Reviews of Car Protection Devices
The Club by Winner
Time and effort are a car thief’s enemies and the highly visible Club from Winner International provides a strong visual deterrent to potential thieves. While a determined professional car thief can work around a Club, they much more likely to secure a vehicle that lacks a steering wheel locking device. The more deluxe models of The Club are significantly more diffiicult for thieves to bypass. The Club is an oldie, but a goodie, and it is recommended by the Fraternal Order of Police.
The Auto Sentry from Masterlock
We have always been fans of the kill switch in theory, but in reality were too scared to mess with our cars for fear of doing them harm. That is until we found Master Lock’s new Starter Sentry, a truly simple and truly effective kill switch device that renders your car inoperable except by you, or someone with your keys. The innovative technology that powers Master Lock’s Starter Sentry helps prevent car theft by immobilizing the vehicle for anybody who isn’t carrying the proper set of keys.
Unlike standard car alarm systems, the Starter Sentry does more than make noise in hopes to deter a theft, it actually prevents the vehicle from being started and driven away when accessed by anyone but the rightful key-holder.
A specially designed key fob with radio transmitter interacts with the Starter Sentry to disarm the security system as the proper owner approaches the vehicle. This feature allows Starter Sentry owners to have the extra peace of mind of knowing that their vehicle only goes as far as their keys do. In the event that someone attempts to start the vehicle without the key fob, the Starter Sentry automatically disables the starter motor or fuel pump, rendering the vehicle completely immobilized.
The Starter Sentry can really be self-installed in minutes. Even by mechanical incompetents like ourselves. All you have to do is replace the current relay with the Starter Sentry relay and it begins working immediately. The installation process involves no wire cutting or splicing.
For $150 it’s a great deal.
Time and effort are a car thief’s enemies and the highly visible, spage age looking Wrap® from Blockit & Lockit Systems provides a strong visual deterrent to potential thieves. While a determined professional car thief can work around any steering wheel locking device, they much more likely to secure a vehicle that lacks such a device. The 3 1/2 pound Wrap® not only locks you steering wheel and blocks thieves from removing your stereo system, but it also includes an alarm. The product is very easy to attach to your steering wheel.
THE WRAP® is guaranteed to be free from defective workmanship and materials for a period of 1 year. Any part that is defective within 1 year from date of purchase or develops defects under normal use may be returned to Blockit & Lockit Systems, freight prepaid, after receiving authorization from the Company.
Reviews of Vehicle History Reports via Edmunds.com
Several years ago, Edmunds conducted a comparison of the major vehicle history reports. For a long time Carfax vehicle history reports had little competition. Then in 2002, credit giant Experian launched its own vehicle history report division called AutoCheck.com. And more recently, the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s (NICB) Vin Check began offering free checks to alert buyers to a limited number of used car problems.
Since these services differ significantly, Edmunds decided to test-drive all three with real vehicle identification numbers (VINs). Before you read any further, you might want to take a look at Edmunds article - “Vehicle History Report: Your Key to a Good Used Car”. In a nutshell, vehicle history reports are the most accurate window into a used car’s possibly checkered past. By tapping multiple databases, problems such as odometer rollback, salvage titles and accidents can be revealed.
NICB’s Vin Check — Valuable but Limited
Vin Check was introduced several years ago as a free service by the NICB and grabbed headlines for a short time. Its reports reveal if a car has been reported stolen or if it has a salvage title (which means it was declared a total loss by an insurance company for a variety of problems, typically a serious collision).
Vin Check isn’t really in the same category as AutoCheck and Carfax. While it notifies a potential buyer of important problems (theft, salvage title and, in some cases, flood damage), it is not as comprehensive or user-friendly. It is free, however, and could be considered a first step in the buying process.
AutoCheck Throws a Wide Net
With Experian credit services behind AutoCheck.com, one might expect its reach to be global or perhaps even intergalactic. In actual numbers, “we have north of 550 million vehicles in our database,” said Edie Hirtenstein, senior product manager for AutoCheck. She estimated that AutoCheck runs some 16 million vehicle history reports per year for consumers.
AutoCheck offers a single report for $29.99 and an “unlimited” number of reports for 60 days for $44.99. AutoCheck offers buy-back protection and promises to purchase the vehicle if its report missed something serious (be sure to read the fine print).
On AutoCheck.com, after you enter a VIN, a report is displayed immediately. The information is well organized under major headings, including Title and ProblemCheck, OdometerCheck, Vehicle Use and EventCheck, and Full History.
One unique feature is the AutoCheck Score for similar vehicles. At a glance, this provides a specific number to rate desirability compared to other cars. For example, the range for used Honda S2000models was 74-91 (out of 100). However, the specific Honda S2000 we ran scored only a 59 because it had a salvage title.
“The vehicle score leverages the Experian data,” said Hirtenstein. “It makes the report simple to understand” and “provides confidence to buyers to let them compare similar vehicles.” She described it as “a credit score for cars.”
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Carfax — the Industry Standard
Carfax began by faxing vehicle history reports to customers in 1986. It owned this market for many years, and its reports have a high level of sophistication. Like AutoCheck, Carfax reports a variety of major problems encountered with a used car. A single report costs $34.99, or you can buy 5 for $44.99. Carfax also offers a “Buyback Guarantee” in case it misses a serious problem (again, read the fine print).
