Teaching kids to steal cars at Machine Project



My friend Mark Frauenfelder and I took our kids to a class on car theft this weekend. Part of Machine Project‘s new series entitled Good People Doing Bad Things, it was absolutely wonderful. Instructors Tom Jennings and Jason Torchinsky should be either thrown in jail or made into heroes of the people.


The class description:

For most kids (and adults), modern cars are simply these gleaming, aggressive-faced jellybeans that house air-conditioning units and MP3 players while they idle in traffic. But underneath their shiny surface lurks all manner of exciting machinery that needs some demystification. That’s where we come in. In this class, we just focus on a few key aspects of cars, and our interactions with them, while learning a bit about the physics and mechanics behind how it all works.

Here’s what we’ll do:
• Breaking in! How to break into a car, and how car locks work – including exciting door-panel removal.
• Breaking out! How to escape from a locked car trunk. Each student will have a chance to learn and perform this exciting feat.
• Breaking… the law! How to hotwire and start a car with some simple tools.

This is a hands-on class, with an actual car to break in and out of.



One class highlight: Mark F. and three kids being stuffed into the trunk to test their escape skills. They made it out alive!

Many thanks to Machine Project ringmaster Mark Allen for making this class happen. Please tell us you’ll teach safe-cracking next.

8 thoughts on “Teaching kids to steal cars at Machine Project

  1. I taught myself how to hotwire a car, just to know how to do it. It came in handy a few years later, when I was with a guy who locked his keys in his trunk.

    We were out in rural Colorado, and he had a second set of keys “back at the ranch”. I hotwired his car, an old Nash Lark, and we drove back, rather than spending the day waiting for someone to drive by (which appeared rather unlikely)

    Of course, with today’s steering locks and ECMs, I’m not sure I could repeat the trick, but it was kinda cool at the time.

    I also taught myself to pick (simple) locks while hanging around at a summer job. I can get into pretty much any simple office lock, but your front door is probably safe from me. Old locks are fun to take apart. Every kid should be given the opportunity to take apart as much stuff as they can!

  2. The method of teaching using the “Breaking the Law” presentation is a pretty clever idea. Also, allowing them the experience of being locked in a trunk in a controlled environment may very well save their life.

    I imagine selection of the car and preparations to it were necessary to ensure success. There is very little chance that the children would leave the class with the means to take the family car out for a spin. I have a 1971 VW, and one could start it with the hotwire, but the steering would still be locked. More modern cars would be MUCH more difficult.

    @Peter… sure that wasn’t a Studebaker Lark? One of the few cars that made an Edsel look stylish ;)

  3. Wow, how cool is this! I sure wish that I had a class when I was these kids age to hot wire a car. I’m sure it could have come in handy a few times…(nothing nefarious of course).

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John Edgar Park likes to make things and tell people about it. He builds project for Adafruit Industries. You can find him at and twitter/IG @johnedgarpark

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