims.

    Bob J. asks why better anti-theft is not in the insurance companies’ best interest. The answer is that car theft keeps the claims and repair industry in business and keeps those insurance premiums rolling in. Without theft, the insurance market would be much smaller.

    I have no answer other than to pay the absolute legal minimum for insurance and not to covet or become attached to things other people want to steal.

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  19. Bobby G says:

    White-hat hackers, Dubner. Many security-software companies keep hackers on retainer to constantly try to break down their protective software, and each time they do they instantly release an update that fixes the problem.

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  20. Kocsen Chung says:

    There’s a famous saying that says: keep your friends close, and your enemies CLOSER. This example of hiring thieves to actually know the flaws and effectiveness of car theft prevention systems sounds great! You get to know whats wrong and then you get to fix it!

    However, “If you are a businessperson, do you regularly engage those who wish to do you harm?”
    I believe this is a bad analogy. Car thefts don’t want to evoke harm, they want to STEAL the car.
    A somewhat better analogy would be two competitive markets trying to find out information of each other in order to maximize each individuals profitutility.

    Ultimately, the best way to handle this situation is by making sure that your overall revenue is greater than the effort (cost) that you put into the task. It should also be noted that externalities are to be accounted for. Lets say you want to talk to Competetive Industry #2 (you being Competetive Industry #1) to find out information about their price and possibly arrange something out. Its pretty easy to find out what your enemy wants by arranging a meeting and you might end up winning money if it all goes good. But if Competetive Industry #2 betrays you, and you face great losses, suddenly, a negative externality arises leaving you with the burden. — Applied to cars, the thieves may tell you all about how they steal cars professionally, but you never know if you have been told all about it or if they themselves are acting for their own good by lying.

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  21. Gary says:

    And if you are a climate scientist do you regularly engage your critics to sharpen your thinking?

    Not so far…

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  22. Peter says:

    Airbag theft is a crime that feeds on itself. Airbags seldom if ever malfunction, and if a car is in a collision severe enough to blow the airbags the car will almost always have to be junked. As a result, the only people who would need to buy replacement – stolen – airbags are people whose airbags have been stolen.

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  23. weca says:

    Gary #21

    Off-topic; gratuitous. But then, religious devotees and other proselytizers/propagandists rarely pass on an opportunity to beset heretics, even if it requires violating norms regarding civil discourse and calm discussion.

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  24. Michael says:

    Ahhh, the urban legend of the “thieves always easily bypass The Club.” “Someone talked to a couple of guys who stole cars, and that proves it.”

    Never mind the statistical reality that thieves – thousands, not just the few in the apocryphal story – by and large choose cars based on ease of theft. The kinds of cars protected by Clubs tend to be common and inexpensive – enabling a thief to quickly move on to another instead of wasting time with a hacksaw.

    And where is your supporting evidence from police, showing that the “hacksaw method” is real and anything close to widespread? Surely it must be out there. C’mon, you make your living at this and you can’t be bothered to RESEARCH??

    The Freakonomics anti-science drive continues. Your brand devalues every time you do this.

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  25. Ian Kemmish says:

    I don’t know about cars, but how’s this for an unintended consequence:

    There’s a house on the market near here that’s pretty much my dream house. I can afford to pay cash for it, and in the current market conditions, I stand a good chance of getting it for a good price.

    The one fly in the ointment? When I cycled past it a few weeks ago, there was a sign from a security company on the front gate. Now I’m not so sure…. why do they need to spend so much on security? Or is it a decoy? If I ask the current owner, will they tell me the truth?

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  26. superf88 says:

    13– funny

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  27. griff says:

    If manufacturers wanted car theft to decline, they would simply make sufficient spare parts. They deliberately create a market for stolen parts, because this allows them to charge more for the parts they do make. Always look at who profits.

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  28. Eric M. Jones says:

    @14- bob johnson:

    “They pay out less when fewer cars are stolen.”

    Perhaps, but their profits would soar!

    “Comprehensive Coverage” covers theft and while this is optional in most states, the car’s financing loan demands the theft-insurance coverage.