What distinguishes Carfax from the competition is not just the data it provides, but the way it is organized and interpreted. For example, one online report had what appeared to be an odometer rollback. A little Carfax figure popped up with a speech bubble guiding the reader through the understanding of the severity of this issue: “Hmmm…hard to tell whether this reading represents an odometer rollback or a clerical error. Confirm the mileage with your dealer or qualified mechanic.” In other words, don’t discount the car; human interpretation is required.
Chris Basso, spokesman for Carfax, said “more than 22,000 sources across North America report information to Carfax. Our database, comprising more than 6B [billion] unique vehicle records, is the largest vehicle history database ever assembled. Every day, we load 3-4 million records into our database.”
When asked what differentiated Carfax from AutoCheck, Basso simply answered, “For more than 20 years, our singular focus has been on vehicle history information. Carfax pioneered the concept of the vehicle history report to make this vital information readily available.”
The Comparison Test: What Did They Catch?
Price and presentation aside, what did the services uncover about the cars we looked at? We ran the VINs of several cars we knew had salvage titles through all the services. They all flagged the problem but had a different number of “events” in the car’s history.
On the same car, a model-year 2000 Honda S2000, AutoCheck found nine events. Not only did Carfax find a total of 12 events, but it flagged a potentially serious problem with a speech bubble that read: “This car seems to have been registered in CA [California] without the prior SC [South Carolina] salvage title. This may be a case of title washing.” No mention of title washing occurred in the AutoCheck report.
On another vehicle, previously owned by Edmunds.com for testing, the Carfax report had a very detailed listing of all the service performed on it at local dealerships. This is valuable information for a potential buyer, which the AutoCheck report did not provide.
What Do the Experts Say?
Buyers at the used car superstore Carmax use AutoCheck as a routine part of the process. David Claeys, purchasing manager for the Richmond-area stores, said AutoCheck seems to be very accurate.
“There’s been tons of examples for me personally where I’m out at a car appraising it and I’ll think, ‘I’m going to pull AutoCheck, and it will have a salvage history.’ Nine times out of 10 it does.” However, AutoCheck is only part of a process. “What’s more important for us is the physical appraisal our associates are doing.”
While Oren Weintraub, president of Authority Car Buying Specialists in Los Angeles said Carfax “is a key element of considering a car for a trade-in,” he had a word of caution. “The one issue is it only tells you what is reported — and not everything that has occurred. You still need to do your due diligence.”
The one expert we contacted who had a real preference for one of the services was Brian Crane, president of DRC Leasing Inc., in Woodland Hills, California. “Both companies are doing a pretty good job of keeping the public informed about what’s going on. But I believe AutoCheck does a little better job. I’ve had things come up on AutoCheck that didn’t come up on Carfax.”
He added, “Unfortunately in the car business, private parties lie as much as dealers and this [a vehicle history report] is something that keeps everyone honest.”
The New Competitors
In the last couple of years, both Carfax and AutoCheck have had to deal with a new competitor – The National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS), an electronic system that contains information on certain automobiles titled in the United States. NMVTIS is intended to serve as a reliable source of title and brand history for automobiles, but it does not contain detailed information regarding a vehicle’s repair history.
All states, insurance companies, and junk and salvage yards are required by federal law to regularly report information to NMVTIS. However, NMVTIS does not contain information on all motor vehicles in the United States because some states are not yet providing their vehicle data to the system. Currently, the data provided to NMVTIS by states is provided in a variety of time frames; while some states report and update NMVTIS data in “real-time” (as title transactions occur), other states send updates less frequently, such as once every 24 hours or within a period of days.
Information on previous, significant vehicle damage may not be included in the system if the vehicle was never determined by an insurance company (or other appropriate entity) to be a “total loss” or branded by a state titling agency. Conversely, an insurance carrier may be required to report a “total loss” even if the vehicle’s titling-state has not determined the vehicle to be “salvage” or “junk.”
Before making a decision to purchase a vehicle, consumers may wish to obtain an independent vehicle inspection, a NMVTIS Vehicle History Report, and consult other available vehicle information resources.
The information in NMVTIS INCLUDES:
- Information from participating state motor vehicle titling agencies.
- Information on automobiles, buses, trucks, motorcycles, recreational vehicles, motor homes, and tractors. NMVTIS may not currently include commercial vehicles if those vehicles are not included in a state’s primary database for title records (in some states, those vehicles are managed by a separate state agency), although these records may be added at a later time.
- Information on “brands” applied to vehicles provided by participating state motor vehicle titling agencies. Brand types and definitions vary by state, but may provide useful information about the condition or prior use of the vehicle.
- Most recent odometer reading in the state’s title record.
- Information from insurance companies, and auto recyclers, including junk and salvage yards, that is required by law to be reported to the system, beginning March 31, 2009. This information will include if the vehicle was determined to be a “total loss” by an insurance carrier.NMVTIS Reports are significantly less expensive than both Carfax and AutoCheck. They range in price fro $2.99 to $12.99Providers of NMVTIS reports includeInstaVin
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