No Cause for Alarm 

Car alarms pain the eardrums

Car alarms pain the eardrums

My neighbor has a new car alarm. I know this because he used to come and go quietly. But now, every time he gets in or out of his car, the car lets out an extremely loud BEEP-boop sound. And on weekend mornings, when my neighbor isn’t at his sharpest, he manages to set the alarm off in full voice. It doesn’t just sing the little BEEP-boop intro, it lets loose with the whole damn 99-bottles-of-beer-on-the-wall.

I’m not just being irritable when I say this thing is loud. A few years back, I got a bilateral ear infection, which made me go deaf for a while. Part of the cure was for an ear doctor to poke little holes in my eardrums. Believe me when I tell you: My neighbor’s car alarm is just a little less loud than the sound of an eardrum being pierced.

I’m sure that the idea of the car alarm is to stop anybody who might want to steal the car. This strategy will fail. When I lived in New York City, I personally watched car thieves break into a car, and drive it away, with the car alarm going full tilt the whole time. The thieving youths weren’t trying to hide, they were loud and proud. Besides the alarm, they had loud, bass-booming music going. They were hanging out of the windows, yelling, “Hey! Hey! We just stole this car!”

People in New York stopped hearing alarms—and stopped seeing property crimes—years ago. Every day, somebody would chain a bicycle to a lamppost in front of my office. By the time I went to lunch, the seat and handlebars would be gone. When I came back from lunch, the front wheel would be gone. By 5 o’clock, the bike frame and the fancy lock would be gone, and there’d be nothing left but the lonesome chain.

Of course, in Nashville, if a citizen heard a car alarm go off, he’d investigate, right? If he saw somebody breaking a car window and jumping into the driver’s seat, he’d call the police, right?

Well, maybe. Or maybe not. I figure the more alarms you hear, the lower your threshold of vigilance. Eventually, you just learn to hate the alarms. For instance, even though I’m a pretty solid citizen, if I caught somebody stealing my neighbor’s pesky screaming car, I’d offer to help him steal it. If the thief needed some needlenose pliers to get the ignition hot-wired, I’d run to my toolbox and fetch him a pair. Shoot, I’d wash the windshield and check the air in the tires. I’d rather live in a world where a few people have to eat their deductible than a world where car alarms are whooping and whining all over the place. I say, the sooner the alarmed cars are stripped and sold for parts, the better.

From what I can tell, a person’s position on this issue depends pretty much on how much he needs to be noticed. It breaks down like this: If you’re the type of person who, upon catching a foul ball at a baseball game, would raise your arms above your head and dance around like you’ve done something really special, you either have a car alarm, or you want one. On the other hand, if you’d catch a foul ball and just sit back down, you’d disconnect a car alarm even if you had one.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t want thieves getting away with anything. I’d be all in favor of installing security cameras in rear-view mirrors, and placing remote-control bear traps under the driver’s-seat upholstery. That way, if your car ever turned up missing, you could push a button and check the camera to see who’s driving your car. If it’s not somebody you know and love, you could push another button and literally tear up his ass.

But in the meantime, it would be nice if folks wouldn’t make their own neuroses everybody else’s problem. If you fear for your wheels, buy a Club. Or, every time you park, open the hood, take off the distributor cap, and drop it in your briefcase. Do anything but install a 180-decibel alarm that cries out every time there’s a stiff wind. Over time, all the false alarms will just numb the neighbors. And then it just won’t feel like Tennessee anymore.

Visit Walter’s Web site at Or e-mail him at


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