does it make sense to change the locks in an old car for security reasons?

Let´s say cars build in the 90s, which are (as I assume) very easy to steal because of the older, more simple locks?

Kind regards and thanks!

  • 6
    We used to fit switches to cut the supply to the coil and/or fuel pump. Hide the switches...
    – Solar Mike
    Sep 23, 2020 at 6:17
  • 2
    Fitting additional locks to van doors is entirely normal in the UK.
    – Separatrix
    Sep 23, 2020 at 9:53
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    I used to collect cars on a breakdown wagon, drag car onto trailer and secure and gone. No one ever asked me what I was doing or tried to stop me... So if they really want your car it’s easy..
    – Solar Mike
    Sep 23, 2020 at 10:54
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    @Separatrix As are yobs trawling for a smash'n'grab. It really depends on where OP is, what their vehicle is, and what crime is like in their area. A '93 Geo Metro in Knightsbridge isn't going to be a hot target, but a sparky van with £100k of tools and equipment in the back parked on a side street in Croydon is a different story.
    – J...
    Sep 23, 2020 at 12:06
  • 2
    @DDuck Wouldn't the advice of Hobbs, and other security experts, be better characterized as "obscurity should not be the only security mechanism", but that adding obscurity as an additional layer can be helpful?
    – Doug Deden
    Sep 23, 2020 at 16:28

5 Answers 5


Installing an aftermarket security system (possibly even two-way or with cellular communications and a GPS-tracker) would be your best bet if you are concerned about car being stolen. Locks are often model-specific and I don't believe it would be an easy task to retrofit a newer lock into an older car.

Generally, any car lock, new or old, can be opened very quickly if the person doing it is skilled enough and is significantly motivated.

  • 5
    As with most things, a lock is meant to keep honest people honest. If someone has knowledge and intent they can get into a car pretty easily as well as get it running and going. Sep 22, 2020 at 22:28
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    A friend of mine had a classic Lotus sports car that was fitted will a range of "DIY" security measures. Some thieves managed to get into it at night while it was parked on his driveway without disturbing anyone. They couldn't start it, so they then pushed it half a mile to a pub car park, and came back in broad daylight next day. Nobody took any notice of two guys working on an old car that presumably wouldn't start the night before. They then used it in several house burglaries for the next week, but had to abandon it because they couldn't remove the locking gas filler cap!
    – alephzero
    Sep 22, 2020 at 23:57
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    ... They were soon caught, because they abandoned the car leaving their own credit card inside it. It's the little things that get you. The gas cap was nothing special - price £10 from any motor accessory store.
    – alephzero
    Sep 23, 2020 at 0:03
  • See also youtu.be/CCl_KxGLgOA
    – alephzero
    Sep 23, 2020 at 0:08

@Enot has an excellent answer but I still want to contribute a little as well.

Specific to your questions, Auto locks made in the 90's I would argue are BETTER in many cases than their newer after market counterparts these days. Many older locks used side bar designs (like the GM door locks, Ford ignitions, Chrysler locks) where the newer replacements are made cheaply as basic wafer locks and do not use side bars (and even use LESS wafers in some cases).

In general, Even if you put a unpickable lock in its place then it would still do you no good. 98% of automotive lockout openings completely bypass the lock cylinder for entry all together.

Door locks have become very basic in their level of security and only prevent someone from opening just as they were passing by randomly or allow the cars owner to open the door when the battery is dead. Really that is all they need to be able to do these days. Entry access has gone to keyless remotes and security has gone to advanced alarms/immobilizer systems shutting the cars down.

  • 1
    There's the element of wear too - an older lock has more slop because of the number of times its been opened. As the keys wear they also induce larger tolerances over time.
    – Criggie
    Sep 24, 2020 at 22:43
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    This is true and could play a big role in replacement or not in some situations but compared to many after market cylinders the slop from wear on the typical door lock is similar to the slop of cheap/poor manufacturing. Newer OEM locks are made a little better with tighter tolerances but they still lack the side bar features compared to original 90's lock in many cases. It may sound like a simple thing but sidebars are a big step up from a basic wafer lock.
    – narkeleptk
    Sep 25, 2020 at 12:38

With older cars, the value of the securing the vehicle is not in preventing it from being stolen, but rather preventing the contents of the vehicle from being stolen. Other than joyriding, most cars from the 1990s would have little value to a thief. There are almost no demands for parts for vehicles from that era, unless someone just happens to have a specific need for a specific part from a specific vehicle.

