Service Theft Deterrent System: Meaning, Causes (& Fixes)

Seeing the Service Theft Deterrent System Warning Message on your car's dashboard, while you can't start the engine can be frustrating. Here's how to fix it

Service Theft Deterrent System

If you drive a GM vehicle, you have access to some of the latest technologies, especially when it comes to the safety and security of your vehicle. Today’s cars are often equipped with a theft deterrent system that prevents people from breaking in. But, what does it mean if you see the Service Theft Deterrent System Message?

In this guide, we cover the meaning behind the theft deterrent system message and explore the top two causes. We will also show you how to fix the problems and how to reset the alarm system after it has gone off. 

Service Theft Deterrent System Message Meaning

The Service Theft Deterrent System Message indicates that there is an issue with the Anti-theft system in your Chevrolet, Opel, or GM vehicle, and you will not be able to start the engine while you see this message until you fix the issue.

GM vehicles are equipped with a theft deterrent system that prevents people from breaking into your car. If someone tries to vandalize or steal your vehicle, an audible alarm will send out an alert, not only scaring away the person but also helping you secure the car. These systems can also immobilize the car engine, so it can’t be driven away. The alarm won’t stop until you deactivate it.

No matter how sophisticated the system is, it can still malfunction. When this happens, you will see the Service Theft Deterrent System Message on your dashboard or information center. During this time, the vehicle is in protection mode, so you aren’t going to be able to start the engine or go anywhere. Until you take care of the fault, the car is immobilized. 

Causes of the Service Theft Deterrent System Message

The most common cause of the Service Theft Deterrent System message is a low battery charge or a defective battery. It is also possible that the key fob’s battery is low or the transponder chip inside it is faulty. It can also be caused by other problems with the anti-theft system.

Here is a more detailed list of the most common causes of a service theft deterrent system message:

1. Low Battery Charge

Measure Car Battery Voltage

The theft deterrent system is electronic, so it needs battery power to work. If the battery isn’t holding a charge or it gets too low, it can trigger an error with the system.

A low or dead battery is going to cause other issues too. You might have trouble starting the engine, running accessories and the lights may not turn on. 

2. Dead Key Fob Battery

Open Car Key Fob

When the theft deterrent system is activated, your key fob is used to deactivate it. Additionally, sticking the key in the ignition can disable it.

However, when the key fob battery is dead or there’s trouble with your key, you may not be able to deactivate the system. Instead, it sees you as a threat to the vehicle, thereby enabling the security system.

3. Faulty Key Fob Transponder

Inside the key fob, there is a transponder chip that will communicate with the immobilizer inside the car when you try to start the engine. If there is a problem with this transponder chip or if it lost the information, it may cause the car’s immobilizer not to recognize the chip and then it will not let you start the vehicle.

RELATED: 5 Signs of a Bad Immobilizer or Transponder Key (& Replacement Cost)

4. Defective Theft Deterrent System

There’s always the chance that something could be wrong with the security system or immobilizer. Because it’s electronic and made up of many sensors, there’s always the chance that something has failed.

If your diagnosis of the car battery and key fob battery has brought you nowhere, this would be the next probable cause. However, figuring out these issues isn’t always easy. 

How to Fix the Service Theft Deterrent System Message

To fix the Service Theft Deterrent System message, you’ll want to make sure the car’s battery is fully charged. You’ll also want to replace the key fob’s batteries if they’re old. You can try using your other spare key fob for your car, and if the message disappears, there is something wrong with the original key.

1. Charge/Replace Car Battery

Charge Car Battery

The first place to start is to check the charge of your car battery. If you aren’t able to check the charge, you can take it out and visit your local auto parts store for a free inspection.

Otherwise, use your multimeter and follow these steps.

  1. Try turning on the headlights for a couple of minutes. This helps to remove a surface charge that could give you a false reading. If the lights don’t turn on, it’s obvious that the battery is dead, requiring a charge.
  2. After a few minutes, turn off the headlights.
  3. Set your multimeter to read 5 to 20 volts.
  4. Connect the positive terminal of the multimeter to the positive side of the battery.
  5. Do the same with the negative side.
  6. If the voltage isn’t at least 12.6 volts, the battery could be dead. 

Attach your battery charger to see if you can resolve the situation. If the battery doesn’t hold a charge, you need to have it replaced. 

The average cost to replace a car battery is between $40 and $300. The price depends on what type of vehicle you drive and how much capacity is required. 

