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Mac's Service Shop: Electronics and Car Thievery
October 1972 Popular Electronics

October 1972 Popular Electronics

October 1972 Popular Electronics Cover - RF CafeTable of Contents

Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles from Popular Electronics, published October 1954 - April 1985. All copyrights are hereby acknowledged.

A few interesting historical statistics were presented in this "Electronics and Car Thievery" episode of "Mac's Service Shop," which appeared in a 1972 issue of Popular Electronics magazine. One is that steering column locks first came out on 1970 auto and truck models. My 1969 Chevy Camaro did not have a steering column lock, come to think of it. Also, a year earlier (1971), one in a hundred cars in the U.S. were stolen. The aforementioned steering column lock dramatically reduced the number of stolen vehicles. Car jacking was a thing in the early 1970's, so that's not a relatively new crime - it's just that now we have video surveillance everywhere so we get to see it.

This story was particularly pertinent to a couple recent experiences (not the same day) where visitors to our daughter's house locked keys in their cars. AAA was called in both instances, and the technicians used a pneumatic expander bag to force the upper corner of the door away from the car frame, then a wire was slipped in to unlatch the lock. 

Mac's Service Shop: Electronics and Car Thievery

Mac's Service Shop: Electronics and Car Thievery, October 1972 Popular Electronics - RF CafeBy John T. Frye, W9EGV, KHD4167

It was just nine o'clock when Mac heard the front door screen of the shop slam and looked up to see a puffing Barney coming through the service department door.

"Sorry I'm late, Boss " the redheaded youth apologized, scrambling into his shop coat. "I had a problem."

"I'm sure you did," Mac said sarcastically, "but let's hear about it."

"My uncle and aunt from Arizona stopped to see us yesterday on their way home from the East Coast, and we persuaded them to stay all night, although they were in a hurry to get home. We fed them a good breakfast at seven, and then I helped carry their luggage out to the car parked at the curb. That's when Uncle Willard discovered the only car keys were still in the ignition switch and all the doors had been carefully locked last night!"

"I'm sure you've solved that problem before with a coat hanger shoved through the crack between the glass and the weather strip and used to lift the door locking knob."

"Yeah, that was my first thought, too; but I've got news for you: Uncle Willard had carefully unscrewed all those little knobs and had them in his pocket. That's his secret weapon, of which he's very proud, for foiling amateur car thieves. Every night, before locking tip the car, he unscrews all those little knobs and takes them into the motel with him."

"Hey, that's kind of clever! What did you do then?"

"Well, it wasn't easy to think with Aunt Virginia really psyching out poor Uncle Willard. I fiddled around with a piece of piano wire for a while, trying to get hold of a door handle, but that was no dice. On that car the padded arm rests project out so far you simply can't hook onto a handle. By this time Uncle Willard, spurred on by Aunt Virginia's needling, Was all for taking a ball-peen hammer to a window glass, but I hated to see him do that to his brand new car; so I suggested we call the police and see if they could help.

"The desk sergeant was very sympathetic to our plight and said he would send someone out. It took a little while for the squad car to get there, but the two officers who came were very nice. They assured Aunt Virginia that Uncle Willard was not the first man - or woman - who locked the keys up in the car, and they admired his little business with the locking knobs. They had a whole mess of special car keys available to police departments, and they started trying them in the lock. It took a while, but eventually they found one that opened the door.

"While they were doing this, they gave us some very interesting statistics on car thefts in this country. Almost a million automobiles, or one out of every hundred registered automobiles, were stolen last year. That is twice as many as were stolen just six years ago. From 1960 to 1970, theft of accessories rose 69% while the theft of articles, other than accessories, from automobiles rose 131%. I'll bet that when we get the figures for 1972 we'll find the theft of tape recorders has boosted one of those figures tremendously."

"Maybe that increase comes from there just being more cars."

"I suggested that, but the police say no. The increase in car thefts over the ten year period was four times greater than either the increase in car registration or the increase in population of the 15-24 year old age group-the group, incidentally, that accounts for the majority of car thefts. The rate of car thefts is much greater in large cities, where 1,117 thefts per 100,000 population occurred in 1970. This compares with 288 suburban and 71 rural thefts per 100,000 population. However, 'percentagewise,' the recent increase in suburban car thefts is much greater than in the cities; so maybe we're going to catch up."

"How are are the police doing with these thieves?"

"Not so hot. 77,448 cars were stolen in New York City in 1968, and 7,166 arrests for car theft were made. 94,835 cars were stolen in 1970, and only 6,539 arrests were made. This is not too surprising since most thefts occur in residential sections at night with no witnesses. Incidentally, the thefts peak up in the fall, with October being the worst month. While eventually 84% of the stolen cars are recovered, they are often abandoned only after being stripped, wrecked, or mechanically abused. It seems to me," Barney concluded, "that electronics should be doing more than it is to help with this problem."

