BMW Radio: “WHAT CODE! Where do I find the CODE?!”

Recently a friend posted this frustration with the system that supposedly keeps car stereo thieves from using a stereo. Unfortunately, it kept the owner from using it as well.

Driving home last nite suddenly the dash lights up like an xmas tree. Lights turn off, alarms go off, etc. Climbing partner & I: “This is not good”. 1/2 second later everything’s normal. Next time I start her up: no radio. It just says: “code”. No tunes in my car. She’s a wonderful car; gets 26 MPG and will run down almost anything. But WHAT CODE! Where do I find the CODE?!

Indeed. Our poor car owner may be in for an expensive and time consuming search. This comes from a FAQ on the vehicle:

Q. Where can I find the radio code if I don’t have it?
A. First check your radio manual to see if the code has been written in it. If not, contact your local BMW dealer. With your radio serial number (for Harman Kardon units see the volume question below, otherwise, you may need to pull out the radio) and VIN they should be able to look up your radio code.

I think this is an interesting study in the ratio of security offered to user time required. It’s going to take Luke some trouble to get his radio working, but he can rest easy that if it is stolen the thieves won’t enjoy it! Well, unless they grab the radio manual when they steal it and the code is written there.

It reminds me of the anti-copying security that frustrates many users when their legitimate copy of something is suddenly taken from them by mistake. I have heard the argument that, as a user, it makes more sense to steal because then what you own cannot be repossessed by mistake when it has no copy protection.

The situation is also evidence that the study of signal detection should be alive and well in industry – BMW certainly chose time consuming consequences for a false alarm.

Photo credit: abdultaiyeb from Flickr Creative Commons