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. 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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  2. 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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  3. 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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  4. 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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  5. 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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  6. 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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  7. 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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    • 2015msgs@gmail.com says:

      Excellent points.. I know of a thief who cut himself just sitting siting on a car’s broken window glass; leaving DNA.. I agree many prefer not to risk leaving DNA and prints.

      Now its become easy to install a covert video camera.. Knowing their identity is very empowering.

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  8. 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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