Security systems to protect you against vehicle crime

While some cars appear to be more of a theft or hijacking risk, crime is ‘indiscriminate’ and affects all motorists…

Vehicle crime in South Africa is rife and the types of vehicle crime is extensive. From smash-and-grabs, to hijackings and remote signal jamming, the chances are that you or someone you know has fallen victim to some of these crimes.

“Unfortunately, vehicle crime has become very prevalent in South Africa to the point that many people even joke about hijackings, vehicle theft or smash-and-grab incidents,” says Arrive Alive.

“People will often also speak of certain ‘high-risk’ cars and they may even avoid buying certain cars because they are afraid of the potential hijack or theft risk.”

Arrive Alive notes that while some cars appear to be more of a theft or hijacking risk, crime is ‘indiscriminate’ and affects all motorists.

Security systems to protect you against vehicle crime

So what can you do to protect yourself against vehicle crime? Well, fortunately there are a number of security systems that your vehicle might already have. A good step is to get to know exactly what these are, and to ensure that they are in good working order. Arrive Alive mentions the following security systems to take note of…

Car alarm

The first important system is the car alarm. Most alarms are linked to the car doors and the alarm will sound if the vehicle is locked and someone opens a door. The car doors will normally include the boot and bonnet as “doors”, but it is important that you ask the local dealer about this.

Car alarms are rated in two ways. Aftermarket systems, which you fit at a dealer or alarm specialist, will normally have a VESA rating. VESA is the Motor Vehicle Safety Association of South Africa, which grades alarms and other vehicle safety systems based on their complexity and efficiency. You should speak to your insurer about the VESA level that is required for aftermarket alarm systems.

If the system was fitted to a new car by the manufacturer, then it will be rated by the SA Independent Accreditation Services (SAIAS) on its Vehicle Security Systems (VSS) scale. Each manufacturer submits the details of its vehicles’ security systems to SAIAS and this rating is available to the vehicle manufacturers, insurers and the police.

You may also be able to get your vehicle’s VSS rating from the insurer, and the insurer will be able to tell you if the vehicle is secure enough according to the industry standard for that type of vehicle.

Motion sensors

A motion sensor is normally linked to the car alarm and will trigger the alarm if it senses any movement inside a locked car. This is helpful in cases where someone breaks a window to steal something from a parked car but does not open the door to trigger the alarm.

Not all cars are fitted with a motion sensor and it is usually only fitted to more expensive vehicles or the more expensive models of a range of vehicles. This is very important because even though you may read that a specific model undergoing a road test has a motion sensor or you see it in a similar car to yours, you should still ask the dealer if your model has that sensor fitted.

Safety film

Safety film (also called smash-and-grab protection) is a thin, durable and translucent film that is fitted on to your side windows to make them less likely to break in the case of a smash-and-grab attack or when someone tries to break the window of your parked car to steal something.

This film is most often fitted as an optional extra but considering how often smash-and-grab incidents happen it is a good idea to fit this film into your car.

Vehicle tracking systems

Most vehicle tracking systems will only engage if the vehicle is moving and presumed stolen. Some may have a level of complexity that shows if the alarm is sounding or it may even detect attempted theft.

If you fit a tracking system, make sure to speak to your insurer about its preferred system and what level of protection is required for your type of car. It is also a good idea to ask for a discount on your insurance premium if you have a tracking system fitted.

Other safety equipment

Your vehicle should be fitted with the most basic security systems. These include microdot VIN-information, which is now required by law on all new cars, door locks (sometimes double locks) and a steering lock.

The latter locks your steering wheel and prevents it from turning. You can engage this lock by removing the key and moving your parked car’s steering sideways until you hear it lock. To unlock, you will insert and turn the key and wiggle the steering wheel to unlock it.

Also read: 5 safety tips for women on the road 

Microdots, or datasets, are microscopic dots with your vehicle information number (VIN) embedded. It is sprayed in many hard-to-reach places across your car and it allows the police to identify stolen vehicles quickly with the help of a special lamp.

Being vigilant is the best protection

If you spend any time on the Internet or social media chat rooms, you will find people complaining that their cars have been stolen and that it was “too easy” for the criminals to get away with his or her car. They will blame the manufacturer for making security systems that do not work or for leaving loopholes for the criminals to exploit.

While some cars are certainly more secure than others, all the modern vehicle manufacturers have to comply with national and international standards and with the VSS rating system. This means that their cars are secure and safe, but it certainly does not mean that their cars cannot be stolen.

Most of the local vehicle manufacturers, notably Toyota, Volkswagen, Nissan, Ford, Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Isuzu, have local teams that can study crime patterns and which will make updates to security systems if they see that criminals are exploiting a security weakness.

Unfortunately, these changes take time because they have to be tested, for security, durability and perhaps even crash safety. At the same time, criminals will adapt their methods to the new security system and sadly many of the changes will only last for a while before criminals wise up to them.

With this in mind, you should take the responsibility of securing your vehicle and the goods inside it.

For instance, do not park in a dark area where there are limited traffic and no lights. While you may have an alarm and even a motion sensor, criminals have been found to break open body panels to cut battery power or alarm wires and it is very difficult for any manufacturer to fully protect a car against a committed criminal with a crowbar and no concern for the damage he causes.

At the same time, it is very important to hide any personal items of value out of sight of prying eyes.

Put your GPS and Prada sunglasses under your seat, hide your laptop in the boot and make sure you cover everything. Some people even lock their laptop to the ISOFIX child seat anchor with a Kensington lock if it is stored in the boot or on the back seat.

When you lock your car, make sure to check if the car is in fact locked. A car will not signal that it is locking if there is a signal jammer, but it doesn’t hurt to test the door handle and check. If your car doesn’t want to lock, you can lock it with the physical key, but double check with your dealer that the alarm activates if you lock the car in this way. Otherwise, simply move the car elsewhere.

Lastly, consider beefing up your car security. This is very important if your insurance provider indicates that you do not meet the security standards.

But even if you meet the basic standards, it may be prudent to add a motion sensor, smash-and-grab film or a signal scanner protector to your list of vehicle security systems. If you do fit additional equipment, make sure to check with your vehicle manufacturer if the additional equipment affects your vehicle warranty in any way.