    If car theft were not a problem, repairs would cost more (stolen cars are used to repair damaged vehicles.) Insurance companies collect bigger premiums when there is a perceived or real problem. How do you think they got so big? Insurance companies (despite their TV ads) aren’t in it to be kind.

    My comments on the construction of steering wheels was only meant to illustrate how easily they can be broken. Yes, there are many reasons for the present-day construction. But the Club is not a good solution to car theft.

    When I lived in the city my battery would get stolen every seven years on average. Saved me the cost of disposal.

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  29. Jim says:

    “When I lived in the city my battery would get stolen every seven years on average. Saved me the cost of disposal.”

    Your car battery lasts 7 years?
    That is amazing.
    I think the “cost of disposal” (for the consumer) for an auto battery is now zero as they take your core in exchange when you buy a new one.
    If you do not have a core they CHARGE you extra. So the battery thieves are not saving you any money.

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  30. KarenS says:

    Ok, sounds like a topic for Freakonomics to investigate: Is car theft beneficial or detrimental to a) the auto companies, and b) auto insurers?

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  31. KarenS says:

    @ Ian Kemmish #25: Go ahead and buy that house. Don’t buy the house next door.

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  32. anomdebus says:

    RE: car thief motivations
    Car theives do not strictly want to “steal your car” instead of “harming you”. They want to make a living of their choice using the knowledge they possess. If you can provide them that living while keeping them legit, they will likely not need to steal your car (assuming they have the presence of mind to replace the adrenaline rush with something that just endangers themselves).

    25 – house alarm
    It is possible the current owner is inherently paranoid or previously lived in problem neighborhoods. You could ask tangential questions to try to uncover this.
    Also, if an area really is a problem, I would expect many of the houses to have security systems.
    You could also investigate crime reports in the area.. I thought I had found a Google maps mashup previously, but what I found during a quick search didn’t inspire confidence..
    Good luck.

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  33. Rich Wilson says:

    Nitrogen to break locks is another urban legend. The myth is common on bike U style locks, but Jobst Brandt tried to replicate the experiment and could not.
    A quick search shows all kinds of claims, but no videos of anyone breaking a U lock with liquid nitrogen. Until I see it, or have someone reputable state that they’ve been able to do it, I remain unconvinced.

    Hm, this would be a good one for the Mythbusters.

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  34. AaronS says:

    The only way to be 100% sure your car isn’t stolen is to drive a 1973 rusted-out Ford Pinto with scores of religious bumper stickers and bald tires.

    This has worked for me since…well, 1973.

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  35. Craig says:

    I think it would be more difficult than you think to determine how many Club-equipped cars are stolen. If you own one, and the police ask if you had it installed at the time, you might say yes, even if you didn’t, to avoid looking like an idiot (“you own one and didn’t use it?”).

    My use of the Club, when I had one, is probably typical: I used it diligently for the first few months, then after awhile I only used it when I was parked in a “bad neighborhood.” Eventually it wound up forgotten on the back seat, then in the trunk.

    The true indicator: How many stolen cars are recovered with either a Club shattered from liquid nitrogen, or with an intact Club but a cut steering wheel?

    I would guess almost none.

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  36. Jay Livingston says:

    “So your Club produces a negative externality for your non-Club-using neighbor in the form of a higher risk that his car will be stolen..” Is there any good evidence that supports this hypothesis? Or the hypothesis that Lojack is a good general deterrent? It’s possible that there’s a difference between what thieves actually do and what economists think they logically should do.

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  37. david says:

    Is the presence of a security systems even remotely related to crime in the neighborhood? My experience is that it is a lot more related to income (rich people with spare cash) than crime.

    And as far as the sign being a deterrent, the only stat I have seen is that houses with systems are 3 times less likely to be robbed. But that number doesn’t tell you the whole story as if only rich people in safe neighborhoods can afford the monthly fee, you would expect the crime rate to be low in those houses.

