Everyone has probably seen a car stereo head unit with a removable face plate; the idea being you can take the faceplate with you to deter theft. The claim is specifically made in this product description, for example:

Removable Faceplate
The faceplate of this model can be removed and taken with you, to help deter theft.

But it is very trivial to buy a faceplate for the majority of car stereos these days, at least for any model made recently.

Are there any crime statistics or other research that shows that these removable faceplates do actually reduce theft?

  • Removable faceplate mostly help thieve to steal the most valuable part of your stereos if you ask me. No wonder there are so much on sale on ebay...
    – Zonata
    May 18 '13 at 23:12
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    @Zonata: Especially for low-end head units, I can see a removed faceplate having the opposite of the desired effect. As a thief, I would assume a stereo with a missing faceplate was worth stealing... If the faceplate was still in place, and I could see it was a cheap model, I might move on.
    – Flimzy
    May 18 '13 at 23:15
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    a good model will prevent the new faceplate from working using some kind of public-private key authentication system May 19 '13 at 15:53
  • 5
    High end stereos had face-plates with cryptographic key
    – vartec
    May 19 '13 at 21:21
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    @Flimzy such a system can't be patented because it's already in use and has been for over a decade
    – jwenting
    Jun 20 '13 at 9:19

The theft deterrence afforded by a removable faceplate is mentioned in many patent applications. For example:

Typically, the purpose of the removable faceplate is to prevent theft of the base unit, and associated damage to the vehicle, by minimizing the economic gain that is realizable by the theft. That is, because the resale value of a base unit without a faceplate is minimal, a thief has little incentive to break into the vehicle to steal the base unit.1

Theft deterrence can be found as part of the actual claims of several patents on removable faceplates. For example, see Claim 10 of EP1992076: "The method for listening of Claim 1 wherein said removing the car security face plate assembly provides a theft protection for the car stereo system".3 If this invention did not actually deliver the promised result (theft protection), then this claim would be invalid.

I haven't found a study that presents statistics on thefts of stereos with removable faceplates vs thefts of stereos without removable faceplates.

What I did find was that "FBI reports indicate that car stereo theft decreased by more than 50 per cent between 1994 and 2009",2 and "the removable faceplates on many units also help to discourage theft."2

Police reported that the introduction of a detachable faceplate "effectively prevented theft".4

Detective Sgt. Gary Jackson (Vandallia, OH) said, "both of these features are good theft preventive measures only if the owners use them", when talking about removable stereos and removable faceplates.5

Professor Andrew Karmen said that the detachable faceplates on cars have made a big difference.6


1. Epstein, Michael and Pasieka, Michael. A multi-function removable faceplate for an entertainment system, such as a broadcast receiver. WO2001058062 A2, 2001

2. Will, Joanne. How to reset your car stereo code. The Globe and Mail. October 11, 2012

3. Hovden, Gunnar. A stereo security face plate assembly and method. EP 1992076 A2, 2007

4. Thölke, Jürg M., Hultinka, Erik Jan, and Robbenb, Henry S. J. Launching new product features: a multiple case examination. Journal of Product Innovation Management. 18(1), January 2001.

5. Babcock, Jim. THEFT FROM VEHICLES PREVENTABLE. Dayton Daily News. November 14, 2002.

6. Friedman, Naparstek, and Taussig-Rubbo. Audible Car Alarms Don't Work. Transportation Alternatives. 2003.

  • 1
    Patent applications don't prove anything other than intent. I'm willing to accept that the intent of removable faceplates is to deter theft. The Globe is not an authoritative source. They seem to just be repeating the commonly-held belief that removable faceplates help. And their statistic, while perhaps accurate, is not directly relevant to the question. Many other factors could be responsible for the decline in stereo thefts--many of which are mentioned in that article. And the fourth reference is behind a paywall, so I can't tell if it's relevant, but the summary doesn't appear to be.
    – Flimzy
    May 20 '13 at 0:34
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    @Flimzy. I acknowledged that I found no study that showed what you were asking about. I demonstrated the intent of manufacturers. The Globe is a reliable source well known for accuracy and fact-checking. Wikipedia would accept the Globe as a source, especially for the two statements I used it to support: theft decreased between '94 and '09, and that faceplates may be the cause. The relevant sentence from the 4th reference is: "Another competitor put the detachable front on the market and police reported that those products effectively prevented theft".
    – user5582
    May 20 '13 at 0:51
  • @Flimzy This was the best I could do. Sorry. Would you rather I just have said "I have found no study that presents statistics on thefts of stereos with removable faceplates vs thefts of stereos without removable faceplates."?
    – user5582
    May 20 '13 at 0:52
  • @Flimzy The patent claims indicate more than intent. They are interpreted by courts as promises by the inventor to the public. Patents that fail to deliver the promise contained in their claims are invalid for lack of "promised utility". I acknowledge that this is still only a prediction on the part of the manufacturer, but it is not simply a good faith intent. It is an intent based on sound prediction. Regardless, that section of my answer was only to establish what the inventors believed to be the case.
    – user5582
    May 20 '13 at 0:58
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    @Sancho: You need to back up your claims about patents being "promises to the public". In my experience, the existence of a patent doesn't prove that the technology works, that the technology exists nor that the publisher has any intent to manufacture the technology, so using them as demonstrations of effectiveness is invalid.
    – Oddthinking
    May 20 '13 at 18:32

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