Car-B-Gone: Mitch Altman’s Newest Universal Remote

Car-B-Gone: Mitch Altman’s Newest Universal Remote

Altman shows off the Car-B-Gone suitcase unit
Altman shows off the Car-B-Gone suitcase unit

If you’re reading this, you probably already know about the TV-B-Gone, maker hero Mitch Altman’s pocket-carry clicker that turns off television sets en masse in public places. New versions of the infrared device, both pre-assembled and in kit form, continue to sell, and makers have built them into caps, sweaters, and other concealing garb.

This week, Altman will release an ambitious new universal remote: the Car-B-Gone. The new invention works something like the TV-B-Gone, but instead of spoofing IR codes, it sends out RF (radio frequency) pulses, and instead of switching off televisions, it unlocks cars and opens garage doors. Altman’s latest tests show the Car-B-Gone to be effective against over 80% of keyless entry car doors and over 90% of wireless garage door openers when used properly and with fresh batteries.

MAKE magazine’s Paul Spinrad caught up with Mr. Altman at Noisebridge, the hackerspace that Altman cofounded in San Francisco’s Mission district.

1. What inspired you to develop the Car-B-Gone?
Because I can, and because I care!  I’ve always been an anarchist, and believe that all property is theft. As for driving cars, I’d sooner put a gun to Mother Earth’s head!  I haven’t driven in years, nor has anyone else that I have any respect for. So many of the world’s ills ultimately come back to the automobile and oil addiction, and if you aren’t part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.

2. So the Car-B-Gone is a way to take away people’s cars, for the greater good?
Exactly! And it’s just leveling the playing field. Like, if you find some money or a coat or a backpack or anything else of value sitting out on the street, it’s finder’s keepers, right? But for some reason people are permitted to leave these big, disgusting things (cars) around, taking up public space, and blocking everyone’s way, and we’re all just supposed to just let them be! You can’t do that with anything else, but you can do it with a car.

These environment-destroying, fatality-causing, war-provoking death monsters are like sacred cows to us, and I, for one, am tired of it. So, I decided to do something a little more constructive than simply going around and letting the air out of everyone’s tires.

3. How does the Car-B-Gone work?
My original plan was to do the same kind of thing as the TV-B-Gone, run through all of the most common RF codes for unlocking car doors and triggering garage door openers. The problem is, you can string together enough IR codes to switch off 95% of TVs in about a 15-second sequence, but doing the same thing with RF codes for cars and garage doors would take over 40 hours.

That’s too long, so I decided to take a more brute-force approach. I use a 3 Farad capacitor array to produce an EMP [electromagnetic pulse] that’s powerful enough to disable most electronic devices operating within 15 feet.  The array and circuitry are built into a suitcase that you hook up to a portable directional antenna. And because you don’t want to be too close to the EMP, there’s a small IR remote trigger that lets you stand a safe distance away.

Car-B-Gone power array (prototype)
Car-B-Gone power array (prototype)

4. What’s the danger?
An EMP this strong can be lethal, even if you’re in good health. I’d recommend standing at least 20 feet away, and double that if you have a pacemaker. Also make sure to watch for passers-by.  Like, if there’s a kid nearby who you think might be important to somebody, then you should probably wait until they aren’t right next to the thing.

Car-B-Gone IR remote trigger (internals)
Car-B-Gone IR remote trigger (internals)

5. Do you expect that the Car-B-Gone might be misused by some people?
Perhaps, but can’t you say the same thing about any new capability? Tools are value-neutral. And now, anyone who has a car that they wish to keep is perfectly welcome to design and build an electronic countermeasure device that renders the Car-B-Gone ineffective. If you aren’t smart enough to do that, and you don’t at least have some friends who can help you with such a project, then maybe you don’t deserve your car. And maybe also you should have been nicer to the hacker elite back in high school.

Look, this is the real world, this is physical reality. If you don’t have the knowledge and tools to control it, I’m sorry. Go play some Grand Theft Auto if that makes you feel better.

