You might not believe it, but car alarms have been annoying people for over 100 years. In fact, the first car alarm was invented in either 1913 or 1918, depending on the source. It emitted a loud siren when someone tried to crank the engine. The concept of thwarting theft with a siren still drives much of today’s car alarm technology – simply fill the environment with a noise that screams “look over here” so a thief either abandons their pursuit or is witnessed. On the surface, it’s a very logical approach to protecting your car. Baddies generally prefer to do their work in anonymity.
However, the siren calls of car alarms have become little more than sound pollution for most people. We rarely pay any serious attention to the noise, except to wonder when the owner is going to turn it off. This is because over 99 percent of car alarms are false alarms. Someone accidentally bumped into it. There was a large gust of wind. A cat walked across the trunk. A particularly nefarious leaf fell on the hood. You get the idea. These are all more likely to set off your car alarm than an actual bad guy. In fact, some studies have shown that thieves have used car alarms to mask the sounds of other crimes. At 120 dB, these noises easily provide good cover for breaking glass.
So why buy a car alarm? As with most security systems, if it provides peace of mind, it’s worth it. Still, most car alarms today come with additional features that can add contemporary luxuries to older vehicles such as keyless entry and keyless start.
Best Car Alarm With Remote Start
Every traditional car alarm has one thing in common: a blaringly loud 120 dB multi-stage siren that’ll wake half of your neighborhood at 3 a.m. when a raccoon decides to nap on your hood. The cost of a car alarm with a keyless start can range from $50 to over $200. It isn’t impossible to install one on your own, but it may prove to be too complicated for most people because it involves complicated electrical work.
Car alarms with keyless remote start are the most valuable on the market because they provide a significant luxury as one of their main features. Being able to start your car from your living room means you don’t have to freeze on your way to work in the winter, assuming you don’t mind letting your car idle until the interior warms up.
The Viper 5706V is the best car alarm with a remote-start feature in our review because of its comprehensive security alerts, long-range remote and compatibility with Viper’s SmartStart line of products. With Spread Spectrum Technology, the two-way Responder LC3 remote has a 1-mile range and an LCD screen that shows easy-to-read priority alerts. If you’re looking for peace of mind, the Viper 5706V is the best option.
Best Affordable Car Alarm
There’s no need to spend over $100 on a car alarm if you don’t want a keyless remote starter. For under $50, you can get a car alarm system that provides the same blaringly loud siren and also comes with keyless entry.
We looked at all the most popular car alarms below $50 and considered the available features such as keyless entry, starter interrupt and a long range. These car alarms are generally very simple, designed to do little more than make lots of noise and allow you to unlock your car with a fob.
The best affordable car alarm is the Avital 3100LX. While it lacks the two-way, long-range remotes of more expensive car alarms, it features a warn-away feature, a six-stage alarm, a fault-proof starter interrupt and a keyless entry. When it comes to simple security systems designed to assault would-be thieves with noise, the Avital 3100LX is one of the most popular and highly rated car alarms on the market, and it costs less than $50. For value, it clearly beats out car alarms at a similar price, like the Pyle PWD701 and the ScyTek A20.
Best Motorcycle Alarm
Motorcycle alarms work on the same premise as car alarms in that they’re designed to thwart would-be thieves by emitting a loud siren and drawing attention to the perp. There are two types of motorcycle alarms: multi-sensor alarms and disk lock alarms. The former requires a one-time installation and uses a complex set of tilt sensors, current sensors and shock sensors to protect the motorcycle. The latter attaches to the disk on the wheel after you park your motorcycle, rendering the bike un-ridable until you remove the alarm. These typically only have one 360-degree sensor, but they are cheaper, though the constant on-and-off installation is a headache. Both types, however, are built with a high level of water-resistance since they’re out in the elements.
The best motorcycle alarms are outfitted with powerful flashing lights that activate with the alarm, which adds to the visibility of the bike at night. When at rest, these security systems also feature a warning light that flashes to indicate an alarm.
Bikers are arguably more devoted to their rides than most car owners. The Gorilla 9100 provides the same level of security as some of the best car alarms on the market, but for your bike. Similar to car alarms like the Avital 3100LX or the Python 5706P, this alarm also comes with a 120 dB siren and a two-stage shock sensor, but it also features a tilt sensor, an electrical current sensor and LED warning lights. In addition, with its two-way pager remote, you receive alerts even when you’re out of hearing range. When it comes to protecting your motorcycle, the Gorilla 9 series is the best alarm available.
Best Car Tracker
If having a traditional car alarm isn’t appealing to you, you should consider a car tracker. The most popular brand of car trackers is LoJack, which has been around since the mid-1980s. The idea behind a car tracker is to install a GPS device that can track where your car is, helping law enforcement retrieve your vehicle when it’s stolen. LoJack, for example, works directly with police and boasts of a 90-percent recovery rate. However, LoJack is typically installed by an official dealer and costs upward of $700.
Fortunately, technology has advanced to make car trackers more affordable and easy to install in most cars. These trackers, which cost between $20 and $100, plug into the OBD connector in your car (which is standard in every car since 1996). The device syncs to an app on your phone to provide alerts for suspicious activity. In addition to alerts, these car trackers often provide reports on your engine’s performance and other specifics such as reckless driving, sharp corning, unsafe acceleration, harsh braking and more. You can even set them to alert you when a driver exceeds a specified speed or leaves a specified area. In other words, if you have a teenager who’s learning to drive, the best car trackers also help you monitor their driving habits and whereabouts.
If a noisy car alarm doesn’t appeal to you as an anti-theft device, the CarLock might be the answer. Similar to the Viper SmartStart GPS system, this GPS tracking car security system alerts you of suspicious activity without waking up your neighbors. If a thief takes off with your car, the GPS tracks it, allowing you to send police after your car with ease. The CarLock also tracks driving habits, allowing you to receive alerts for other drivers, such as your teenage children, and provides feedback on the car’s performance. With a subscription cost below $10 a month, the CarLock is the best car tracking device.
