Car radios and the culture of stealing them

On the way to work this morning, my carpool buddy and I were discussing car radios. She remembered living in New York a while back and how it was common to see signs in car windows that said “no radio,” to deter thieves. She noted that the practice of posting those signs seemed to have diminished, if not disappeared.

A few questions we came up with:

  1. Are people, in fact, posting “no radio” signs in their cars less frequently?
  2. Have thefts of car radios (or other dashboard electronics) declined in the last few decades?
  3. If so, why?

Assuming car radio thefts have gone down, we had a few hypotheses: car manufacturers have made it more and more difficult to steal car radios, so it’s a less attractive crime. Which prompted another question: is it actually harder to steal car radios now than it used to be in the '80s or '90s?

Or: Car radios are not worth that much anymore, so even if you can get them out of the dash in one piece, it’s not an attractive thing to steal.

Or: Other things that tend to be left in cars make better quick theft targets – iPods, laptops, Blackberries, cell phones, whatever.

Anyone have any data on any of these questions?

Top of the list of stolen items from cars in the UK are Sat Navs. Police advice is to not only remove the actual unit, but also the stick-on mounting bracket so as not to give any clues to the potential thief that you have hidden it in the glove compartment.

Most manufacturer cd players and such will not work if removed from the vehicle and a lot of these cars also have stickers on the car displaying that they will not work if removed, this has probably made some of the stealing radios less frequent and cd players that have faceplates that can be removed.

More and more modern factory-installed car radios are “married” to the car’s internal computer, so a radio taken from one car won’t work in another. There’s no financial gain for anyone to try stealing it.

The performance of factory radios is far better than what was being installed in the 80’s, so there’s not as much impetus for people to be bothered to install a new aftermarket radio, which would be a better theft target as it’s not tied to a specific car.

Of course, there is still the aspect of causing the victim considerable expense in replacing the shattered window and the radio.

  1. I have never seen such signs in cars in my region, South Texas.
    2 & 3) I don’t have figures for my region on car radio theft, but I know from car & audio enthusiasts that one major item that has help prevent such thefts has been the portability of the front section of the radio. You snap out the front cover and the rest stays where it should be. This operation renders the radio inoperable.

Checking in from Vegas. Never seen one of those signs. As a derelict youth who used to steal car radios, car radios in a modern vehicle are not worth stealing. They aren’t like they were in the old days. A radio for a vehicle I sell now has 32 wires. If you don’t have a wiring diagram you have no hope of connecting it in anything but the auto it came in. Not only that, but the mounting of it is very specific to the vehicle. So if you steal car radios in this day and age, I dub thee “Lord of the Dumbasses” Hail, Hail and all of that. Oh ye of the great Dumbassedness I submit to thee, etc. etc etc. You might as well rob parking meters. They have actual money in them.

Exqueeze me? Baking powder? Whenever I buy a car stereo I just say, “and gimme the harness for a 95 Camry” or whatever I’m sticking it in.

Plug/plug/screwx4 later and I’m boppin down the highway with Twisted Sister explaining that they’re not gonna take it, anymore. Am I some kind of genius or something? Because I see no reason why I couldn’t bash a window, snatch an Alpine that someone’s left the face on (ala: bash, unscrewx4/unplug) and then obtain the appropriate install harness for the new owning vehicle from Circuit City.

I suspect those signs were mostly a New York or at least urban thing. I knew they existed, but I don’t know how many I’d seen in real life vs. how many I’d seen in movies or TV. My coworker, on the other hand, remembers them from the streets of NYC.

That’s true of aftermarket car stereos, but sales have been declining in the last several years - more people are simply using the manufacturer installed units. As observed, those are often customized to the point that they won’t work or install easily in another make/model.

I remember a time when it seemed like everybody had an aftermarket stereo installed, and some of the units were removable or had removable faceplates as theft deterents. You don’t see that many aftermarket installations in recent model cars.

I suspect that theft of GPS systems will decline as those become mostly manufacturer installed items also.

Add to that the plethora of portable devices which people have now. Probably much more profitable and definitely easier for the car window bashing thief to look for somebody that left their iphone, ipod or laptop in the car.

Another point to add: theft of car radios was a problem when radios were an optional extra. Now they’re standard equipment, not many people want to buy them - because they already have one in their cars.

I lived in Philadelphia 1985 to 1990. Back then, most cars had a “no radio” sign. Prior to that I lived in Pittsburgh and had never seen such a sign.

While in Philly, a friend had her radio stolen. She replaced it with a very high end model that was easily removed. She took it with her all the time. Except for the night she ran in to pick up her take-out. That night the thief had a very easy time of it.

The “no radio” sign sounds similar to one often displayed on vans owned by such people as plumbers and carpenters “No tools are left in this vehicle overnight” .

I’ve never actually seen such a sign, but I’ve heard about them - my favourite was NO COINS, NO SMOKES, AND THE RADIO’S A PIECE OF SHIT.

I’ve certainly heard advice from motoring organisations and the police that one should always leave the glovebox and console conspicuously open, even if there’s nothing worth stealing in there anyway. Might save you the cost of a window.

I think it’s worth mentioning that aftermarket Car Stereos are now so cheap it’s not worth stealing them- you can get a perfectly functional CD/MP3/Radio for AUD$180 including installation ($120 if you just want the radio). Even a good brand like Sony or Pioneer or Kenwood will only set you back $350 or so, unless you want a truly pimped out sound system for your wheels (which is an entirely different kettle of fish to what you’d have for everyday use anyway).

Given that a new radio also has a Manufacturer’s Warranty on it, there’s no real reason to buy a dodgy one from the back of some bloke down at the pub’s panel van when you can get a new radio and have it installed for under $200 anyway- the same thing applies to TVs and most other small appliances now. You can get a brand new one so cheaply anyway that it’s not worth getting second hand ones, which is why there aren’t as many second hand electronics places around anymore.

I suppose that, and the fact that everyone’s already got one. Gone are the days of the standard unit being an AM radio with no cassette, let alone CD. It’s a bit like back in 1980 or so, when crooked video library employees could command big dollars for selling burglars their members’ addresses. The idea seems kind of quaint now.

That’s never stopped a thief. After getting my first car stereo stolen I installed the cheapest piece of shit Radio Shack cassette player I could find. It cost a whopping $50 and I installed it myself. Three days later, in a completely different neighborhood, my car window was smashed and some idiot stole it. Who the fuck wants a Radio Shack car stereo?

(bolding mine)


The worst part was that when I had the first stereo stolen, there was no smashed window (forgot to lock the car), and the guy did a clean job of removing the stereo. The second one, the window was smashed and the asshole bent the hell out of the stereo bracket to steal a stereo nobody in their right mind will want (although I’m sure somebody will take it for ten bucks.)

I ended up driving stereoless for the next year.

Very true- when I was in High School, none of the cars I had came with a decent radio (They were all AM Tuners only, no cassette deck or anything). So, I went to the local Car Radio place, bought an $80 AM/FM Cassette Radio (no way could I afford a CD player), and then installed it myself with nothing more than a Swiss Army knife and a roll of duct tape.

I’d agree with you and say most cars not owned by Car Collectors have probably had their Radios replaced with something capable of picking up more than ABC NewsRadio by now… :smiley: