Best Car Alarm Systems: Secure Your Automotive Asset
Here are our top picks for anti-theft car security in an insecure world.
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BY Jimmy Brown / LAST UPDATED ON April 12, 2019
Your car is not just a mere means of transportation—it’s your trusted road trip companion, one of your most valuable assets, and perhaps most importantly, a mobile memory-making machine. The best way to protect your ride is by arming it with a car alarm system. We did the heavy lifting for you and found a few excellent options for the best car alarm system on the market.
Wide range remote start and keyless entry with two-way LCD confirmation and two-way alarm alerts.
- Highly sensitive alarm
- Remote start from up to 3,000 feet away
- One-year warranty
- Somewhat pricey
- Professional installation recommended
- Installation instructions are vague
Bargain-priced basic car alarm that’s easy to install and has all the essential features you want from an alarm.
- Easy DIY installation
- Unbeatable price
- Smartphone compatible
- No siren available
- Limited operational range
Multifunctional aftermarket car alarm packed with impressive tech and features for the money.
- Remote keyless entry can control up to four cars with a single key fob
- Remote engine start/stop great for cold or hot climates
- LCD remote shows command confirmations and event notifications
- Complex operation can be intimidating
- Professional installation recommended
Why Trust Us
All of our reviews are based on market research, expert input, or practical experience with most products we include. This way, we offer genuine, accurate guides to help you find the best picks.
Benefits of Car Alarm Systems
- Protect your investment. The odds are that you paid a pretty penny for your shiny set of wheels, so it stands that you’d like to protect your investment. A car alarm system is the most cost-effective and easiest way to provide security against car theft.
- Lower your insurance premiums. Looking for a surefire way to lower your insurance rates? Adding a car alarm system to your vehicle will reduce your monthly insurance premiums by a considerable amount. In fact, the amount you’ll save on insurance will oftentimes offset the cost of an aftermarket car alarm within a year’s time.
- Peace of mind. Investing in an anti-theft car alarm system not only provides tangible security for your beloved ride, but also gives you peace of mind knowing that your vehicle is sufficiently safeguarded against theft. You’ll find this particularly comforting when you’re experiencing separation anxiety from being away from your cherished car during vacations.
- Quicker theft recovery. Most of the top-rated car alarms feature GPS tracking, so in the event that your vehicle is stolen, the alarm company can track your car and alert the authorities of its exact location. With this innovative technology on your side, law enforcement authorities can recover your vehicle quicker than cars that aren’t equipped with GPS tracking systems.
- Add high-end features. More advanced car security systems will sport innovative features such as remote engine start/stop for added convenience. Other premium touches include passive keyless entry and customizable alarm tones and volume.
Types of Car Alarm Systems
Two main types of car alarms define the functioning of the alarm. These are active and passive. These terms refer to how the alarm engages and monitors your vehicle. Under these two main categories, several alarm types refer to how the alarm notifies you of a problem. These subcategories can overlap, so you will find them in active and passive versions.
Active car alarms are called this because you have to actively turn the alarm on for it to engage and protect your car. These alarms typically come with a key fob or smartphone app. You’ll use these to activate and deactivate the alarm. This type of alarm is nice because you have more control over the alarm. You don’t have to worry about it auto-arming while you’re trying to clean your car, unloading groceries, or temporarily running inside. The downside is that you have to remember to activate the alarm, or your car won’t be protected.
These alarms automatically turn on without you having to do anything. Typically, the car will have to be turned off and all of the doors closed for the alarm to engage. The advantage of this type of alarm is that you don’t have to worry about forgetting to set the alarm. You’ll have to deactivate the alarm when you return to your car so that you don't set the alarm off. The biggest advantage of this type is that many car insurance companies offer a discount for having it. A drawback is that you have less control over it and can have it arming in situations where you don’t need it.
Alarms that use audible alerts have sensors that get triggered. When this happens, a loud siren will start making noise, the car’s horn will beep, and the vehicle’s lights will flash. All of this noise and commotion is supposed to attract attention to the vehicle and deter someone from breaking into it. The sound will continue until you turn the alarm off. While this type of alarm is effective at deterring thieves, it can also be annoying for the people around you when it goes off accidentally. Overly sensitive alarms can get triggered by the vibrations from a large truck driving by or someone slamming a car door.
