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YOUR WHEELS

THE GOODS : Protecting Your Car on a Budget

March 24, 1995|RALPH VARTABEDIAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

About 4,400 Americans discover every day that their cars have been stolen, a risk that has created a huge market for all kinds of anti-theft devices.

As the cost of theft grows, more and more products are coming out, ranging from simple locks to sophisticated alarms. This column looks at mostly inexpensive locking devices, three of them new.

The Club, costing $39.95, has become the leading steering-wheel lock, purchased by millions of Americans. But it is widely known that the Club and similar locks can be defeated by cutting the steering wheel, which under federal safety regulations must be made of soft, flexible steel that is easily penetrated by a hacksaw blade.

ETC'cessories Inc., a new company in San Clemente, has come up with what could be the answer to making steering-wheel locks more effective: a pizza-pan-shaped disk made of heavy-gauge steel that fits over the steering wheel when the car is parked.

The device, called the Cap, is tough to defeat, taking about 20 minutes of determined sawing to get through to the steering wheel, the company says. It has two slots in the center to allow a Club to be used with it.

The Cap, made in Los Angeles, is sold in two sizes for most foreign and domestic cars. It sells for $36.95. It can be ordered by calling (800) 746-3744.

Kim Hazelbacker, senior vice president of the Highway Loss Data Institute, an insurance trade group, says his group has not done an engineering analysis of the product, but "an initial look suggests that it should be effective." The device has the added advantage of protecting air bags from theft, an increasing problem.

The Lockjaw is a new lock its manufacturer claims is a big improvement over the Club because it locks onto the steering wheel in two places. Thieves are forced to make two precisely placed cuts to free it, says Ed Hull, chairman of Hull Industries Inc. in Solon, Ohio.

David Chipps, a former auto-theft detective in Ohio and a paid consultant to Lockjaw, says the device has a stronger overall construction than competing products, making it less vulnerable to hammer attacks by car thieves. Lockjaw has a shielded locking cylinder, which the firm says is less vulnerable than others to being frozen with Freon and shattered. But Lockjaw does not work with the Cap.

The Lockjaw, which sells for $39.95, can be ordered by calling (800) LOCKJAW.

The newest product on the market is a transmission lock that has a collar that wraps around the automatic or manual shifter stem on the console. It was first introduced in Israel.

Hazelbacker says little is known about the effectiveness of the California-made device, called the Mul-T-Lock, and that the issue is whether a thief can manipulate a hacksaw blade under the collar, saw off the top of the transmission stem and still drive the car.

The Mul-T-Lock costs about $300. For information call (800) 301-5625.

If you choose a lock, keep in mind the problem with all locks is that people fall out of the habit of using them, Hazelbacker says.

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