Stuck with loud car alarms -- help me get sleep!
November 2, 2005 3:41 AM   Subscribe

Do I have any real options in dealing with loud car alarms? (Short of taking a brick to the windshield, which is what I really want to do.)

I live in NYC on a usually-quiet residential street, but often at night a car alarm will go off for maybe 20 minutes straight, or a truck will rumble by and set off alarms on five or ten different cars simultaneously.

I'm planning to identify the offending cars and leave polite notes under the windshield wipers...which I'm sure will be ignored. The City Council speaker has specifically ruled out banning loud car alarms, and I doubt I could get the NYPD to enforce the noise ordinance. (Will calling 311 actually do anything?) Am I doomed to waking up several times a night?

Also: has a car alarm ever stopped a thief?
posted by Vidiot to Society & Culture (29 answers total)
I remember reading this New Yorker piece about the subject which mentions this site.
posted by sexymofo at 4:02 AM on November 2, 2005

I'm planning to identify the offending cars and leave polite notes under the windshield wipers...which I'm sure will be ignored.

that may not be such a slammin' idea. imagine the image of car with its alarm blasting and you're fooling around with a windshield wiper. if the owner (or worse, a cop or security guard) were to come up, how would you explain yourself?
posted by mcsweetie at 5:35 AM on November 2, 2005

When I lived in Chicago, I called 311 to report a car alarm that was going off as a result of the wind. Next morning, POOF, a bunch of tickets. It could work.
posted by MrZero at 5:44 AM on November 2, 2005

I believe sexymofo means this site
posted by Frasermoo at 5:48 AM on November 2, 2005

Corrected link for Frasermoo
posted by shinynewnick at 6:03 AM on November 2, 2005

that may not be such a slammin' idea. imagine the image of car with its alarm blasting and you're fooling around with a windshield wiper. if the owner (or worse, a cop or security guard) were to come up, how would you explain yourself?

Cops are (usually) people too you know? If anything it's the neighbourly thing to do and somehow I doubt you will be spending the night in the cells for leaving a note on a windshield. The usual aproach by the law in such a situation is not to immediately jump on anyone within 10ft of the veichle and give them a good kicking before dragging them off to jail. At least here in the UK they usually talk to you first if you don't try and leg it.
posted by alexst at 6:03 AM on November 2, 2005

Also: has a car alarm ever stopped a thief?

This, to my mind, is the more interesting and relevant question, because if the answer is no, then car alarms should be banned, period, given that they do nothing but create noise pollution. Of course, this is probably a billion dollar industry and there's no way it's going to get eliminated, but if anyone here works for an insurance company or law enforcement, I'd love to see some statistics. There are a couple of douchebags on my street whose alarms are always going off at all hours of the night
posted by spicynuts at 6:30 AM on November 2, 2005

We're having a problem in our neighborhood right now with one auto. I would call, call and call the police again. Even if you are calling to suggest that a car has been broken into -- the police will start billing after some number of false alarms (it's three/some period (?) in Cambridge, MA.

I once was awoken by a car alarm just below our bedroom window. I've forgotten all the details but it turns out the car was burgled -- the alarm prevented me from hearing the act of breaking the window -- which alone would have woken me and I would have called the police. As it was, I simply looked outside, saw nothing, went back to bed.

The car was parked about one block from the owner's home. At about 7:00 am, the alarm went off again. I was awake and stepped out to see what was going on. The owner and cop were standing there letting the alarm blare away. I asked if they could shut it off. They looked at me as if I had no right and then chastised me for not doing something about the break-in. Car alarms are absurd and should, now if not within ten years, dial the owner's home and remain silent on the street. /grrr
posted by Dick Paris at 6:32 AM on November 2, 2005

Have you tried taking a stroll to the local precinct and asking them if there's anything you can do?

Also, try 311. It may not work the first time, but if you keep calling them something - what I don't know - might happen.....

If you haven't tried this yet, go get the cheapest fan the local hardware store has and sleep with it blasting. The white noise can be a tremendous help in blocking sound.

(Now if I could just get my upstairs neighbor to stop his 6 a.m. goosestepping, or pogo stick workout, or whatever the hell he's doing.)
posted by CunningLinguist at 6:36 AM on November 2, 2005

I also find car alarms useless. I was at lunch, outside on a patio, with a couple of family members a few years ago. We heard a car alarm start going off in a parking lot not too far away, and it kept going off. And then it started moving - somehow, the car was being driven away with the car alarm still going. Did anyone who was outside and heard this do anything? Nope.

