Anti-Theft Car Alarm Has A Different Result

Everybody in America knows the significance of BRLATT! BRLATT! BRLATT!

That infamous horn signal is associated with “anti-theft” systems installed on most cars and light trucks made since the mid-1980s.

Since the mid-1980s, I have hated those car alarms as annoying and useless.

Perhaps I have been too harsh.

These alarms are supposed to go off if someone attempts to break into a locked vehicle. But after the alarms stop shouting BRLATT! BRLATT! BRLATT! those systems still make vehicle theft difficult.

I had not realized that until last week.

My truck had been parked at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds, far away from the entrance gate.

There probably was a BRLATT! BRLATT! BRLATT! But I was too far away to hear it. Anyone else probably thought, as I have thought thousands of times, “Some dolt screwed up the alarm system.” Folks usually just glance in the direction of the sound before moving on.

When I returned to my truck at about 9 p.m., there was no BRLATT! BRLATT! BRLATT! The scene was bucolic, serene.

I clicked the remote entry fob on my key ring. I tugged on the door handle.

The door stayed locked.

“Hah!” I thought to myself. “This truck is trying to mess with me. But I know the five-digit combination of numbers that will allow the remote entry keypad on the door to let me get into my truck!”

“Hah,” was correct, but in the sense that I was wrong.

Nothing happened when I punched in the entry combination. The truck was, in effect, a locked-solid brick.

I inserted the old-fashioned metal key into the keyhole. The lock clicked open. I entered the truck, put the key in the ignition, and turned it to “start.”

Nothing happened.

No faint growl or clicking that sometimes reveals a nearly dead battery.

But there was something weird. Lights around the radio and air conditioning controls were lit. I twirled those knobs. The lights stayed lit, but the radio, fan, etc., remained mute.


Dead battery? That would be odd. But, hey, nothing works, so . . . dead battery was a reasonable hypothesis.

The vehicle is covered by a roadside assistance program. I called. The nice lady in Tucson dispatched a local towing service.

Those people tried to jump-start the vehicle with a battery pack, with jumper cables.

Nothing happened.

No ignition or propulsion controls worked. We could not get the vehicle’s transmission out of “Park.” Rear wheels were locked. The truck was immobilized.

We tried using the key in the door to reset the anti-theft system. But we did it perfunctorily, and without consulting the directions in the owner’s manual (more on that in a bit).

Nothing happened.

The tow service people searched for more than a half-hour, checking all harnesses for loose wires.

Nothing happened.

Eventually, we had a flatbed wrecker tow my truck to Murrays Ford in DuBois, where it is under warranty.

There it sat for a few days until the service crew had time to check it out.

In the meantime, my wife and I drove to visit her son. We stopped at a rest area. She, the driver, returned to her Hyundai Elantra first. The doors automatically locked when she started the ignition. Seeing me approach, she reached across and manually unlocked the passenger door.

I pulled the handle.



We clicked the “panic” button on the key fob. The noise stopped. We tried to restart the car. BRLATT! BRLATT! BRLATT! We reached for the owner’s manual, meanwhile trying things, getting BRLATT! BRLATT! BRLATT! and disapproving stares from passers-by.

Eventually, we figured it out.

Disarming the system required more than just using the key in the driver’s side door. We had to follow a precise sequence of two or three steps, finishing with putting that key into the door. The Hyundai started. So did my brain.

I had an epiphany.

Wednesday at the fair, either deliberately or accidentally, someone must have triggered the alarm system on my truck. Its BRLATT! BRLATT! BRLATT! got no response from me because I was far away, inside the fairgrounds. Eventually, the noise stopped.

But the vehicle was immobilized, undriveable, can’t get out of “Park.”

I never grasped that after the alarm system had stopped its BRLATT! BRLATT! BRLATT! the vehicle would still be immobilized. It makes perfect sense, of course; that can foil a theft. But we just don’t think about it that way.

Someone should make the dashboard show a display, “Reset vehicle alarm system!” when BRLATT! BRLATT! BRLATT! happens and the door is subsequently opened.

In the meantime, I hope I and others will think “reset anti-theft system” if we return to a silently immobilized vehicle after the merciful end to the nerve-jangling BRLATT! BRLATT! BRLATT! We need to follow the prescribed sequence explained in the owner manual, not just try the key-in-door trick.

And I will try to not hate car alarms quite so much.


Denny Bonavita is a former editor at newspapers in DuBois and Warren. He lives near Brookville. Email: