‘False sense of security’: How to upgrade car alarms and prepare for possible break-ins

WTOP traffic reporter Steve Dresner, a familiar voice on WTOP’s daily broadcast, shares his experience — and lessons learned — after his car was broken into last week.

Why your car alarm may not be helping to prevent smash and grab thefts. (WTOP/Mike Murillo)

Last weekend, I joined the statistic of people who’ve had their vehicles broken into during the overnight hours.

My car was one of half a dozen vehicles in my Montgomery County, Maryland, neighborhood that had its windows shattered and property rummaged through.

I was lucky in that I never leave any valuables in my vehicle — and that includes in the trunk. In my case, the only damage was a broken window, a few missing glove box items and a messy interior.

That being said, the most important lesson from this experience I wanted to share with co-workers and the public is to please be careful about having a “false sense of security” when it comes to securing your car.

A technician restoring the rear window system following a break in. (WTOP / Steve Dresner)

When the alarm doesn’t alarm

After the break-in, I spoke with Terrence Glover, a master glass technician at Safelite who was repairing the windows. To my surprise, he said: “Most factory car alarms do not cover any rear windows.”

That means thieves can break into your car from its rear windows, or trunk, without tripping the alarm system that came from the factory.

Glover, who’s a 24-year veteran technician, said the latest pattern of break-ins features “thieves breaking the right-rear window and crawling into your vehicle to find valuables from electronics, coins, [money] and even medication.”

With this in mind, it’s apparent that any car owner would do well to research how much the factory alarm will actually protect their vehicle. Trust me, the results will surprise you.

Aftermarket solutions

Now for the big question: If your vehicle’s factory-installed alarm falls short of coverage, what are the options?

According to Glover, “Vehicle owners should look out [for] an ‘aftermarket’ system that covers all doors, windows, trunk and even has motion sensors that will alert the owner if someone touches the vehicle.”

It can be pricey. The average system can cost anywhere from $100 to $1000, depending on your coverage preferences. In addition, the installation could run an additional $200-$700, depending on the system and size of the vehicle.

If you do the math, a decent, reliable, newly installed alarm system could run a car owner between $700-$1500. Sometimes higher.

Is your alarm doing anything to stop your car from being broken into? (WTOP/Mike Murillo)

Is the cost worth the added protection?

According Glover, “We’re already in-season for break-ins, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s day or night. A theft can occur during the day, even during your lunch break right in front of your restaurant.”

“The people who are breaking into vehicles are smart and know how alarms work and certainly know what they can get away with,” he added.

Sometimes, no matter how good your alarm system is, there is simply no way to prevent a break-in. In that regard, a certain cliché may be worth remembering: Use common sense and don’t leave anything in your vehicle that you’re not willing to lose.

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