A few years ago, car-security devices were found mainly in luxury vehicles. But as crimes involving vehicles increase, security gadgets are becoming more widely used, even in economy cars.

The antitheft device market grew nearly seven-fold from 2000 to 17.6 billion yen in 2003 and is expected to reach 71.8 billion yen in 2010, according to Yano Research Institute Ltd., a market research firm.

Car-security products fall into two broad categories: built-in devices, including engine immobilizers that require microchip-embedded keys, and items bought at accessory retailers, including steering wheel locks and some types of burglar alarms.

National Policy Agency data show the number of stolen cars reached a record 64,223 in 2003. The number of car break-ins more than doubled from 1997 to 443,298 in 2002, although it declined slightly in 2003 to 414,819.

Auto-accessory retailers are taking advantage of consumer demand for protective devices.

Sales of security products at Autobacs Seven Co., which has 517 outlets nationwide, increased five-fold between 1998 and 2002.

“We expanded our selling space by 70 percent last summer,” said employee Takeshi Arisawa at a Super Autobacs outlet in Ichikawa, Chiba Prefecture.

The store sells 70 to 80 different items, mostly real and dummy alarms, priced from 2,000 yen to 50,000 yen. Some models are equipped with both a car alarm and a hand-held receiver that indicates if a car is being broken into. Also popular are steering wheel locks.

Hisashi Otsuka, a 45-year-old bar owner, recently bought a 3,500 yen dummy alarm to scare off burglars from his new Honda Odyssey minivan.

“Since a high-grade alarm system is pricey, I thought I would first go for a dummy, which I believe is still effective,” he said.

But the automotive industry warns car owners not to rely too heavily on security devices.

“Whatever security devices are fitted, it is not 100 percent preventive,” Toyota Motors Corp. spokesman Kazuhiko Ohora said.

He also cautioned against leaving a car unattended with the engine running, citing 2003 NPA data that show about 30 percent of car thefts occurred when the engine had not been turned off.

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