If your horn sounds when you set your alarm, you are an asshole

It’s happened twice in the last couple of weeks. After parking my car in a busy parking lot, while walking to my destination, someone sets their car alarm at the very moment when I’m walking past their car. Car horns are meant to be loud. Truck horns are even louder. They are meant to be heard above traffic noise. As you might imagine, I nearly jumped out of my skin both times this happened.

It gets worse. No matter where I happen to live, there are always one or two people who live nearby and, arriving home from work in the middle of the night, blithely set their car alarm, generating at least one, and as many as three horn honks. One honk is bad enough in the otherwise dead silent — and mostly sleeping — neighboorhood. I can only imagine that the three honks are just the perpetrator’s desire to make absolutely certain that the alarm is set. Like pressing that lit elevator button repeatedly.

There are a few reasons why someone might inflict this kind of annoyance on innocent and unsuspecting people. First, there’s the old standby: they just don’t give a shit. They may have wondered if the noise might bother people, but they simply don’t care enough to do anything about it.

Second, they may find amusement or even joy in the prospect of bothering people. Don’t kid yourself; people like this exist. On the Internet, they’re called trolls.

But by far the most likely reason is plain ignorance. It seems that people simply don’t realize that they can change their car alarm configuration to disable the honking, and instead use an inaudible cue, such as flashing their car’s lights, to indicate alarm status. Depending on the manufacturer, there may be other options, such as a much quieter beeping sound.

This is a plea, to all owners of vehicles with alarms:

1. Unless there is a specific reason not to, please disable the horn honk when you set or disengage your alarm. Hint: there is no valid reason to leave the horn sound enabled. This Google search should get you started:

2. DO NOT enable your alarm when you are traveling on a ferry. It’s completely pointless, and the motion of the ferry will set off your alarm, repeatedly, over the entire trip. People who are unwilling (or unable) to leave their vehicles during the trip will be serenaded by your idiotic alarm the entire time.

UPDATE 2022Nov01: Like many other people, I’ve noticed that the worst culprits on the ferry are BMWs and Audis — basically, high-end vehicles. These things have “advanced” alarms that respond to movement inside the car and when the car is tilted to the side. And of course their alarms are incredibly, ear-splittingly loud. According to this article, many drivers simply don’t know how to disable these features. Terrific.

3. Consider disabling your alarm completely. Studies have shown that they are utterly ineffective anyway.

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It’s only a matter of time

… before the tiny woman driving the enormous white Hummer that drove me off the road yesterday kills someone. I was southbound on Fraser Road in Vancouver, and the Hummer was in the left lane, beside me and slightly ahead. Without any warning (like, you know, a signal or something), the Hummer veered into my lane, surprising me enough that the only thing I could do was stamp on the brakes and steer towards the curb. Seeing no reaction at all from the driver of the Hummer, I followed it for a couple of blocks and pulled up beside it. I could barely see the driver’s head through the side window. How can she drive that thing without being able to see anything? How did she get a license? I shudder to imagine what it would look like to see her try to park that thing. Anyway, I gave her a big ironic ‘thumbs up’ and left her to presumably wonder what I meant. Well, she’ll figure it out sooner or later when she maims or kills someone.

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My car was stolen

On Thursday, in the early morning hours, my car was stolen from the covered breezeway in my back yard. Whoever stole it was not a professional, because the car was 23 years old and rusty. Was it just local kids looking for a bit of fun? Probably. Will the cops ever find it? (The rest of this paragraph was removed after I came to my senses.)

Anyway, I did notice that the thief also stole one of the mudflaps that had fallen off and was sitting on a bench near the car. That would seem to indicate that either the thief intends to keep the car, or they acquired it for someone who intends to keep it. A couple of weeks ago at a traffic light someone in another car asked if I would sell it. When I declined, he looked very annoyed and asked “why not?” Was it him?

The car is a dark blue 1988 Toyota MR2, supercharged, with a T roof. If you see one of those (in the Vancouver area), let me know. They are rare enough that it will be worth my while to follow up.