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  38. John says:

    Peter @ 12:50… No so. I’ve had two air bags go off in my cars and neither incident required more than a $300 bumper repair. Once was when a car hit my parked vehicle; the other was when a car spun into my front end after it had been t-boned in an intersection.

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  39. Daniel says:

    The one weakness with this article is the implicit assumption that most cars are stolen by “professionals”. Actually, most car thieves are rank amateurs – often teenagers or drug addicts just looking to make $20 profit on the “transaction”. These guys will likely be deterred by even the simplest anti-theft device as long as there is another car nearby without it.

    There is an old camping joke about two people about to be attacked by a bear. One puts on his shoes to run for it. His companion points out that a bear is faster than a galloping horse and there is no way he can outrun it. The first camper says, “I don’t need to outrun the bear. I just need to outrun you.” The same principal applies to protecting yourself from theft.

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    • Cameron says:

      I think the article used “experts” because of their extensive knowledge of common car theft techniques, not because they employed tactics that the “amateur” would not. In fact, the cut steering wheel solution seems very “amateurish”. When I, as a (mostly) law-abiding citizen who would never dream of stealing a car, notices a fatal flaw (the plastic steering wheel) in a security system (the Club), said system is probably not too secure.

      I always wondered why they make the Club out of such hard metal. They should make it out of the same material as a steering wheel…that way, if the vehicle is recovered after a theft, it at least still has an intact steering wheel.

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  40. hanmeng says:

    Speaking of engaging those who wish to do you harm–

    Hasn’t the government hired a bunch of Wall Streeters to deal with the economy?

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  41. R says:

    I think it’s stretching the concept of negative externalities a little too far to apply it to securing one’s own car. By that logic, every time a lock is used, that’s imposing a negative externality on someone else. And should be taxed???

    And on another note, Chrysler selling cars in Europe? I call BS!

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  42. Deuce says:

    I found your first commentor’s statement interesting: “…car thevery would be easy to stop if anyone cared…. When I lived in LA an auto recycling yard worked like crazy all night long. I wonder what they were doing?”

    Obviously he is among those who did not care.

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  43. Improved traction can be a positive externality--and blowouts are bad for everyone says:

    Dear AaronS –

    Appreciated the sally about driving a car that is dear only to you.

    I hope you’re joking about your bald tires, though.

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  44. donald says:

    Agree with the call for evidence as more reliable than “a guy told me that some other guy told him…”

    Here is a fact: according to the FBI the rate of auto theft has fallen by more than half since 1989.


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  45. SLEZE says:

    You don’t even need to freeze the club to break it open. Just take a small handheld sledge hammer and strike it on the end. It easily breaks right through the lock.

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  46. Bored says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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  47. Joshua Schmidlkofer says:

    To the people blithely complaining that a steering wheel should be made of 2″ steel, remember that CRASHING is a problem for passengers of a car. A steel wire will bend/flex and perhaps break. A thick steel-core steering wheel may be the death of you in a head-on card accident.

    Car theft isn’t the only game in town. Surviving the effect of a drunken driver is arguably more significant vs. car theft with respect to steering wheel design.

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  48. Baldemar Huerta says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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    • Democritus says:

      Typical Conservative response to an entirely non-partisan comment on an entirely non-partisan article.

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    • Mike says:

      Passing the problem on sounds more conservative than liberal to me as far as political affiliations go.

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  49. Andrew Ma says:

    Eric M. Jones #1

    Eric, a steering wheel of hardened steel might prevent that kind of theft prevention, but it might also be quite painful in a collision.

    Better a stolen car than a caved in chest cavity, head etc.

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  50. Tom says:

    “If you are a businessperson, do you regularly engage those who wish to do you harm?”

    What? If you’re trying to make your product more secure, don’t you think it’d be a smart idea to ask the guys who make a living by breaking your security?

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  51. Theophylact says:

    If you wanted to make a steering wheel relatively invulnerable to a hacksaw, you might use silicon carbide fibers as filler in the plastic. They’d probably take the teeth off the saw before it was a quarter of the way through the wheel.

    But this is overkill. How many cars are stolen this way, and how much would the additional manufacturing cost add to the price of each car?