A silent alarm doesn’t make a noise at the car when someone tries to break into your car. Instead, it alerts you, the owner, through the key fob or app that comes with the alarm system. This type of alarm makes it more likely that you will catch the thief in the act. Since the thief isn’t alerted to the alarm, they will not immediately run away like they would with an audible alarm. Their drawback is that people in the immediate area of your car aren't alerted to a crime taking place.
Some car alarms do more than just trigger an alert. An immobilizing alarm will stop the thief from driving away with your vehicle. The entire engine and system are deactivated until the alarm’s key fob is in the area and the vehicle’s key is put in the ignition. Some alarms will also lock the steering wheel and turn on the vehicle’s hazards for more of a deterrence. This type of system is nice because it prevents your car from being stolen by a skilled thief who can quickly disable an audible alarm. The downside of this type of alarm is that it typically requires professional installation because it has to wire directly into your car’s system.
The alternative to immobilizing the vehicle is to track it via GPS. This type of system will send a signal to allow you and law enforcement to track the vehicle’s movement. This is crucial for recovering your vehicle. It’s also beneficial because some sophisticated thieves can disable alarms and tow an immobilized vehicle away. The drawback to this service is that many car alarm sellers require you to pay for a monthly subscription for this service.
The Avital name has been one of the most trusted for about 20 years. It is one of the brands that are under the Directed umbrella. The Avital security systems are most well-known for their remote start capabilities. The Avital 3100L 1-Way Car Security System is a simple yet complete security system for protecting your car.
Firstech is the owner and producer of Compustar products. Since 1995, Firstech has become an award-winning manufacturer of automotive electronics. The company was originally based in Alaska, but moved its headquarters to Seattle in 2003. The Compustar CS8900-AS All-in-One 2-Way Remote Start + Security Bundle comes with an impressive list of features.
Viper car security systems are one of the most popular worldwide. The brand is known for having innovative technology and features. It’s also responsible for introducing systems that are smartphone compatible. The Viper brand is a part of the Directed family of brands. The Viper 5706V 2-Way Car Security with Remote Start System is a high-end system that’s perfect for the car owner who’s serious about security.
This is yet another brand that is under the Directed umbrella company. Python is the name car owners turn to when they want innovative features packed into a sleek system. It also has one of the most extensive support networks for nationwide protection. The Python 5706P LC3 SST 2-Way Security/Remote-Start System is a reliable system that’s sure to protect your car.
Car Alarm System Pricing
- Under $100: There are many car security systems available for under $100. These car alarm systems vary widely in terms of quality, features, and performance, so consumers must prioritize which qualities matter the most to them while shopping around.
- $100-$199: This price range covers a vast assortment of car alarm systems. The options in this price range generally offer a solid mix of reliability, performance, and features for the money.
- Over $199: The car alarm systems in this lofty price range deliver exceptional performance, reliability, and high-end features that you probably won’t find in less expensive models.
Some systems have universal compatibility. These are generic systems that you can easily install yourself. Other systems require extensive wiring and integration into your vehicle’s system. Whether you choose a universal or model-specific system, check to confirm the compatibility with your vehicle. Some systems require you to buy an additional module for complete integration and functionality of all the features. Look for a system that also comes with ongoing support with software updates. This ensures that the system continues to be compatible as the automaker updates the software in your vehicle.
Systems that use a key fob will have an operating range. This is the distance you need to remain within to maintain communication. Alarm systems use radio frequencies, which are generally inconsistent in their performance. If you live in an area where there are many buildings or a high use of electronics, then the promised performance range shrinks. Consider this when determining the right range for your system. Don’t expect reliable performance if you are maxing out the maximum operating range on a system. Buy a system with a longer range than needed to account for obstacles blocking the signal.