Our Process: How We Evaluated, What We Found
With so many different aftermarket alarms and car trackers available, we started by looking at the best manufacturers. We then created comparable price ranges for each recommendation so that the products are as close to an apples-to-apples comparison as possible. For example, a $200 car alarm with remote start is going to have a lot more features and is probably better manufactured than a $50 car alarm with remote start. After choosing products for each group of car alarms and security systems, we compared the following:
Popularity & Affordability
Is it possible for little-known brand to be better than the most popular brand? Sure. But consumer trends are a great indication of a product’s reliability, value and overall success at delivering on its purpose. If a product has a good reputation and sells a lot more than its competitors, there’s usually a good reason. This also allowed us to balance the cost with consumer responses to gauge overall value – is the product worth the price, or will another one achieve the same results for cheaper?
While we didn’t base our evaluations solely on popularity and affordability, this was an important step in separating the best from the merely good.
We read hundreds of user reviews for each product we considered. We wanted to hear what people loved and hated about each one. By doing this, we spotted trends in the reviews. If a car alarm is too sensitive or has an exceptionally annoying siren, it will be mentioned often in the reviews.
We looked for features that set the product apart from other similar devices. Most car alarms are shockingly simple, so it can be difficult to delineate between the best brands and the worst ones.
Finally, we compared the most important specifications listed by the manufacturer. This includes the range of the remote, the number of alerts you can receive and the types of sensors used to detect vibrations.
Car Alarm Security Systems: Installation
Car security systems might come with installation instructions, but that doesn’t mean you should attempt to install them yourself. These systems, especially those with a remote start feature or keyless entry, integrate with your car’s electrical system, among other things. So, unless you’re extremely confident in your technical aptitude to figure out your car’s electrical wiring, it’s best to have a professional install the alarm for you.
Most car alarm systems are purchased directly from a dealer, which typically includes the installation. However, if you purchase a car alarm online, you should look for an MECP-certified dealer to install the system. MECP stands for Mobile Electronics Certified Professionals. This certification shows that the dealer understands your car’s computer and electronics system and demonstrates its technicians understand industry standards and techniques as well as how automotive technology, entertainment, navigation, safety and security systems function. In other words, an MECP-certified installer won’t mess up your car.
Car Alarms: Anti-Theft Tips
Baddies don’t indiscriminately pick cars to steal or break into. They choose cars because the vehicles are easy targets with as little risk as possible. Don’t be an easy target.
Here are some tips to keep you from being a victim:
Use Common Sense
Don’t make it easy on the baddie by leaving your doors unlocked, windows open, car running or a second set of keys under the visor. Evaluate your parking habits and eliminate ones that make it easy for a thief to target your vehicle.
Don’t Leave Valuables in Plain Sight
Leaving valuables out where anybody can see them when casually walking by your car is practically daring someone to break in. If a thief sees a laptop, they probably won’t think twice about breaking a window, grabbing the item and taking off. An alarm makes little difference. You could be in a gas station get a soda and a candy bar while your Mac takes off down the street. Just be aware of what’s visible inside your car. If it’s valuable, put it in your trunk.
Park in Well-Lit, Public Areas
Car thieves don’t want to draw attention, for obvious reasons. If possible, always park in areas that have bright lights and high foot traffic. If there are a lot of potential eyes near the car, the thief will likely move on to an easier target.
Display Your Alarm System
Make sure your car alarm has a flashing light and window decals. Again, make your car a difficult target. If the baddie sees your car has an alarm, they’ll probably move on to an easier target. In fact, you can purchase car alarm and GPS tracking decals online for a few dollars. Even if you don’t have the security system, a car thief is not likely to risk it.
Adding a dark shade to your windows can make it difficult for thieves to easily spot what’s in your car. To see through tinting, a potential thief has to peer intently into the interior of your car, which increases the chances others will notice the nefarious behavior. Of course, you need to make sure your window tinting falls within your city’s and state’s laws concerning how dark it can be. Otherwise, you risk receiving a fine from the authorities every time you take to the road.
Sometimes thieves aren’t after your car but what’s under the hood. If you own a car with valuable aftermarket parts on the engine, you can install hood locks. These devices require you to unlock the hood manually, which means someone can’t simply break into your car, pop the hood and steal your nitrous injection kit.
Quick-Release Steering Wheel
You can’t drive a car for long without a steering wheel. If you’re exceptionally paranoid about someone stealing your car, you can install a quick-release steering wheel you can take with you whenever you leave your vehicle. Of course, this doesn’t come without its faults. Nobody likes to go grocery shopping while lugging around a steering wheel.
Kill Switch System
Kill switches are like RFID immobilizers in that they are designed to make it difficult for a baddie to hotwire a car. Kill switch engage systems are connected to your car’s electrical system and require you to enter a combination or flip switches in hidden locations before you can start the engine. A baddie could possibly figure it out, but it would take far more time than is worth the risk. The downside is installations can be very complicated and costly. These are generally used in collector vehicles.
Etch VIN Number on Car Windows & Valuable Parts
Cars are often stolen and stripped of their parts, which are sold separately for a greater profit. If you etch your vehicle’s unique VIN number on your windows and other valuable parts, it makes them a lot more trackable. This means it’s also a deterrent for would-be thieves because they don’t want to steal a car that’s difficult to make a profit on.
Install a Dash Cam
Not only does a dash cam provide invaluable evidence if you’re ever in an accident, but some cams have security features to protect your property when you’re not driving around. With motion detectors and GPS, some dash cams are great additions to a car security system.