Despite manufacturers beefing-up the standard security built into modern vans, there is still the need for additional measures in certain situations; as well as a modicum of common sense, of course. Steve Banner takes a look at what’s available.
Even if you buy the best security device in the world, you’ll find it will be completely useless if it hasn’t been fitted properly. So says the Motor Insurance Repair Research Centre, based in Thatcham in Berkshire and usually referred to by the name of its home town.
It’s now planning to accredit a number of security system installation specialists under the Thatcham Recognised Installer (TRI) banner. To obtain recognition they will have to meet a variety of requirements; everything from being able to show that they’ve been trained to fit the products they’re installing to passing criminal record checks.
Once they’ve jumped through all the hoops they will be listed on the Thatcham web site — light commercial owners will be able to
tap in their postcode and locate the nearest one to them — and will be allowed to use the TRI logo. They will also be able to produce a certificate once they’ve finished an installation job on a Thatcham-listed aftermarket product so that the customer has got something he can show his insurer.
Thatcham has started this scheme in the wake of last year’s demise of the Vehicle Systems Installation Board.
“We’ve had over 30 businesses express an interest in it varying from one-man-bands to big companies with hundreds of installers on their books,” says a Thatcham spokesman. “At present we’re processing 11 applications.”
Thatcham tests and rates anti-theft devices and the security of entire vehicles; light commercials as well as cars. Its conclusions can be seen on its web site.
According to its most recent findings the most secure small van is Peugeot’s 207, the most secure panel van is Renault’s Trafic while the most secure pick-up is Mitsubishi’s L200. The manufacturer with the most secure vehicles overall, however, is Nissan.
Even vans with a high level of built-in security can benefit from a few additional anti-theft devices, especially if they’re carrying valuable cargo. That doesn’t just mean mobile phones, leather jackets or booze; a tradesman’s tools are highly desirable so far as some thieves are concerned and their loss can be devastating to the victim.
One of the best ways of making it less likely that you’ll become a victim of crime is to kit your vehicle out with some good-quality ancillary locks.
Deadlocks are certainly worth thinking about. Like a mortice lock, they can only be locked and unlocked if you’ve got the right key.
“Even if somebody breaks the glass in the cab door and reaches inside, they still won’t be able to open it if a deadlock has been fitted,” says Expresslock managing director, Tony Withey.
If you deliver packages around town, however, and you’re in and out of the cab every five minutes, then it may be worth fitting your van’s rear doors and sliding side doors with slam locks. Once they’re in place, all the driver has to do is shove the door shut and it will lock immediately; handy if you’re juggling a couple of parcels and you can’t reach your keys.
They cost around £120 a door, including installation. Deadlocks cost from £120 to £150 per door, installed.
“Slamlocks can be fitted to the cab doors, but I wouldn’t advise it,” says Chris Batterbee, managing director of Locks 4 Vans. “There’s always the risk that the driver will leave the keys in the ignition, slam the door and lock himself out.”
If you want even more security, then it could be worth investing in Activlock Secure from Maple Fleet Services. It’s a transponder-controlled, electro-mechanical system of shoot-bolt locks for a van’s load area doors that works independently of the vehicle’s own locks. Shut the doors and the bolts engage automatically.
If you don’t want to have supplementary locks installed, then there’s no reason why you shouldn’t provide the ones you’ve already got with better protection.
Armaplate can offer a beefy steel plate that surrounds a van door’s lock, and possibly the door handle too, and protects them against attack.
Providing five doors with protection will set you back roughly £250.
All of the foregoing is of course pointless if the driver has been careless enough to leave the cab doors open, the keys in the ignition and the engine running. Even under those circumstances, however, it’s possible to prevent the vehicle from being stolen by installing Maple’s Drivelock.
Anybody not carrying a transponder that tells Drivelock that they’re authorised to drive the vehicle will find that it’s immobilised the minute they release the handbrake. Cost is approximately £580 fitted.
