(last updated July 2019)
What has been happening in the car security sector
In the mid 1990s and early 2000s, over 300,000 cars were stolen each year. As the security of new cars continued to improve and insurance companies encouraged the fitting of security devices to older vehicles, the number of stolen cars fell steadily from 2003/04 reaching a low of 70,053 by 2014. Things stopped improving however and the following three years saw an increase of 30% in the number of car thefts as a result of thieves by-passing the security devices using keyless techniques by hacking into on-board computers. As well as providing an opportunity for car alarm fitters to sell additional electronic security devices, they could also stock and advise customers to buy anti-theft devices such as a steering wheel lock as an effective visible deterrent.
Vehicle-related theft, including both cars stolen and thefts of valuables from vehicles, continues to be a significant problem in the UK, with government statistics showing that there is in the region of one million vehicle-related thefts each year. With this in mind, and knowing that thieves have now learned how to by-pass security devices fitted to new cars, there is likely to be scope for car alarm fitters to sell security upgrades and tracking devices.
Insurance company approved products
In the early 1990s insurance companies were making huge losses on car insurance. In an attempt to change this they began offering lower premiums for cars fitted with approved security systems. They also refused to insure certain high performance models until they were fitted with an approved security system. This led to a large demand for security fitting services and the creation of a list of approved products. The independent research centre, Thatcham, tests all car alarms, immobilisers and tracking devices and maintains the approved list. Even though the number of cars stolen each year has been falling, insurers continue to offer discounts on premiums to drivers who have Thatcham approved security systems fitted and it may even be a condition of cover for certain high-risk vehicles.
Improved security of new cars
In recent years the security of new cars as supplied has improved. Following criticism that they did little to deter thieves, car manufacturers improved the strength and sophistication of door and ignition locks and began fitting new cars with immobilisers and/or an alarm as standard. Since 1998, EU law has made it compulsory that all new cars are fitted with an electronic immobiliser as standard. This means that the cars can no longer be hot-wired and driven away without the keys. The effect has been a huge reduction in the number of cars stolen. Those with traditional keyed entry systems that are stolen can only be driven away with the use of the owners keys, which are increasingly targeted by burglars. Thatcham estimates that up to 80% of vehicle thefts are now carried out with the aid of the owners' keys.
Changes in demand
Now that all new cars are fitted with an immobiliser (and often an alarm too), demand for fitting basic security systems has decreased. These days alarm fitters are more likely to be asked to upgrade a car manufacturers' system - perhaps adding remote door locking or a more sophisticated immobiliser. Fitting tracking systems (which enable a stolen vehicle to be traced and recovered) has become increasingly popular as few vehicles are fitted with these systems as standard. There may still be a demand for fitting basic alarms/immobilisers to older vehicles, although many drivers of old cars will rely on a simple mechanical device such as a steering lock, or nothing at all.
Fitting other accessories
You might generate extra work if you are prepared to supply and fit accessories such as in-car mobile phone systems, satellite navigation systems, parking sensors and speed camera detector devices, in addition to security equipment. Business customers such as haulage companies, courier and taxi firms might ask you to fit vehicle tracking, delivery management and route planning systems.
Overall, the market for fitting basic car alarms has decreased in recent years, but this has been made up for by a growing demand for a wide range of other equipment. You will have to decide whether:
- there is sufficient demand in your area to support your proposed business
- you will need to offer to supply and fit a range of accessories in addition to alarms and immobilisers
- you will be able to compete against existing car security and accessory businesses
- the economic uncertainty following the vote in June 2016 to leave the EU will have an impact on people's disposable income - bear in mind, though, that it might be cheaper in the long run for people to spend on car security than risk having their car stolen
Keep up to date with developments
Various organisations are concerned with the vehicle security sector in the UK. The Mobile Electronics and Security Federation is a trade association for those involved in the aftermarket electronics industry, including vehicle security fitters. The Federation offers members training and qualifications, operates a Code of Practice, a guarantee scheme and offers legal advice. The research organisation Thatcham tests all alarms and immobilisers and publishes a list of approved products. Visit their websites for further information.
Trade journals such as Car and Accessory Trader are also good sources of information.
You will be able to obtain a lot of useful information if you go to a trade show for the motor trade. You will be able to meet manufacturers, suppliers and importers of car security equipment and accessories and plan your future stock buying. The Exhibitions UK website includes details of forthcoming exhibitions in many different industry sectors.