That is why in some places, such as the desert in Australia and the Negev in Israel, many people don't even lock the car. The real threat is to the vehicle contents, and for that thieves have no problem smashing windows. I've even seen the windows left partially down to prevent them from being smashed by thieves.

That said, catalytic converters are commonly stolen from all vehicles, especially trucks as the cat is not only larger but it is easier to access. Exhaust shops can weld in a cage to protect the cat if that is a concern for you.

  • 1
    I expected the theft of 90's cars to be rare due to their undesirability, but it turns out to be reasonably common due to older security features. In 2018, for example, the second-most stolen car in the US was the Honda Accord, with the 1997 model being the most frequently stolen, despite being over 20 years old. This is apparently due to the simplicity of using a foreign object in place of the ignition key for that model year. Sep 23, 2020 at 18:06
  • @NuclearWang: Right, those cars are used for joyriding.
    – dotancohen
    Sep 23, 2020 at 18:07
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    If the car is stolen, it's stolen - does the reason why it got stolen make any difference? Older cars may not be targeted by profit-seeking criminal enterprises, but that doesn't make them immune to theft. Sep 23, 2020 at 18:13
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    @NuclearWang: Addressing the motive is the single most effective way of preventing theft. If the goal is joyriding, then the steering wheel locks are very effective. If the goal is to steal it for parts, then an alarm, surveillance and a vehicle tracker are called for. If the goal is to steal the contents of the vehicle, then an alarm sticker may be effective, or leaving the car unlocked. It is almost impracticable to defend against all these threats, so typically vehicles are protected against the crime in the area where they are stored. There is no joyriding in my area, for instance.
    – dotancohen
    Sep 23, 2020 at 18:42
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    @dotancohen If you're selling it legally, sure. I doubt that black-market sales of stolen cars go through the government office.
    – nick012000
    Sep 25, 2020 at 3:42

It makes no sense to change the locks in your car, because it isn't locks that prevent a car from being stolen. Door locks can be bypassed with a slim-jim, or a good old-fashioned brick will smash a window. If you want to prevent your car from being broken into don't have anything valuable within sight, if you want to make your car hard to steal then invest in a steering wheel lock or engine immobilizer. Neither of these is foolproof, but they make it much harder to steal a car.

  • 1
    Most steering wheel locks are fairly easy to defeat for a determined thief, see this video for some demonstrations. They act as a bit of a visual deterrent though.
    – marcelm
    Sep 23, 2020 at 9:04
  • A thief with the right tools is going to have your car @marcelm, some use liquid nitrogen to freeze locks and break them. But, having a lock will raise the bar.
    – GdD
    Sep 23, 2020 at 9:15
  • Oh, I agree, but I wanted to share how easily steering wheel locks are defeated. I know I was a bit shocked the first time I saw that.
    – marcelm
    Sep 23, 2020 at 9:17
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    It's too easy to steal cars @marcelm. A few years ago I came outside to find a small pile of glass where my BMW 530D had been the night before. Turns out BMW's security system had been cracked and all the thieves had to do was plug in a computer to the OBD port, stick in a knock-off key and reprogram it. I still miss that car.
    – GdD
    Sep 23, 2020 at 9:20
  • Ah ha! @GdD, that is why your maintenance costs are so low!! ;) Sorry to hear that - if people would put all that ingenuity to use for good purposes, we'd be so much further ahead as a society.
    – FreeMan
    Sep 23, 2020 at 16:07

Ironically for the OP's question, the 90s is where cars started to be harder to steal because of the widespread addition of immobilisers. These were required by law in Europe from 1998, but most cars had them before that. I know my 1993 Peugeot 309 had one.

As other answers have said, with the addition of immobilisers, theft of cars became relatively rare. Immobilisers can certainly be cracked by more professional thieves, but there isn't that much profit in stealing a regular car. Most of the issues are theft from the car, and a simple brick will get you into the car to steal stuff. Vans often have more substantial aftermarket locks on the back and do not have windows that can be broken, but on a regular car there's really no point.

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