IT IS enough to strike fear in any car owner - and a small, hi-tech electronic device which is turning the theft of luxury cars into child's play is doing exactly that.
At the press of a button the device, known as a ''grabber'', not only opens car locks but can also knock out some of the world's most sophisticated alarm systems in less than a minute.
And the grabber is the size of a mobile telephone, with a single control.
The Crime Prevention Bureau (CPB) is investigating whether the grabber has reached Hong Kong's underworld, after the recent prosecution in Britain of a thief convicted of stealing a car with the device.
So far, Hong Kong detectives believe the box has not been brought into the territory although it is available from the manufacturer through the post.
Electronics wizard David Edgar, who invented the grabber, claimed his device could beat any car alarm system because, he said, they all suffered from the same flaw.
He said the systems operated on the same radio frequency, but each had a unique secret code. The grabber ''steals'' the code by locking on to it when it is activated within a certain distance of a car being locked or unlocked.
The code is stored in the grabber's electronic memory. The device is activated by pointing it at a car - in the same way a remote control is used - and by pressing the button which reproduces the code, thus disabling the alarm.
Mr Edgar, who runs his small electronics company from an industrial estate in the Midlands, realises the potential danger in selling the grabber to thieves but says customers have to sign a declaration stating they will not use the device illegally.
However, he admits he cannot be certain about who he sells the device to, and adds he is prepared to send it by mail.
According to sources in Britain, the grabber is designed for use by repossession agents when car owners fall behind with hire purchase payments.
CPB head Graham Lander said it was also used by electronic engineers to isolate and identify wavelengths.
Because of the potential threat to Hong Kong's luxury car market, insurance agents are also investigating overseas losses linked to the grabber and keeping a close check on car thefts in the territory for any thefts credited to the device.