If it's a lot of car alarms going off, my guess is you're going to need to determine something to do from your end - like using ear plugs. Not fun for you - I wish I had better answers.
posted by bibbit at 6:38 AM on November 2, 2005

if the owner (or worse, a cop or security guard) were to come up

I lived in NYC (Vidiot's neighborhood, in fact, for most of the time) for over 20 years and never saw anyone respond to a car alarm. Not once. Furthermore, I don't believe burglars pay the slightest attention to them (and why should they, since no one else does except to curse and pull the pillow over their ears). Car alarms should be banned with extreme prejudice. Not hearing them any more is one of the things that reconciles me to having left the city.
posted by languagehat at 6:43 AM on November 2, 2005

Not a fan of alarms (had one go off on a friday night and sound until sunday night, becoming progressively slower and lower in pitch) but I can attest that at least one car was saved this way.

Dicey Brooklyn neighborhood, visiting friends, my car just outside. I hear the alarm, look outside and see some youths jacking open the door, walk outside and they run away.

The best kind of alarm is one that silently signals the owner through a radio device.
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:56 AM on November 2, 2005

Frank Rich had a story some years ago talking about his solution. He'd identify the car in question, use the plates to track down the owner (apparently this is possibly in NY State), and then knock on the owner's door, saying he was part of a volunteer organization that would call the owners of alarmed cars whenever their alarms went off. People would complain "but then you'd be calling me all the time!" and a few seconds later, the lightbulb over their head would illuminate.

So, you could try that.
posted by adamrice at 7:04 AM on November 2, 2005

Vidiot, did you write this Wired piece?
posted by afroblanca at 7:11 AM on November 2, 2005

I'm with Languagehat: a car alarm has *never* stopped a thief, the main reasons being: 1. If they're smart enough to steal your car, they're smart enough to deal with the car alarm. 2. If they're just taking your stereo, they're going to be long gone before you ever leave the house.

I have in fact keyed a car that was going off under my bedroom window--12 feet away--for three hours. The police took calls from the entire neighborhood and did nothing, even though it violated the rule that a car alarm should not sound for more than three minutes. What it was doing was going off for a minute or two, stopping for ten seconds, then starting again. (I like the naive assumption above that the police are your friends. Maybe I should move to the UK.) I could hear the alarm through foam in-ear plugs, covered by noise-reducing headphones, with a nearby fan moving at top speed, and the windows closed. The woman finally came out of her house three doors down and looked baffled at the angry shouts from neighbors. Scraping the paint on that car all the way down one side, around the back, and up the other side WHILE THE ALARM WAS GOING OFF felt better than just about anything you can imagine. That car was often parked on my block afterward and I never heard its car alarm again.
posted by Mo Nickels at 7:16 AM on November 2, 2005

The owner and cop were standing there letting the alarm blare away. I asked if they could shut it off. They looked at me as if I had no right and then chastised me for not doing something about the break-in.

The proper response to this was, "It goes off constantly and I've gotten used to ignoring it most of the time. I'm sorry that this time is different, but maybe you should look into getting it adjusted properly?" Apologizing for something that's not your fault (even though you don't accept blame) is a good way to defuse a potentially hostile situation, or at least it'll redirect the hostility onto the theives.

We had a car in my neighbourhood that was going off constantly. We lived on a major north-south connector from the party part of town to the freeway, and when the bars closed at 1-2 am there were always a ton of riced-out cars with fart pipes tht would blast down our street, carrying their drunken underaged drivers back out to the suburbs where they belonged. After talking to the owner several times, I finally went outside one beautiful summer night for a "walk", and I just happened to set it off every time I went around the block. After about the fifteenth time, he came out and shut it off for good, and then took it in to be adjusted the next day.
posted by SpecialK at 7:28 AM on November 2, 2005

I find a weathproof laser label with an appropriate message (Like Every night your alarm goes off I'm applying a sticker) applied to the drivers rear view mirror to be fairly effective as a automotive antisocial behaviour modifier. Works on those ass hats who park in handicap spaces, no stopping zones, no parking zones, fire lanes and in front of fire hydrants too. A buddy had many people parking in his handicap street parking zone and a few dozen stickers resolved the problem.
posted by Mitheral at 7:28 AM on November 2, 2005

Another vote for stickers. I've seen them work too.