"I agree," Mac said. "There's more to it than just the money loss of the stolen cars. A car stolen for a joy ride is often the first step a youngster takes towards a life of crime. A 1970 survey showed 77% of those arrested for auto theft were under 21, and over 400 cars were stolen by children under 10! It's estimated the driver of a stolen car is 200 times more likely to have a traffic accident than is a person driving his own car, and one out of every 90 traffic deaths involve a stolen car. A stolen car is often an instrument in other crimes. In fact, auto crime now makes up one-fifth of all crime committed in the U.S."

"Hey, you've been talking to the police, too!"

"No, I've just been doing some reading so I can pressure my state legislator into passing a no-fault auto insurance bill. I'm sick of paying constantly climbing insurance premiums."

"But I think the auto industry has a responsibility in this area that it has only recently made much effort to meet. It introduced the steering column lock on 1970 models; and now the theft of one, two, and three year old models is dropping off while the theft of older cars is climbing. Unfortunately, these newer cars are being harder hit by professional thieves who take spare tires, batteries, radiators, alternators, and other items from the trunk or engine compartment. If they can't steal the whole car, they just take parts.

"Worse yet, assault is climbing. If the thief can't steal the car without a key, he tries to take the key away from the owner. So what we need is a system that will protect against theft of the car as a whole, theft of items in the trunk and beneath the hood, and assault against the passenger inside the car.

"Probably the auto industry feels that security doesn't sell any better than safety. That explains why, until very recently, all electronic anti-theft devices on cars were developed in the 'after-market.' By that I mean they were add-on devices designed and marketed by people entirely outside the auto industry. I well remember the first such device I saw Doc Eberts, the druggist, had it on his new Packard. It consisted of a little copper ring surrounding a metallic pendulum mounted up under the dash. The ring could be adjusted so the bottom of the pendulum rested in its center. If anyone tried to enter the car or even shook it, the pendulum oscillated; and every time it touched the ring the horn blew. The alarm was armed and disarmed by a concealed switch outside the car. This system, of course, had several drawbacks: kids got onto it and drove Doc nuts by jumping up and down on the bumper to make the horn blow; movement of the car by a strong wind would sound the alarm; it was very easy to forget to arm the alarm on leaving the car or to disarm it before trying to enter."

"Someone was trying, anyway," Barney observed. "It's not easy to install anything of that nature after the car is built. There's no place to run wires where they won't be seen. To get around this, some systems offered take advantage of existing wiring. For example, at least two of them trigger an alarm whenever there is a sudden slight drop in battery voltage, such as occurs when an opened door operates a courtesy light or when the ignition or headlights are switched on. A gradual decline in battery voltage, such as normally occurs after the car has been operated, will not set off the alarm. This kind of device is easy to install on any car because all you have to do is mount the components and make a connection to the electrical system."

"I know, but none of these add-on devices seem to have very wide acceptance," Mac said. "Fortunately at least one auto manufacturer is offering a sophisticated anti-theft system installed at the factory. I refer to the new Chrysler Electronic Security Alarm system that will be available on all standard size Chrysler built cars starting in 1973. The system is built right into the car's basic electrical system and reacts with visual and audible alarm signals whenever the passenger, trunk, or engine compartment is forced open or there is an unauthorized attempt to start the car. Moreover, the system serves as an occupant distress alarm and provides instant protective locking. When an emergency button on the instrument panel is pushed, all doors are instantly locked, the hood latch is blocked, the horn starts pulse-type blowing, and the headlights, tail lights, and front and rear marker lights flash on and off. If the door, trunk, or hood is forced open and then closed, this alarm continues for three minutes before subsiding until another attempt to enter is made. If the door is left ajar, the alarm sounds until the battery rims clown.

"The system is armed automatically when the door is locked with the key, and it is disarmed when the door is unlocked with the key. Any bypassing of the ignition 'switch so the motor is started without the key starts the alarm sounding."

"How does the system work?"

"It would not be advisable to go into detail about that, but I can tell you the heart of the system is a well-concealed and protected control box equipped with power relays, intenerated circuits, transistors, resistors, and capacitors. This box receives a message from any sensor interprets the message, decides which of several courses of action is appropriate, and initiates that action."

"Sounds like a pretty thoughtful piece of engineering," Barney said, "and I imagine other auto manufacturers are going to follow suit. Electronics has already shown what it can do in the protection field for the home and factory. It is high time the auto industry turned to electronics for protecting their products from thieves. But I never would have believed that Uncle Willard's locking up his car keys would have furnished all this food for thought and conversation!"



Posted September 29, 2022

Mac's Radio Service Shop Episodes on RF Cafe

This series of instructive technodrama™ stories was the brainchild of none other than John T. Frye, creator of the Carl and Jerry series that ran in Popular Electronics for many years. "Mac's Radio Service Shop" began life in April 1948 in Radio News magazine (which later became Radio & Television News, then Electronics World), and changed its name to simply "Mac's Service Shop" until the final episode was published in a 1977 Popular Electronics magazine. "Mac" is electronics repair shop owner Mac McGregor, and Barney Jameson his his eager, if not somewhat naive, technician assistant. "Lessons" are taught in story format with dialogs between Mac and Barney.

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