**UPDATE** They found it! Whoever took it drove to Maple Ridge (about 20 miles away) and dumped it. Someone reported it abandoned yesterday and the Maple Ridge RCMP called me last night. No obvious damage other than the ignition. It will be towed to a local mechanic and repaired, and I should have it back later this week.

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A rant about car alarms

Ah, car alarms. Useless for deterring car theft, they do however provide wonderful new ways to annoy people. I was recently – and unavoidably – on a BC Ferry from Vancouver to Victoria and as usual decided not to do battle with the surging crowds of tourists on the passenger decks, preferring instead to stay in my car and read or nap. But as usual the relative peace of the car deck was shattered by car alarms going off every few minutes. There are only four possible reasons for this to occur: first, the car owner may not have realized that ferries move around a lot and will almost always set off their alarm. Hard to believe someone could be that stupid, but no, on second thought, it isn’t. Second, they may have enabled the alarm automatically, without thinking at all, as we do with so many of the repeated tasks in our lives. This is actually almost forgivable, if not for… Third, they don’t realize that their alarm probably has a silent alert option. Fourth, they know damn well it will go off, but don’t care, because they are a jerk.

After enduring this symphony of idiocy for a few minutes, I gave up and started making my way to the upper decks. On my way, I encountered a BC Ferries employee and made a joking reference to idiots and their car alarms. I should point out that I had often wondered why there are no signs on ferries telling people to disable their alarms. Anyway, he admitted that there is a strict BC Ferries policy against telling people not to enable their car alarms. That’s right, staff are not allowed to tell these idiots to stop being so incredibly annoying. Apparently their crack legal staff decided that BC Ferries might be liable if someone with a disabled car alarm had their car stolen on a ferry. Scratch that: where would the thief go with the car? So it must be that BC Ferries doesn’t want to be liable for theft of items from within cars with disabled alarms. And hey, they may be right. Still, I very much doubt a small-time crook would pay $60 for the privilege of working a two hour ferry ride, running around as fast as he can, cracking open cars, avoiding numerous travelers and staff, then dragging his loot back to his car and stuffing it in his trunk. And of course, unless he pays another $60 to wait in line for a couple more hours and ride again, he’ll be in the wrong town. Sorry, I just don’t buy it. Sure, corporate lawyers have to come up with something to make themselves appear useful, but is this the best they can do?

Years ago I lived in Toronto in an apartment building. My windows faced away from the major streets, so it was relatively quiet at night. Except for the idiot who came home from the night shift every night and – at 4am – enabled his car alarm with that loud, oh-so-familiar squawking sound, thereby waking up hundreds of people in the vicinity – including me of course. What this idiot failed to realize is that most car alarms can be enabled silently. Or possibly he knew damn well that this was possible but was just a huge asshat. Or he knew, but was sure everyone who heard it was actually impressed with his toy and secretly jealous of it. None of these options speaks well for this turd.

Now, a quick survey: when was the last time you heard a car alarm and did anything besides a) ignore it or b) groan and cover your head with your pillow? Never, right? What does this say about the efficacy of car alarms? I mean for the purposes of dealing with car-related theft, not for annoying people. So why are people still using the wretched things?

Now, for those interested (and for those of you for whom much of this is news), here are some links to car alarm information that may help you avoid being beaten to death after you smarmily enable your car alarm in the middle of the night – for the last time:
Steering you right: Car alarms
Wikipedia: car alarms
Alarmingly Useless: The Case for Banning Car Alarms in New York City

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Worst engines ever?

Why is it that 99 times out of 100 the car in front of me that’s making all that smoke is a Volkswagen diesel? I know diesel engines tend to make smoke, but not like this. I’m talking about smoke so thick, barfing out of these cars when they accelerate, that it’s difficult to see through at all. Never mind trying to breathe; if I don’t shut off my fan and close my windows fast enough, it’s coughing/gasping/headache city.