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  52. Doug says:

    Car thieves have no intent to do harm to car manufacturers. Their only intent is to create gain regardless of the impact it has on the car owner, insurance company, or manufacturer. In this case, any harm done to the manufacturer by thieves is indirect and hiring them for consultation does harm to the thief, not the manufacturer.

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  53. J says:

    Dodges, Chryslers, and Jeeps are easier to steal- all it requires is a flathead screwdriver.

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  54. Michael B says:

    As a writer, do you regularly engage critics?

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  55. Dante says:

    True story:

    A car company hired several car thieves to attempt to break into their latest vehicle. An array of tools, from hacksaws to prybars, were available.

    While most of the theives struggled with the vehicle and eventually gave up, one thief stood back and watched.

    Finally, he walked over to the assortment of tools and selected a length of 2×4. He walked around to the front of the vehicle, and whacked the front bumper with the 2×4.

    The airbag deployed, and the doors automatically unlocked.

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  56. Jack says:

    So LoJack hit the market pretty heavily between 1990 and 1993. And strangely enough carjacking increased substantially between 1992 and 1996.

    That aside the whole “LoJack cuts down auto-theft” is simply a specious argument. LoJack claims 8+ million installs world wide which is less than 3% of the passenger vehicles in the US. A professional thief would know these odds, a non-professional probably doesn’t care. A statician would laugh at the author’s supposition of causality.

    LoJack (or onstar) may help recover your vehicle if it is stolen. A police officer in an area where they use lojack will tell you it is great because it allows them to actively recover a car. (As opposed to telling the victim they are probably SOL but they’ll keep their eyes open.) However, a cop’s subjective opinion on LoJack and crime stats is not a proof of anything.

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    • Cameron says:

      This is directly from the LoJack site’s FAG page:

      “Why is there no exterior marking on the vehicle stating it has LoJack? Wouldn’t a LoJack sticker act as a theft deterrent? LoJack is not designed to be a deterrent. One of the major benefits of the System is that LoJack is covert, thus a thief does not know whether or not your vehicle is equipped with LoJack.”

      Although I don’t think LoJack sells stickers, I know for a fact that knockoff products are available (I might have one on my laptop). The little piece of glue and plastic that is a security system sticker will do more to protect your car than the Club every would.

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  57. Jack Schwartz says:

    Auto theft could be cut back if people cared. Remember when stealing car airbags was all the rage? People were having their cars broken into and the airbags stolen. What happened to that? Did auto makers make them harder to steal? Were devices made to prevent it? Nope. Insurance companies stopped reimbursing body shops for used airbags. Told him they had to only install new ones. Problem solved.

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  58. Jim Burns says:

    I am the engineer who wrote the original comments. In over 30 years as an automotive engineer, this was the only time I know of that we ever used thieves as consultants. So, it was not something that we did ‘on a regular basis.’ I thought (and still do) that it was some clever out-of-the-box thinking that led to us doing so.

    What we ended up doing – in the ’90s – was creating ‘smart keys’ with transponders in them.. The transponders contain an algorithm that is queried by the engine controller. If the correct ‘answer’ is not received, the car will not start.

    We also found that thieves were using TV remotes with learning features to record the codes when a driver locked his car using the remote lock/unlock feature on many keys. They’d park next to the spot where someone regularly parked a car they wanted and turn on their remote’s learning function at the right time. To guard against that, we started using so-called ‘rolling codes’ that changed every time the car was locked. We knew we couldn’t keep the thieves out of the car (they can always break a window), so we focused on preventing them from being able to drive the car away.

    Of course, here in Detroit (and elsewhere, I’m sure), even those measures do not stop thieves who really want a particular car. They simply drive around with flatbed trucks with electric winches on them. Someone I know had his car stolen while parked downtown. When looking at the tapes from a nearby security camera, the car was there during one sweep of the camera and gone by the next.