Almost anyone can install a simple system. These are generally plug-and-play. You also shouldn't have too much trouble with systems specifically designed for your vehicle. It should come with a wiring harness that will plug directly into your vehicle’s existing wiring. Things can get more complicated with more advanced systems. These may require professional installation. A professional can also ensure that the alarm system is hidden so that a thief can’t easily locate and disarm it.
- Smartphone Compatibility. Traditional car alarm systems have a key fob. The system will communicate with the key fob to alert you to the alarm’s status and events. If you want something more advanced, then look for a system that comes with an app. Then you can control your alarm system from your smartphone. Be careful; some companies require you to pay a monthly fee for this service.
- Servicing Requirements. Choose an alarm system that is easy to maintain. This means it should have ongoing software support. The last thing you want are sophisticated thieves hacking your alarm’s software, disabling it, and stealing your vehicle. It’s also nice to have a local authorized dealer who can assist with troubleshooting should a problem arise.
- Features. Decide what level of security and protection you want and need. This will help you determine how many safety features you need your alarm to have. A simple alarm will have an audible sound that triggers once someone breaks into the car. An advanced system will have smartphone integration, immobilization, smartphone communication, a proximity sensor, GPS, remote start, and impact sensors. The more features the system has, the more expensive it will be.
Best Car Alarm Systems Reviews & Recommendations 2021
- Decide which kind of car alarm system best fits your needs. If you park your ride in a generally safe area with low crime rates, a one-way alarm system may be adequate. However, if your vehicle spends most of its time in a seedy area plagued with higher crime rates, a two-way alarm system will probably be the way to go.
- If you purchase a two-way system, check its operating range. Alarm systems operate via radio frequency, which can experience interference in areas like apartment buildings, rooms with high electronic or radio frequency interference, and over extended distances. Make sure you can use your two-way function wherever you need it the most.
- If your car alarm system is optimized for your smartphone, have your smartphone within easy reach when you go to sleep at night. You’ll be able to hear any alerts and hopefully react accordingly to thwart break-ins or vandalism to your vehicle.
- Test your vehicle’s alarm system to make sure that it was installed correctly and all its functions are working as intended. If you need help troubleshooting any issues that may arise, contact the manufacturer or go to a professional who specializes in aftermarket car alarms.
- Exercise common sense. Always park in a well-lit area, lock your doors, and keep all valuables out of sight. Although modern car alarm systems are superb theft deterrents, they are even more effective when you use them in conjunction with the tips above.
Q: Do I need to have a professional install my alarm?
If you’re a veteran wrench-turner who has the tools, time, and technical aptitude required for installing an aftermarket car alarm system, you should be able to handle the job. On the other hand, if the thought of fussing with your car’s electrical system makes you break out in hives, it’s probably best that you refer to a professional for installation.
Q: Will my car alarm drain my vehicle’s battery?
Yes, though the actual rate of depletion depends on the car systems that are connected to the alarm system. For instance, if your alarm system sets off your car’s horn, lights, and other accessories, it could drain your battery in a matter of hours. Additionally, if your battery is not at a full charge when the alarm is triggered, then the battery can be drained even quicker.
Q: Will I void my vehicle’s warranty if I have an aftermarket alarm system installed?
No. The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Improvement Act of 1975 essentially permits you to have aftermarket alarm and remote start systems installed on your car. With that said, if you make mincemeat out of your vehicle’s wiring system or carelessly punch holes in places where you shouldn’t, you’ll probably encounter warranty issues. If this is a legitimate concern for you, we recommend that you have your system professionally installed.
Q: What’s so good about alarms with remote start?
Alarms featuring remote start functionality are beneficial for users living in cold climates because you can start your engine remotely and let your car warm up for a few minutes, so it’s ready to roll when you are. Remote start is useful in warmer climates because you can remotely start your ride and have the A/C blasting so the cabin is delightfully cool when you’re ready to take off.
Our pick for the best auto alarm is the Compustar All-in-One 2-Way Remote Start and Alarm Bundle. Its long list of formidable features, such as two-way paging, shock sensors, and stellar battery life, shot it up to the top of our list.
For those budget-conscious consumers, we recommend the Scytek A15 Keyless Entry Car Alarm Security System.