Cars are expensive. Other than a house, perhaps, few purchases we make will compare to a new car. And just like any other expensive asset, a car brings with it a secondary cost — the risk of theft. In some laid-back parts of the world, locking the doors may be enough to ward off the threat. Everywhere else, it’s a good idea to arm yourself — and your car — with some security.
On the bright side, car thefts have been steadily decreasing in recent years; fewer than 1 million cars were stolen in the United States in 2009 [source: NICB]. That’s the lowest number in two decades, and car security has come a long way during that time period. For instance, more than 30 car models from General Motors come equipped with OnStar, a car safety device that provides everything from turn-by-turn navigation to stolen vehicle tracking and remote ignition blocking [source: OnStar]. Technological marvel that it is, OnStar’s just the tip of the iceberg — a bevy of high-tech car security systems track cars via GPS or radio, and can even kill the ignition from afar.
Modern security systems run the gamut from pre-installed helpful components like OnStar to top-of-the-line options like LoJack. Read on to learn about 10 amazing car security systems, including affordable everyday solutions, military Smartrucks and DNA-recognition systems straight out of the future.
OnStar may have the strongest advertising presence of any car security solution on the market. GM has successfully telegraphed the unique benefits of OnStar in its commercial campaigns: Much like the advertisements for Broadview Home Security, which feature its operators standing by to assist homeowners who’ve been burglarized, OnStar ads commonly depict helpful operators contacting drivers after an accident. But how does OnStar work, exactly?
OnStar systems operate over a digital cellular network in the United States, and its customers can contact the service 24 hours a day with the push of a button in their cars. Lost on some country back road? Connect with an advisor, and he or she will give you turn-by-turn directions to get you home. That’s one element of OnStar’s “three-button system” for communication. With an accompanying plan or pre-paid package of minutes, OnStar also provides hands-free calling with the push of the second button. The third button places an emergency call directly to an OnStar “Advisor.”
In a real emergency, such as a car crash, air bag sensors or other sensors built into an OnStar-equipped vehicle can automatically alert an operator to the condition and location of a vehicle, which OnStar then uses to direct emergency responders. But that’s an awful lot about emergencies; when it comes to plain old security, OnStar’s pretty impressive, too. OnStar can unlock your car if you lose your keys or honk your horn if you’re lost in the vast sea of a parking deck; the system tracks stolen cars via GPS, and operators can block the ignition of newer models and remotely slow them down during high-speed chases.
OnStar is far more than just a security system — it’s more of a comprehensive service system, and its mobile apps for iPhone and Android make features like remote door unlocking even easier. Comprehensive comes with a cost, of course — in OnStar’s case, that means $199 a year for a basic “Safe & Sound” plan or $299 a year for the “Directions & Connections” plan, which adds in turn-by-turn navigation.
LoJack is one of the most famous examples of car security that uses radio tracking to hunt down and recover stolen vehicles. Most tracking devices share the same principal: Small transceivers are hidden somewhere inside the car and can be tracked by an outside source tuned to the proper frequency. Because GPS receivers require line-of-sight to an orbiting satellite to acquire a positioning fix, systems like the LoJack have the advantage of tracking cars in some places GPS will fail.