car security tracker systems

though car theft isn't a problem unique to britain, the probability of it is. now, however, there's a possible answer. jonathan crouch investigates

At 11.35am on Saturday 27th February, a Saab 900 Turbo Coupe was broken into and driven furtively from the forecourt of Cubleys garage in Ainsdale near Southport. Nothing unusual in that; statistics suggest that close to 1,700 other vehicles would have been stolen across the UK that day.

This car, however, was one of the few that would be recovered. And not weeks or months later either, battered, abused and abandoned in a housing estate or at the edge of a field. Just fourteen minutes after the car had been reported missing, a police team knocked on the door of Mr and Mrs Douglas Atkins in Selworthy Road.

Much to the surprise of everyone except the arresting officers, the car was found behind locked garage doors. All in a day's work for Police Constables Mike Brady and Paul Ray of the Merseyside Police Tracker Unit Team. Though this particular `theft` was staged for Granada TV, they're regularly called out on `live` calls where the criminals don't stand a chance.

You could be forgiven for wondering how that could be. After all, over 600,000 cars a year are stolen in Britain - a quarter of all crimes committed - which makes this country the car criminal's adopted home. And despite the fact that by and large, our cars are the best-protected in Europe, the recovery rate has up until now been appallingly low.

But things can be changed - according at least to Tracker, a system for tracing stolen vehicles that claims an astonishing 94% success record. Most Tracker-equipped cars are, like Cubleys' Saab, recovered the same day, many in under two hours. There's nowhere for the thieves to hide either; the Port of Felixstowe Police have even used it to pinpoint a Mercedes 300SL, stolen for the second time, and hidden in one of 56,000 containers.

The system works just like the homing devices you've probably seen in spy films. A small Tracker receiver is hidden somewhere in your car (you won't be told where) and is activated by the network once they and the police have been informed of a theft. It then begins to broadcast a silent homing signal, leading police cars and helicopters equipped with tracking computers directly to your car.

There's a cost involved of course, but it's not prohibitive. You pay a fee to join the network and then an annual subscription, or alternatively pay a one-off fee. If you want to justify the cost, bear in mind that you've a one in thirty seven chance of having your vehicle taken.

There's also increasing evidence that car alarms and (to a lesser extent) immobilisers are ineffective deterrents to the determined thief. If he does get away with your vehicle, the best that can happen is that you'll lose your no claims bonus, have to pay the first £100 of the claim and suffer a heck of a lot of inconvenience. If it isn't recovered, then your insurance company may not pay out as much as you expect; even if they do, you probably won't get it for weeks.

A further endorsement comes from Jeremy Swift of Stockport. Having bought a new BMW 318i for his wife as a Christmas present, he found it vanished from the garage forecourt just hours before it was due to be delivered, despite the standard fitment of a car alarm.

Fortunately, he'd equipped it with a Tracker system, enabling the Manchester police to trace the car within twenty-four hours to a lock-up in the city centre where it had already been fitted with fresh plates. The BMW was returned undamaged to the Swifts on Christmas Eve and presented happily to its new owner the following day.