Fact Check

Foiling Burglars with Car Alarms

When being burglarized, should you use your car alarm to summon help?

Published Aug. 1, 2006


Claim:   If you think your house is being burglarized, you should use your car alarm to summon help.


Example:   [Collected on the Internet, 2006]

Next time you come home for the night and you go to put your keys away, think of the car alarm with the keys: It's a security alarm system that you probably already have and requires no installation.

Start keeping your car keys next to your bed, on the night stand, when you go to bed at night.

If you think someone is trying to get into your house or if you hear a noise outside, press the panic alarm on your car key chain. Test it! It will go off from most everywhere inside your house and will keep honking,
until your battery runs down or until you reset it with the button on the key fob chain. It works if you park in your driveway or garage.

If your car alarm goes off when someone is trying to break in your house, odds are the burglar or rapist, won't stick around . . . after a few seconds all the neighbors will be looking out their window to see who is out there and, sure enough, the criminal won't want that.

Try yours to make sure it works, before you rely on it. Just know that you must press the alarm button again to turn it off - and remember to carry your keys, while walking to your car in a parking lot. The alarm can work the same way there, too.

This is something that should really be shared with everyone, whether or not you personally have a car alarm. If you don't have one send this on anyway as it can help others. Maybe it could save a life or a sexual abuse crime.


Origins:   This bit of e-mailed advice first reached us in July 2006. While at first glance it does appear to offer an inexpensive alternative to having a home alarm system installed, its premise is badly flawed — folks just don't come running when they hear a car alarm go off. Too many "Cry Wolf!" instances caused by car protection warning systems set to register even the slightest changes going on around them have inured society to the devices' yeeps, yowls, and ooh-gahs.

These urban noisemakers can be activated by as little as walking near a vehicle or by brushing an arm or a purse against one. A pigeon lighting on a vehicle's side mirror is all it takes to set one to squawking. "I watched a stray cat set one off by walking 8 feet away from the car," said one person who wrote to Miss Manners about the problem. High winds can also set them to screeching.

A sudden loud noise will likely cause someone attempting to break into your home to think twice about it, but flipping on a light in the house can serve as just as much of a deterrent, because the typical burglar looks to rob domiciles where no one is home, when he is free to work undisturbed and at his own pace, and without having to worry about what to do with the home's occupants; therefore a noise from the house or a light's being turned on will often cause a crook to look elsewhere for that night's booty. So flick on a light. And if you still hear a noise, call 911. You'll have done just about as much to protect yourself, and your neighbors won't hate you in the morning. (Imagine the joys of living next door to a Nervous Nelly who set off her car alarm every time she heard a cat run by her window.)

Also be aware that setting off your car alarm when you hear a stranger attempting to gain entry to your home is not the sure and deadly crime-stopper the e-mailed advice makes it out to be — if you are in danger of bodily harm from an intruder, you can't count on a car alarm to bring capable assistance rushing to your rescue, as such alarms are too often ignored or investigated only after they have been blaring long enough to become severe annoyances to neighbors. Even burglar alarms installed in homes have been ignored during the course of crimes because those who heard their klaxon calls mistook them for malfunctioning car alarms. Said the neighbor of a burgled family in Montreal in 2003, "We all heard the alarm go off but you get desensitized to alarms. I thought it was a car alarm. I said to my daughter I'm going to close the window because that car alarm is bothering me."

However, using the 'panic' button on a car alarm did indeed work to save one Albuquerque woman in 2000. An assailant who accosted 23-year-old Tanya Cass in the parking lot of an child-care center was apparently driven away by her activating the device, but only after she'd been stabbed nine times.

As always, prevention is the best approach; in this case, that means making your home unattractive in the eyes of a burglar. Thieves go for the easiest targets, so the key to not being burgled is making sure your home is not the easiest target:

  • Cut back shrubbery from beneath windows to eliminate hiding places. If you must have plants beneath your windows, put in the spiky sort that no one would want to tangle with.
  • Secure outdoor furniture and put away tools. Don't leave easily stealable items lying around, because they will sooner or later attract the sort of attention you hope to discourage. If you have expensive lawn furniture, chain it down.
  • Consider putting up a security yard sign or window decal. A decal alone may scare away a burglar, even if there is no actual alarm system.
  • Lock your doors. Simple advice, we know, but you wouldn't believe how often people leave their doors unlocked, especially sliding doors on patios. And don't leave an extra set of keys (car or house) in the car.
  • Owning a dog can be an excellent deterrent to those looking for easy targets to burgle.

Barbara "dog gone" Mikkelson

Last updated:   5 July 2011


    Balow, Jim.   "Home, Safe Home."

    Charleston Gazette.   20 August 2000   (p. D1).

    Gyulai, Linda.   "Dollard Family Tied Up, Robbed."

    The [Montreal] Gazette.   14 September 2003   (p. A2).

    Webb, Andrew.   "Stabbed Mom Feels Lucky."

    Albuquerque Journal.   8 April 2001   (p. B1).