...and for the inevitable "if someone put that on my car I'd sue their ass!" remarks, large condo towers do it. If it were really actionable, you think they'd be doing it? Some of them even seem to use stickers that are a royal pain in the ass to remove without chemicals, because you can occasionally see cars driving around with semi-permanent sticker fragments on them.
posted by aramaic at 7:39 AM on November 2, 2005

I realize the criminal implications of this, it's a shame they don't make a "zappit" for car alarms. Seems like some bright, enterprising individual could figure out how to wire up a little device that would disable these scurges of the parking lot.
posted by AllesKlar at 7:42 AM on November 2, 2005

Are the cars in flinging distance from your window? You could try eggs. Just don't get busted.
So far I like the sticker idea best though.
posted by CunningLinguist at 7:46 AM on November 2, 2005

I like the note on the windshield. You could create the %My Street Peace and Quiet Committee and make it look quite official, with a gmail account as contact. I leave notes on the windshileds of cars that park stupidly, i.e., blocking my drive. 1st note is very polite and friendly. 2nd note cites city requirement that cars park 5 feet from curb cut (I'm happy if they're 5 inches from the curb cut). No 3rd notes, so far, but that would involve asking Parking Control to ticket/tow. The note lists their plate#.

Document times, dates, plate #s, and number of alarms to 311 and city councilor and any neighborhood group. I love the idea of showing up and offering to call, but wouldn't do it unless I were 6'3" and 225 lbs+. If you sticker the car, put it on the rear window, or on the hood, so it does not obstruct visibility/safety. If a thief has a choice between a car with no alarm and a car with an alarm, for the same reward, the alarm-free car will be 1st choice. Keying the car would be sooo satisfying, or prop a nail under a tire or 4. Just don't do retribution if you become known as the Alarm Avenger. You'll be prosecuted, and they'll win. I think SHUT UP in paint remover on the hood would be kind of effective, if you make sure you don't get caught.
posted by theora55 at 7:49 AM on November 2, 2005 [1 favorite]

Mo Nickels: I wish I had your... um, testicular fortitude!
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 8:02 AM on November 2, 2005

Seems like some bright, enterprising individual could figure out how to wire up a little device that would disable these scurges of the parking lot.

posted by kindall at 8:12 AM on November 2, 2005

Once left a very polite note under a windshield wiper explaining that if my sleep was once more disrupted by the car's alarm, I would coat the car in finish-destroying yellow mustard and facial toner. Owner stopped parking on my block.
posted by Sara Anne at 8:40 AM on November 2, 2005

Every single time it happens call 3-1-1 and file a complaint about the noise. Be patient and let the number of complaints pile up. Make sure all the complaints are linked against your address. If the alarms are causing health problems, like insomnia, complain to your doctor about them and have him make a note of it in your medical records. Finally, approach your neighbors and ask them if they notice the alarms and if it bothers them. Ask them what can be done about it. They'll waffle about concrete action so propose a petition, as a first step, and collect signatures. Armed with a history of complaints, medical records showing how the noise affects your quality of life, and signatures, you'll have the ammunition you need to lodge a formal complaint. This is the most time consuming step: you have to complain to everybody. Complain to the police, to the city, to the state, to neighborhood groups, to businesses, everybody who's willing to listen. If you complain long enough and loud enough hopefully somebody will listen sooner or later.

If all else fails, soundproof your windows and wear ear plugs.
posted by nixerman at 9:06 AM on November 2, 2005

The one car alarm I saw that worked was quite simple. The guy installed three (!) sirens -- and all of them were on the inside of the car. You, quite simply, could not enter the car with all of those going off at once.

I asked if he was trying to prevent theft, or seriously harm the guy. He said "Why the exclusive or?"

My thought was then "Then set a 5 second delay -- but make *damn* sure the alarms off before you get in."

He grinned. I don't know if he did it or not, but I know he's as much of BOFH as I am. He probably did (and may have installed more sirens.)
posted by eriko at 10:37 AM on November 2, 2005

Sirens are hard to place. Piezo electric buzzers are available rated between 90 and 130db and come in small easy to mount packages. Two in the foot wells and two on the A or B pillar powered by a hidden backup battery make a fairly effective deterent even against the guy trying to steal your stereo a, uh, "friend" has told me.
posted by Mitheral at 11:59 AM on November 2, 2005

I've printed up copies of the following, which I duct-tape to the offending car's driver-side window. At the very least, it usually convinces the owner to move the car somewhere else.

Your car alarm is


It goes off many times each night
disturbing hundreds of people.

You MUST fix it TODAY.

If you don't, it will be REMOVED,
any you might find yourself needing a new window,
a new windshield, or even a whole new car.
posted by KRS at 12:26 PM on November 2, 2005

The battery of most cars is just above and to the front of the front driver's side tire. With a stout pair of gloves, just reach up under there and pull on anything that feels like a wire, taking care not to injure yourself.

If 311 doesn't work, just call 911 and report an auto theft in progress.
posted by jimfl at 7:37 PM on November 2, 2005

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