Why Your Car’s ‘Cigarette Lighter’ Could Save It From Being Stolen

Why Your Car’s ‘Cigarette Lighter’ Could Save It From Being Stolen

Vehicle theft remains a persistent issue, one that even cutting-edge technology hasn’t been able to eliminate. Recent advancements such as keyless entry and complex security systems promise safety but often deliver vulnerability instead. A University of Michigan-led team of researchers, however, may have developed a breakthrough solution with their Battery Sleuth system, a deceptively simple yet incredibly effective vehicle security method.

The Ingenious Utilization of the Auxiliary Power Outlet

Unlike conventional systems that rely on key fobs or complex coding, Battery Sleuth uses the vehicle’s auxiliary power outlet. For those of you acquainted with older models, this is essentially the modern equivalent of the car’s ‘cigarette lighter’. This modest component works wonders in security, primarily due to its straightforward design that connects directly to the vehicle’s battery.

Voltage Fluctuations

Battery Sleuth’s standout feature is its unique method of authentication through voltage fluctuations. A driver interacts with the system through a keypad, which is connected to the auxiliary power outlet. Upon keying in a numerical code, Battery Sleuth delivers a predetermined sequence of voltage changes—essentially a “voltage fingerprint”—to the vehicle’s electrical system. This fingerprint serves as a unique identifier, effectively neutralizing traditional methods of car theft such as wireless hacking and manual jimmying.

Not Just Complexity, but Elegance

It’s worth noting that the brilliance of this system is not in its complexity, but rather in its simple elegance. The basic idea of measuring fluctuations in a vehicle’s electrical system may seem uncomplicated. Yet, the real ingenuity lies in one device’s ability to perform this function across a plethora of vehicle models under varying environmental conditions.

Defenses Against Unauthorized Access

Security does not end with voltage fingerprints. Battery Sleuth also has multiple safeguards to deter illegitimate activity. For instance, if an unauthorized power source is connected to the vehicle, a built-in resistor can shut down the electrical system. Additionally, a siren is activated if unauthorized activity is detected, adding an extra layer of defense.

Future Possibilities and Commercial Viability

The next stage of this groundbreaking project aims to make Battery Sleuth not only a theft deterrent but also a comprehensive vehicle entry and control system. After rigorous field testing and funding secured through a substantial National Science Foundation grant, the team is ready to scale this innovation for broader commercial production.


In a time where each new layer of technology seems to create new vulnerabilities, Battery Sleuth offers a refreshing paradigm shift. By leveraging the simplest elements in a vehicle’s design, this system works independently of other systems, reducing the chances of hacking or unauthorized access. It’s a solution that truly marries the best of low-tech and high-tech worlds, offering unprecedented levels of security for vehicle owners.