    Another thing I’ve heard thieves do is troll through the parking structures at airports. When they see a family unpacking a bunch of suitcases, they can be pretty certain the family will be gone for awhile. They steal the car and then check the navigation system that so many cars have now and look for an entry called ‘Home.’ They use the GPS to find the vacationer’s house, drive the car there, and use their garage door opener to get into the garage. Once inside, they break into the house (assuming it is an attached garage) and take their time cleaning the place out.

    So, if you have a GPS on your car, you shouldn’t have an entry that says ‘Home.’

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  59. Ron says:

    Regarding whether or not it makes sense to sit down with criminals to ask:

    As the owner of a corporation, I can say that it absolutely makes sense to do this. You have a BIG problem. Namely, auto theft. It is your job to determine how to reduce this problem. You can either:

    A. Try to figure out all methods used by yourself through a slower process of trial and error.

    B. Consult those who actually know all known methods and add this to your own investigative measures.

    In my opinion, there is no reason why one would not use this edge to expand their knowledge of the other side in order to combat this problem.

    Secondly, regarding those who comment on that this is only known by “professionals”.

    Keep in mind that the word ‘professional’ implies only that it is done as a source of living. I’ve met and have spoken with a troubled teen who grew up on the streets of Detroit. He told me his story of how he was homeless and needed income, so he began stealing cars at a very young age. In order to do this, he had to know where the chop shops were and what they would take. (Incidentally, he mentioned that there was one on “nearly every corner”)

    Chop shops need kids like this young man to do what they do effectively. As a result, it was very easy for him to get up to speed on the ‘right’ ways to do things and know what to look for so he got paid.

    While it is easy for us to begin dreaming up some Oceans 11 situation when thinking of “professional thief”, the reality is, any 13 year old kid that needs money can figure it out very quickly!

    My $0.02

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  60. Daniel Tonkel says:

    WE HAVE ALREADY HAD ONE E350 VAN STOLEN AND WE HAVE JUST PURCHAESED A “NEW USED” ONE. Can you recommend a security alarm system for the van? Thanks so much.

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  61. Semper Fidelis says:

    Let us note: Although the thieves don’t want to carry a long pry bar that is too hard to conceal, they apparently are not averse to carrying around a hacksaw (equally incriminating as a pry bar) while they scout out likely targets for car theft.

    I think I’ll take my chances with “The Club” (or something equivalent) as my first line of defense against someone trying to steal my car. At the very least, while my car alarm is squealing in protest of the unauthorized entry into my car, hopefully either my neighbor or I will be alerted to the attempted theft in progress … and call the police.

    Maybe I’ll *also* get a LoJack installed in my car.

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  62. LongPurple says:

    Has anyone tried the “belt AND suspenders” approach? If you value your car highly, I think it would be a small additional expense to combine the Club and LoJack devices. Are any package deals offered by the marketing people of these two (competing?) firms?

    Such a combination could lead to more arrests of thieves who think the visible Club to be the only device in the car, at least until the word gets around.

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  63. yvonne says:

    I have one last year I lost my keys and a lock smith came & drilled out the key hole it has never worked again it slides I ire it for.looks. today I get in & its locked” how can that be?? It won’t budge!! It’s been cold & rainy th last two days? Can’t figure it out???

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  64. John Sunier says:

    I was going to list The Club as one of the extras on my old Camry I am selling; after reading this—guess not!

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  65. Alane Jewel says:

    No matter what criticism circulates, foremost The Club is a visual deterrent. Why select a car that takes more work to try and dismantle an antitheft lock? Thieves steal a car within 20 seconds. Messing around trying to cut steering wheels increase their risk of getting caught. Most Clubs are case-hardened metal, making them almost impossible to cut with bolt cutters or a hack saw. Using burglary tools is a felony in most states, so vehicle thieves want to use items that are common to find in someone’s pockets. Most won’t risk carrying a hack saw or bolt cutters with them. The Club LX and SUV Club have laser encrypted locks, which cannot be picked. Most of the other Clubs have double-sided keys. Double-sided keys are like normal keys, except that they have sets of teeth on the top and bottom. Thus, even though they look like normal keys, picking them is much more difficult.