If that’s too much for you, then at least ensure that you attach the keys to one end of a chain, and the other end of the chain to the driver. “That way, he won’t be able to leave them in the ignition when he steps out of the cab,” observes Withey.
Something else that’s worth considering is what Maple refers to as an anti-hijack system. It allows the thief to drive the van away having forced the driver to hand over the keys, but gradually slows it down to near-walking pace.
By that time the driver should be able to get far enough away to avoid the hi-jacker’s wrath and raise the alarm. “The law won’t allow us to bring the vehicle to a complete standstill,” says Maple’s sales and marketing
co-ordinator, Paul Nunn.
What about fitting an alarm? “Most new vans are available with one as an option and they’re always worth specifying,” says Nunn. “If it goes off then it might just scare away the thief, although obviously it’s going to be less effective if the vehicle is parked in an isolated area with nobody around.
In his opinion the best type of alarm to invest in is one that automatically sends a text message to the owner.
“Remember that he may be working at the other end of a large site,” Nunn says. As a consequence he may not hear the alarm go off.
None of the forgoing measures comes with a guarantee that it will foil a criminal on every single occasion.
“If somebody really and truly wants to break into your van then he’ll do so no matter what steps you take,” says one security specialist. “About the only way to stop people like that is to dig a big hole in the ground, put your van in it, fill the hole with concrete and build a house on top. That might work.”
What security devices may do, however, is prompt a thief to give up on your van and have a go at one that is not so well protected.
But what if somebody does manage to steal your van and its contents? You stand a fair chance of getting both back if you’ve had the foresight to equip your van with a Tracker Retrieve stolen vehicle recovery system.
A small electronic transmitter with no visible aerial is hidden in any one of several dozen places. “A thief would have to spend hours taking your van apart in order to find it,” says Tracker stolen vehicle recovery product manager, Darryll Finch.
If you realise your vehicle has been taken then you alert the police, inform Tracker and Tracker will turn the transmitter on remotely. Over 1,500 police vehicles plus 27 helicopters and fixed-wing light aircraft are equipped to pick up the signal it’s sending and will home in on it.
Because it employs VHF radio technology rather than relying on GPS, it won’t be blocked if the van has been, say, hidden in a lock-up garage or parked under a fly-over so that a satellite can’t see it.
“A high percentage of the vehicles fitted with Tracker that are taken are found in no more than two hours,” says marketing director, Clive Girling. “The police are very keen on this system because there’s every chance that it will lead them to a location where there is a load of other stolen vehicles.”
The next step up from Retrieve is Tracker Monitor. If somebody moves your van without consent then Tracker will contact you to check that everything is OK. If it isn’t then you contact the police and Tracker will switch on the onboard transmitter.
Tracker Horizon adds GPS to the mix and allows Tracker to monitor the missing vehicle’s whereabouts although, as indicated earlier, satellite tracking has its limitations. A newbie to the portfolio is Tracker Locate, which combines GPS, GSM and VHF to provide three methods of location and two methods of communication.
It’s especially adept at detecting any attempts to jam it; a potential problem with systems that depend solely on GPS and GSM, Tracker contends.
Examples of cost include £349 to buy and install a Monitor plus a £135 annual subscription or £350 for the duration of your ownership of the vehicle. Subscription prices are the same for Horizon, but at £449, the installation cost is higher.
Van owners can of course adopt a few sensible security procedures that won’t cost a penny.
Always lock a van when it’s unattended, never leave the keys in the ignition or the doors unlocked, and lock it in a garage at night if possible.
If that’s not practical, then at least park it on your drive or under a lamp or adjacent to a CCTV camera if you have to leave it in the street.
Never leave anything of value on display in the cab. If possible get a bulkhead fitted and a mesh grille too if your vehicle has got glazed rear windows.
Never, ever leave your keys lying around. Put them somewhere safe at night; preferably somewhere lockable.
Thieves will pounce on every opportunity; so don’t make life easy for them.