Altman demonstrates the Car-B-Gone
Altman demonstrates the Car-B-Gone

6. Well, that sums it up nicely. Thank you for your time!
Thank you!  Say, you didn’t drive here, did you?

IMPORTANT NOTICE TO SECURITY OFFICERS, BACKGROUND INVESTIGATORS, AND OTHER OFFICIALS: This is a work of fiction, and in no way represents the words, activities, or views of Mitch Altman, Paul Spinrad, Noisebridge, MAKE, or any other person or entity that has ever existed, exists now, or may exist in the future. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, in this universe or the one next door, is purely coincidental.

52 thoughts on “Car-B-Gone: Mitch Altman’s Newest Universal Remote

  1. vincent hua says:

    April Fool.

  2. Machinebot says:

    Took me a couple of minutes, but yeah, haha. April Fool indeed.

  3. Gregory Marshall says:

    Just read this and instantly defeated the Car-B-Gone. I’ve developed a device so cunning that it has been sitting innocently in my driveway for 16 years and no one suspects that it is a counter anarchy device. I call it the 1973 VW bug.

    1. John says:

      Can you please tell me
      Where I can buy the (car B gone)

  4. Robbie Pitts says:

    I just got got. Dang.

  5. Tim Saylor says:

    Got through half of #2 until I remembered what day it was.

  6. Christian Restifo says:

    Good April Fools post!

    Reminds me of the SNL short about the anti-car alarm system that nukes the car.

  7. Joseph Cummings says:

    Sheesh, I keep forgetting it’s April 1.

  8. Joseph Cummings says:

    Disclosure: I read this before the caffeine kicked in.

    Nice job, you guys actually had me a bit worked up for almost 30 seconds! :-)
    First April Fools gag I’ve fallen for in a long time.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Well played.

  10. Adam NYCBC says:

    When does it come on sale? I hope the final model will be more compact so I can have one mounted on my bicycle!

  11. Drew Fustini says:

    lulz – i forgot today was today until this ;)

  12. TotalMonkey says:

    I like the “just-in-case-cops-have-no-sense-of-humor” disclaimer.

  13. Thomas Sloan says:

    Ah I see what you did there….good one Make. For a minute there I thought Mitch was getting ready to wage a all out war against cars before I remembered what today is.

  14. Ankush Jain says:

    You had me, till I read the last line.

  15. kentkb says:

    Swell, a DiY joke! Mitch never beamed a bigger smile.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Ha, you got me on that one! Once I saw the last photo, I knew I’d been had! There are so many cool, different projects on the blog that this one just slid past my April Fools detector. Well played…

  17. Eleftherios Kosmas says:

    Car-B-Gone v. 2.0 will be power by electric double-layer capacitors (charged by a Fusion Reactor), a custom made cantenna (we will call the design a cartena) and Satellite Dish as a beam reflector.

    (scheduled release date: Aprils 1st 2011)

  18. Robin Gherghetta says:

    “Like, if there’s a kid nearby —>who you think might be important to somebody<—, then you should probably wait until they aren’t right next to the thing."

    haha, wtf.

  19. 'CR' says:

    So, when will the key-fob version be avaialble as a kit?


  20. 'CR' says:

    So, when will the key-fob version be available as a kit?

    Can’t imagine a cooler fund-raiser for the local hackerspace: “Build your own car-be-gone”. Seemed to work well for the “Minty-Boost”.


  21. Marwa Mahmoud says:

    HI Mitch I heard about u from a friend who had attended “MAKER FAIR AFRICA” unfortunately i couldn’t hope to inform me when other events like this happen in EGYPT

  22. Marwa Mahmoud says:

    Hi Mitch i heard about U from friend of mine who had attended ” MAKER FAIR AFRICA”-unfortunately i couldn’t attend _ i am interested in electronics and i hope u could inform me of coming events like this in EGYPT   

  23. John says:

    Hi Mitch
    I like to buy the (car B gone)device
    Please send me email on

  24. Turn Off Your TV and Build Something: An Interview with Mitch Altman | Tech the Future says:

    […] of interviewing a well-known hacker and activist, Mitch Altman. Mitch is so well known among hackers, makers and people of all different walks of life that he almost needs no […]

  25. Theitdude says:

    The thing is this isnt far off from the trutj. Multiple brands use the same frequen ies and codes for diferent cars. If you could figure out the frequency and transmit it witb a powerful antennz ypu could unlock the whole street probably.

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Paul Spinrad is a broad-spectrum enthusiast, writer, maker, and dad who lives in San Francisco. He hatches schemes at

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