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  66. Patrick West says:

    I use a club. I have a 2010 Toyota Corolla with an Toyota engine immobilizer. However in my area, Portland, Oregon, USA aprox one third of car -thefts are by non professionals (ie joy riders and people who are high and need transportation).

    They are they types who will break the driver’s side window and pound a screwdriver into the ignition key slot. Since I have Toyota engine immobilizer the car still won’t start but now I will have a broken window and messed up ignition key slot. These types of thieves will be deterred by the club.

    The professional car thieves can defeat a Toyota engine immobilizer, but won’t waste their time doing so on a low end Corolla, instead they will go for the Toyota Prius. In their case the club is ignored.

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  67. Xist says:

    When she refused to get insurance, I put Masterlock’s version of The Club on the car that I allowed my ex-girlfriend to drive. Somehow she removed it and resumed driving without insurance. A police officer said that if that were his car, he would repossess it.

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  68. Doug says:

    Interesting article and comments. I realize that no deterrent is a guarantee, but I have used a Club on several cars religiously, to include a couple that were considered very stealable (a 300 ZX Turbo, and Honda Civic EX 2 dr manual. Neither car was ever even attempted to be stolen or broken in to. I am not saying the Club was a worthy sentry, but it certainly didn’t hurt, and I feel likely was a good deterrent. I still use the Club. I think many owners just don’t want to go that extra mile to try to protect their 30k to 50k investments, there are many ways you can deter car theft, and I for one try to be wary where and when I leave my car, lock it, use the club, and lock stuff out of sight, etc. etc. I have never had a car stolen and owned many attractive ones.

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  69. zardac says:

    We live in a popular area for car thievery.

    Our first night in our new home- woke up the next morning- and our car was gone.

    We had a couple/three more cars stolen, and I finally started using the club… knowing the thieves would be undaunted and just cut the steering wheel.

    But they didn’t.
    We might just have a lazy unambitious pack of car thieves roaming around the pacific northwest, because they seemed unwilling to expend the energy to bypass the club.

    We have a lot of cloudy skies… our local lowlifes should consider taking vitamin D supplements.

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  70. Peter Brancato says:

    Back in the day when the Club was popular, it became clear to a few expert thefts to carry a can of Freon 12 better known now as (Freon 134a) and using the adapter spray nozzle to control the freeze of the metal on the club and then hit it with a hammer and watch it shatter into pieces. It took less than thirty five seconds.
    Not sure today if the design of the Club is different.

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  71. Johnny Calcutta says:

    The anti-theft industry has it all wrong.
    The best way to deter thieves is not by adding more hoops that thieves can jump through anyway. Why play by the thieves rules when you own the joint ? Change the game and guarantee that a thief will injure all by himself if he succeeds in getting inside your property. Just make sure he will be calling 911. Not to mention that any blood is DNA evidence that will freak a thief. It’s not that difficult to use a few ingeniously placed blades and sharp object to install a human trap. If there are dangerous concealed objects in a car, it is not endangering any law abiding person. Nobody is supposed to be in there. If some robber gets seriously hurt by “involuntarily playing” with your “tools inside your car”, who can stop him ? I cannot. Let them injure themselves, trying to stop them is the wrong way.

    It may not be practical on a regular basis, but for those time where you know you will be away from home for days and want to make sure your car will still be there when you return, setting a serious trap will stop the vermin.

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  72. Mark McGreevey says:

    I use the Club here in San Francisco on a 1993 Toyota Celica Convertible. The car doesn’t look tiptop because a drunk fellow of the lower orders slammed into its rear when parked. I got $4500 from the insurance, it was declared junk. I fixed the rear in a basic kind of way (yes, Bondo), and off I went and still am driving.

    This Club doesn’t even lock properly. I am convinced that just sliding it on to the wheel will slow down a lot of these roaming packs of low lifes because the easy theft is all that they can handle. Car alarms blast all times of the day and night and no one is listening. Well, they are–and complaining.

    Most of the cars in San Francisco are much newer and better looking. Tons of money circulating.

    That helps. But clearly anyone can break into any car, especially a convertible.

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