2. Replace Key Fob or Battery 

Key Fob Battery

When the key fob battery dies, it can lead to a lot of trouble. The car security system will be unable to pair the appropriate key to the vehicle, causing the security system to remain enabled. You can tell the key fob battery is dead because you won’t be able to use the other functions, such as locking or unlocking the door.

There’s also the chance that the key fob has sustained damage, requiring a replacement. In many cases, you have to go to the dealership to get this replaced because it needs special programming. If you order at the dealership, you can call and provide the VIN to get a replacement. With some car models, it’s also possible to order one online.

Temporarily, you may try another key to your vehicle, and if it solves the issue, you know that there is an issue with your key fob. Try the key in the door lock and ignition to see if it fixes your problem. 

In general, it shouldn’t cost more than ten dollars to replace the key fob battery. You may even want to keep some on hand for situations like these. On the other hand, replacing a key fob can become extremely expensive. If it’s just a simple key fob, you might be able to get one for $50 to $100. Otherwise, advanced systems can cost $100 or more, especially when you factor in the price of reprogramming it. 

RELATED: How to Program a Key Fob Yourself at Home

3. Check the trouble codes

To find out what is causing the problem with the anti-theft system, you need to use an OBD2 scanner to read the trouble codes from the control module. However, to read the codes from the anti-theft system, you may need a special scanner compatible with your vehicle.

The cheapest scanners will, in most cases, not do the job, so you either need a good scanner or take your car to a mechanic.

4. Visit a Local Repair Shop

If the simple fixes aren’t solving your problem, you have bigger issues on your hands. You can start by looking in the GM service manual to see if there’s any additional guidance directed toward your vehicle type. 

Otherwise, you are better off taking your vehicle to a professional service center. If you are unable to move the vehicle and can’t figure out how to get it started, you may have the added expense of having the vehicle towed to the service center. 

How to Reset GM Theft Deterrent System

1. Unlock Doors

Once the theft deterrent system has gone off, the only way to reset it is by unlocking the doors. You can use your key fob to hit the Unlock button. 

On the key fob, the unlock button looks like a lock that’s been opened. If the key fob isn’t working, you may be able to use the physical key to open the doors. Sadly, these are the only ways to unlock the doors. If neither of these options works, you will need more help.

2. Turn on Ignition

After you get inside the vehicle, it’s time to move on to the next step. To disable the alarm system, you will need to turn on the ignition.

If you have a keyless system, you may only need to push the start button. Otherwise, turning on the ignition requires you to insert the key and turn it to the appropriate setting. 

3. Lock Doors Again

Once the alarm system is off, you are ready to reactivate it. To do this, all of the doors must be locked. You have several methods available to accomplish this.

You can press the lock button from inside the car with the door open. However, everything else needs to be closed, including the liftgate, trunk and doors. If anything is left open, your alarm will not activate. 

Your other option is to use the key fob. You can exit the car and close all of the doors. Press the key fob lock button to secure the doors. 

4. Look for Security System Light to Activate

Once everything is locked up, you should see the security light come on. It’s likely located near the steering wheel and the light should flash.

With some models, it takes up to ten seconds for the alarm to activate. After you close the doors and lock them, give the system some time to arm.

FAQs

How do I bypass the service theft deterrent system?

There is no way to bypass the service theft deterrent message without fixing the issue. Modern car anti-theft systems are very secure, and if the system does not receive the correct signal from the paired key, the vehicle will not start.

How much does it cost to fix the service theft deterrent system message?

It can cost anywhere from $0 to $2,000 to fix the service theft deterrent system message, depending on what’s wrong. If it’s just caused by a dead car battery, it can get fixed for free. However, if there is a problem with the anti-theft system, it can be expensive.

What triggers the service theft deterrent system message?

The service theft deterrent system message is triggered when the vehicle’s anti-theft system doesn’t recognize the transponder signal from your car’s key fob when you turn the ignition.

Conclusion: Service Theft Deterrent System

The Service Theft Deterrent System message tells you that something has failed with the theft deterrent system in your GM vehicle. In many cases, the message comes on simply because the battery charge is low or the key fob is dead. Otherwise, there could be something wrong with the alarm itself. 

Working with anti-theft systems in cars can be quite complicated and is not always something you should do if you do not have the knowledge. Therefore, it may be wise to contact a professional technician who has extensive knowledge of anti-theft systems to solve your car problem.

Learn more:

Find more information in our list of all car dashboard symbols.

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Magnus Sellén
Written by:

Magnus is the owner and main author of Mechanicbase. He has been working as a car mechanic for over 10 years, and the majority of them specialized in advanced car diagnostics and troubleshooting. Certified Automotive Diagnostic Technician.