A knowledgeable friend of mine refers to diesel engines as “Doctor Diesel’s Little Smokers” – a reference to the inventor, Rudolf Diesel. According to the reference material, diesel engines spew black smoke, which is mostly particulate carbon, when one or more of the following is true:

  • the air cleaner is plugged;
  • one or more of the fuel injectors is malfunctioning;
  • the engine timing is incorrect; or
  • one or more cylinders has poor compression (bad rings, valves or guides).

Okay, so the drivers of these vehicles need to get them serviced. But why mostly Volkswagens? Is it just that there are so many diesel Volkswagens on the road? Are VW owners less likely to service their vehicle? To notice the problem? To realize it can be fixed? Or are VW diesel engines just crap?

I really wonder if these people notice all that smoke. Maybe they look at the back of their car and wonder why they can’t read the license plate for all the soot. I know I’m not helping by shaking my fist at them as I floor it to get in front of them. They probably just think I’m nuts.

In my opinion, diesel cars are stupid. I understand the fuel economy issue when it comes to trucks and buses, but for a basic commuter car? Is the marginal cost saving worth giving the world emphysema? Folks, if you’re going to drive a diesel car, at least be aware of the smoke potential and find a mechanic that knows how to fix it. And use decent diesel fuel, please.

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Can you see me now?

I’m always amazed when I see someone driving with fogged-up windows. Driving is dangerous enough when you can see, don’t you think? I wonder if their heater works? Do they have several large dogs in the car? I’ll never know.

This happens much more often when it’s raining. When it rains, people roll up their windows (fair enough). The air inside the car becomes warmer than outside because there are warm bodies inside, and the already humid air gets even wetter. Foggy windows are the result.

How can we avoid this? Turn on your fan. It may seem like common sense, but the fact that I see people driving around in a fog seems to argue otherwise. Possibly these people simply aren’t familiar with their vehicle’s heating system. Perhaps they don’t realize that you can turn on the fan without turning up the heat. Can it be that they don’t even notice the problem?

I never have this problem. That’s because I leave my fan running on low all the time. When it’s raining, I make sure to shoot the air onto the windshield by turning on “defrost” mode. Keeping the air moving like this eliminates foggy windows. Simple, huh?

Oh, and you know that “recirculate” button/knob? Make sure that stays off. Recirculating the air will fog up your windows quicker than you can say, “Was that a red light?” You may not be familiar with this control as it’s often labeled obscurely. Look for a two position switch: one position shows an arrow coming into the car and the other shows air moving around in circles inside the car. You want the position where air comes into the car. The other position is only useful if it’s really cold outside and you want to warm up the air inside the car quickly. Just remember to switch it back when you start driving.

Okay, so I hear complaints from people who wear contacts: “Leaving the fan on all the time dries out my eyes!” Sorry, I haven’t got an answer for that.

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Check your lights!

Assume, for the moment, that you are one of those rare drivers who actually uses their turn signals (I’ll have more to say about that later). There’s not much point using them if they aren’t working, right? But how will you ever know if your lights are malfunctioning? You can’t see them from inside the car. Or can you?

In fact, most drivers have plenty of opportunities to check their lights, if they could be bothered to notice. Next time you park, pull up close to whatever is in front of you and check your headlights. Even if it’s daylight, you should be able to see clearly if they’re both working. Then do the same thing for your turn signals.

Checking your rear lights is a bit trickier, but still doable. Next time you’re stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic, take the car out of gear and tap the brake pedal a few times. You should be able to see them in the rear view mirror, lighting up (or reflecting off) the vehicle behind you. Your results will vary, depending on the positioning of your lights and the type and colour of the vehicle behind you. Do the same thing for the rear signal lights, but be careful: you don’t want to give the impression that you want to change lanes.

It’s best to do these checks in your driveway or in stopped traffic. Don’t fiddle with your signal lights in moving traffic. That’s dangerous.

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