Brainstorm with me: DIY bait car

(Bob Anderson) #1

Locally there’s waves of theft going around from locked cars. It appears someone has a means of opening electronic locks silently and quickly, and is hitting whole streets at a time. There have been several waves of this recently and it’s getting really annoying. I could deter this from happening to me but that’s too easy and not enough fun. Project time!

I want to set up a bait car. Maybe leave a laptop case on the passenger seat or something. Ideally I could stream video inside, and set up a real-time alert if someone goes into the car. All of these thefts are happening overnight.

This is not all that straightforward. For video, power is an issue because my car, like most, doesn’t provide power to the cigarette adapters when the key is out. I was thinking possibly a Neatgear Arlo probably fits the bill. I might have to disguise it somehow, suggestions welcome.

I was also thinking a door open sensor could be useful. Any thoughts on how to set that up, or other sensors that might prove useful for getting a real-time alert of someone in my car?


I know this won’t be a popular answer, but if I were in that situation with that high of a risk and I thought the car itself would be stolen, I’d just get lojack with early warning.

You’ll get a notification if your car moves without your passcard, the police will be able to track your car if it is taken, and, most importantly, the police will take seriously and actually use the information from the device. Your insurance company will probably give you a small discount for having the loJack as well. Since there’s no annual fee for the service, this insurance discount can reduce the investment cost somewhat depending on how long you keep the car.

I know–not the popular answer. Just saying it’s what I’d do.

As for what else you might do short of that, personally I’d just put an Arlo camera inside the car. Everything about these is good except the battery life, but if you’re willing to change batteries every 3 or 4 weeks, you should be fine.

I don’t understand why anyone would want to make their personal car a bait car (I’d leave stuff like that to the cops), but if you make the cameras visible they’ll either serve as bait or a deterrent depending on how stupid the thief is.

If you absolutely must hook these into your SmartThings system, that’s easy–have the Arlo send an email to an IFTTT account.

Make sure you check local laws regarding video, you might have to aim it directly at the driver’s seat or something, some states have kind of weird privacy laws.

(Bob Anderson) #3

The cars are never stolen. And I have access to a throwaway car that’s in the affected area and would be there in any case. I’d be risking the camera at most. Not something I’d really like to risk, but if it comes with good video of the perp I think I might take the trade.

I think an Arlo with IFTTT e-mail alert on motion might be the ticket. Thanks for the input.


What does this mean? Does Arlo have an IFTTT channel?

(Bob Anderson) #5

On further research, apparently not. Which is surprising.

I guess JD was suggesting having Arlo send e-mail to IFTTT in order to trigger something in ST.



Arlo can send email, IFTTT has an email in channel.


Hi @anderson110,

If the car is also in range of your SmartThings Hub, add door open/close sensors to the doors and trunk and you will be able to tell if someone entered the vehicle. Another thing, I have a presence sensor hidden under the back seat of my car which tells me when my wife returns home with the baby. You can use it to know if it ever leaves the safety of your hub.

Another thought…You can get a ups to power the webcam. Since the camera doesn’t draw much power, you can have it run for hours. After that, you can have the UPS charge from a DC converter when the car is on the go.

(Ron S) #8

If its a throwaway car, will they even bother looking what’s inside the car unless you put a fancy laptop or something like that inside the car?

(Bob Anderson) #9

I’m not sure if it will be in range or not. But I wondered about the feasibility of a door open sensor if they will be leaving the range regularly. Will they automatically pair back up if they come back in range, or will I have to go through a pairing procedure every time?

A UPS is a very interesting thought, I’ll have to run some numbers to see how much life I could get out of that.

(Bob Anderson) #10

Apparently they are rifling through any and every car whether or not anything is in sight. So I think the answer is yes. It’s not a total junker aesthetically. I was thinking a laptop case as an extra enticement. Empty, of course, but they wouldn’t know that before getting in.


Both Zwave and Zigbee devices can leave and rejoin a mesh network automatically, that’s one of the main points of mesh. Humans don’t have to do repairings all the time when devices are taken off line for repairs or to have the batteries changed. So that part is OK.

Remember that car interiors superheat in what are fairly normal weather conditions. That will affect any equipment you have installed.

Cars parked in direct sunlight can reach internal temperatures up to 131° F - 172° F (55° C – 78° C) when outside temperatures are 80° F – 100° F (27° C – 38° C).”27 Even outside temperatures in the 60s can cause a car temperature to rise well above 110° F.

(Bob Anderson) #12

Yes, excellent point. With summer quickly approaching, a set it and forget system with cameras/batteries might not be practical.


Even the motion sensors probably aren’t rated to operate inside a car on a summer’s day. Check operating specs.

The Arlo cameras are OK for most outdoor use, and will probably be OK if the car is parked in the shade and you don’t live in Arizona or someplace else where outdoor temps are regularly over 100.

The Arlo operating specs:

14° to 122° F (-10° C to 50° C)

(Tim Slagle) #14

This is an awesome project!!!

I think you should totally do it and then write a blog article for STs! The idea is epicly awesome!

I also like that you don’t just want to help yourself but want to help your community! We need more people like you around!

(Bob Anderson) #15

Thank you!

Two Ecolink Z-Wave Door sensors ordered. If they can’t be made to work in the car they’ll certainly have use around my home.

I’m thinking about using an old smartphone for my video device. Could possibly be automated to record on door open sensor? And no further investment required or great loss if stolen, it just sits in a drawer at present. A hard reset and I wouldn’t lose sleep if it was stolen. I guess I would need a simcard, though. Still pondering…

(Tim Slagle) #16

These are the most “reliable” if you can get the to work/mount. Shouldn’t be a problem. If this doens’t work a couple STs multis could work and you could sense the door opening based on accel. (The accel. could provide false positives though)


(Bob Anderson) #17

That’s the way to go. I might have to look into a range extender, though.

(Tim Slagle) #18

Maybe a pay per month hot-spot?

(Kevin Shuk) #19

I’d mentioned this in the forums in a different context a while ago (at least I think I did), but it sounds like what’s happening to cars around your area is what’s described in this article:

The tl;dr is that there’s a cheap amp that can be placed near the vehicle so that it’s ‘reach’ when looking for the key fob transponder is greatly increased. If the key transponder is within the expanded radius, the doors may be unlocked. This doesn’t apply to push button remotes, but rather the transponders that allow the car doors to magically unlock if it’s very close by and you grab the door handle.

If you’re looking to catch someone at it… you now know a little more about the likely exploit they’re employing.

If you’re looking to prevent it from happening to you, keep your transponder fobs in cheap ‘faraday cage’ pouches.
Here is a link as an example of this type of product -
I’m not endorsing, nor have I tried this product. If you try this or another one, be sure to test it first.

The pattern you mentioned (only contents stolen, not the car itself) fits. The crime still requires the key - it doesn’t ‘copy’ the key, somehow accounting for rolling codes. If it allowed them to start the car, they wouldn’t get too far before they were out of the extended range and presumably the car would not go further… somehow… safely…

Yeah that raises another question. What would happen if one chucked the key transponder out the window at freeway speeds? Anyone want to perform this experiment and report back to me?*

*please don’t do this. I’m curious, but I’m OK being ignorant on this. Unless you already know what happens, in which case, by all means, enlighten me.


If the OP has a “throwaway car” with a remote keyless system, it’s no wonder his neighborhood is being targeted by thieves. Just sayin’ …

And, yeah, Farraday cages. Or bags. But not, apparently, the typical freezer. See the following, wherein I got schooled on door seals: :smile: