Microdots to the rescue
I BELIEVE there's now a car security system on the market which apparently consists of thousands of tiny dots applied all over the car and somehow each dot can provide the police with the car's VIN (vehicle identification number). How does this work and what do you think of it? - Crime Fighter
It's called microdot technology and it's not all that new. There are currently two firms marketing it in South Africa, and the one which has the lion's share of the market, has been operating here for 10 years.
The system has been relatively slow to catch on in our country - Avis, BMW and Nissan were among the first to appreciate its potential - but it's rapidly gaining in popularity.
For the past six months it has been applied to 35000 vehicles per month on average, thanks in no small part to the fact that it is now being fitted by some high-volume manufacturers like Hyundai/Kia and Toyota.
It's expected to become compulsory for all new vehicles once the new Road Traffic Act comes into effect.
The technical details of the system are deceptively simple: about 10000 tiny, disc-shaped microdots, typically 1mm in diameter, are sprayed on to a vehicle, mixed in a special adhesive, which dries colourless but fluoresces under ultra-violet light.
About 3000 of them are sprayed on overt places where the police know to look for them or for traces of the fluorescent glue (or for signs of attempted removal); the other 7000 are applied to a host of carefully selected covert places all over the car.
Each of these dots, when viewed under a pocket microscope, will clearly show the vehicle's 17-digit VIN, repeated several times in a pattern.
Underpinning this is scarce and expensive technology, patented and regulated, which criminals will not have easy access to. The value of microdot identification lies in the fact that it makes a vehicle carrying a microdot warning sticker very unattractive to the middle man in the car theft racket, and hence also to the "runner" who steals the car.
Instead of quickly destroying or altering a few pieces of incriminating evidence, the middle man now has to get rid of 10000 pieces of irrefutable evidence, some of them hidden in places where you'd never expect.
Even if he succeeds in obliterating half of these, so skilfully applied that a trained detective cannot pick it up (and that's not easily done!), there are still 5000 just waiting for the quiet man who arrives unannounced with an ultra-violet torch in hand.
In addition to preventing car theft, microdot technology is also a huge help in police investigations, often providing an early breakthrough by facilitating easy identification of recovered vehicles.
I wouldn't go so far as to say microdot security is the perfect system. No system will ever be perfect.
But I think microdot technology provides the best car security system currently available. If I were buying a used car, especially a popular car between six and nine years old - the segment carrying the highest risk - I would certainly insist that the dealer have it microdotted at his expense.
It can be done at many of the bigger auto valet companies, such as Auto Armor, MotorOne, etc.
Motorists would have to pay about R2500 to have the system applied to their vehicles - but this price should be negotiable.