Light commercial vehicle security has improved hugely in recent years, with effective factory-fitted immobilisers a standard feature, deadlocks and high-quality door locks regularly provided, and a pretty much wholesale switch to unglazed rear doors.
Combine deglazed back doors with a full-height steel bulkhead and you've gone a good way towards creating a reasonably secure cargo area. Specifying that your new van should be fitted with an alarm and remote central locking — pick a system that allows you to lock the cab and load area doors separately — if they're not included in the price and paying the extra charge will take you even further.
Unfortunately you may not have gone far enough. That's because many van doors are vulnerable to being opened illicitly by having the area around the lock attacked rather than the lock itself.
“Pursue this approach and you can get into some brand new vans in less than 30 seconds,” reckons Armaplate operations director, Tom McQuiggan.
Even if the thief is disturbed and flees before he can enter the vehicle, he's likely to have done a lot of damage to the bodywork.
One way of defending your van against such an assault is to protect the vulnerable area with a heavy-duty steel plate that surrounds the lock and possibly the door handle too.
Armaplate offers one made from stainless steel that features threaded studs on the reverse side that go through the door skin and through a steel backing plate on the other side. The three layers of steel are secured by 10mm locking nuts. “As well as being an effective defence the plate has the advantage of acting as a visual deterrent,” McQuiggan says.
It's an approach that has the great virtue of simplicity, he contends. “There are no moving parts and it's not going to stop working in the middle of the night,” he observes. “It's fit and forget.”
The plate also doubles as a heftily constructed repair patch if the door concerned has already sustained some damage from an earlier attack.
Why not fit additional locks instead? Because such a step leaves you with yet another key to worry about, argues McQuiggan — a key that could snap off in one of the locks, creating all sorts of operational problems — and drivers have to remember to lock the supplementary locks as well as the main ones. They may not always do so. By contrast, a reinforcing plate is always going to be effective.
Reinforcing plates of various types are on offer from other manufacturers. Locks 4 Vans, for instance, markets one called the Defender alongside a range of locks plus a guard to protect the central locking system's loom from interference.
Despite the advantages of products like Defender, some operators prefer to fit extra deadlocks or slam locks — Expresslock (0121 328 2700) is another well-known van lock supplier — instead.
Slam locks have the advantage that, as their name suggests, they lock a door automatically whenever it is closed. That makes them ideal for multi-drop parcel delivery work because drivers are under such time constraints that they simply do not have the time to physically lock the doors themselves.
Locks 4 Vans points out that there is no reason why slam locks and deadlocks cannot be fitted to the same vehicle, with the same key used to operate all of them for the sake of convenience.
The former can be fitted to the load area doors, the latter to the cab doors. Even if a thief smashes a cab door window, the deadlock should ensure that he cannot get the door open.
Another supplementary lock worth looking at is Diablock from Locks 4 Vans. It's electronically-operated, employs electro-magnetic bolts and can be triggered using a remote.
Leaving the driver's door open and the keys in the ignition is a mistake all too many van drivers make. Sometimes it cannot be avoided — the engine may be required to power onboard equipment — but that doesn't make the practice any the less risky from a security viewpoint.
“We can supply a device that lets the engine tick over without the keys having to be in the ignition,” says Bellan managing director, Mike McGarrigle. “If any unauthorised attempt is made to move the vehicle, then the engine will immediately stall.”
Without the keys, whoever has jumped up behind the wheel won't be able to restart it.
“We also offer a security device that prevents the vehicle from being driven away even if the keys are in it,” he adds. It can only be released by the presence of a transponder on the authorised driver's belt or on a lanyard round his neck.
Maple Fleet Services provides a system that works along the same lines called Drivelock.
Other products in the Bellan range include an externally mounted two-part limpet lock called the Armadillo, and the Mimic lock. “It prevents access by an intruder popping open the vehicle's own door handles,” McGarrigle says.
Bellan has also come up with a lockable clamp to prevent spare wheel theft.
Products such as heavy-duty bars that can be locked across the steering wheel to prevent it from being turned are worth thinking about. Even if the thief has the ignition key he won't be able to make off with your vehicle without the key to the bar too, and the bar of course acts as a very visible deterrent.
Buying your own wheel clamp and clamping your own van if you're not going to use it for a while has much the same effect.
What are some of these products going to cost you? Reinforcing plates will set you back anywhere between £35 and £75 a door while slam locks for the sliding side load area door and the rear doors will leave you with a bill totalling around £180 to £250. Deadlocks cost about £100 to £130 per door while the Locks 4 Vans electric Diablock lock mentioned earlier costs roughly £140 to £150.
A customer of Maple's who fitted Vanguard Deadlocks for less than £300 to his Mercedes-Benz Sprinter a while back recently discovered that they were well worth the money. They prevented the theft of over £250,000 worth of equipment used to lay artificial playing surfaces for leading football clubs. The van's doors took a battering, but remained securely shut.
If you're worried that your vehicle might be broken into, then it might be worth having an alarm fitted that will automatically alert you via a text message if it's triggered. That way you can find out what's going on and take appropriate action.
If your van vanishes before you can reach it then you may be able to track it if a telematics system has been fitted and inform the police of its whereabouts.
“Whatever product you decide to fit, make sure it's backed by an efficient support service just in case you run into a problem,” advises Maple marketing manager, Jonathan Richards. “Our team of mobile engineers is active 24 hours a day, seven days a week, year-round.”
If you want to see just how secure your make and model of van is, then visit the Motor Insurance Repair Research Centre's web site and take a look at its star ratings. But be warned; you may be discomforted by its findings.
1) Don't leave the keys in the ignition while you go off and pay for your fuel at a service station and put them somewhere safe when you're at home. If somebody breaks into your house at night and you've casually left them in your jacket pocket, then he'll be able to take them and drive off with your van if it happens to be parked outside. He'll probably nick your laptop and digital camera too before he departs.
2) Double-check that you've locked your van if you're going to leave it for any length of time and make sure the cab door windows are wound up. If you keep your van at home, then try and park it off the road if at all practical — inside a locked garage is best, especially if there's a security light above the door and the door is alarmed — or if that's not possible, park it under a street lamp if you can.
3) Don't leave anything valuable lying around in the cab that might prove a temptation for an opportunist thief, and don't bother slapping a notice on the van stating that nothing valuable is left onboard overnight. The thief is sure to ignore it.
4) If you have to carry items such as laptops in the cab with you, then ensure they're locked away when not in use. Checkmate offers travel safes of varying sizes big enough to accommodate them. Also capable of holding everything from documents to cameras, the safe can be locked to a base plate which is anchored to the vehicle's floor.
5) Vary the routes you take, and lock the doors while your vehicle is in motion to lessen the risk that it will be attacked while stationary at the traffic lights or in a traffic queue. Some vans lock the doors for you automatically once you're travelling at above 5mph.
6) Rigging up a booby trap involving a trip-wire and your dad's old shotgun or wiring your van up to the mains so that anybody who touches it gets an electric shock both sound tempting, but on no account take that sort of step. Unfair as it may seem, if the thief is injured as a consequence it's you who will be in the dock; not the scumbag who tried to make off with your property.
Theft of and from vehicles is just one of the unfortunate downsides of living in the UK, but there are plenty of ways of increasing a vehicle's security; and the cost doesn't have to be heart-stopping. A smidgen of common sense doesn't go amiss, either.