Date: Monday, October 05, 2009

Theft of and from vans is endemic in the UK and although manufacturers have improved the security of their products over the years there may be a need for some aftermarket protection. Steve Banner looks at the options.

In a recession murder goes down, say criminologists, but theft goes up. Fewer murders take place because a lot of killings are alcohol-fuelled and when times are tough people have less money in their pockets to buy booze. Theft rises because a lot more people are short of cash and in some cases will do anything to get their hands on a few quid; including commit crime.

That includes breaking into light commercials says Armaplate operations director, Tom McQuiggan. “As a consequence we’re getting deluged with inquiries for our security products from small businesses that run one or two vans,” he reports. “In fact the influx is quite dramatic.

“A lot of them are contacting us either because they’ve already had their vehicle broken into, or because one of their fellow tradesmen has suffered a break-in and they want to protect themselves in case they’re next.”

Insurer Direct Line agrees that theft from vans is becoming a severe problem. It states that each day over 500 are broken into across the UK, adding that some 35,000 suffered more than one break-in over the past 12 months. “London is the worst area, with over one in three vans hit,” says a spokesman.


Plating Up

Armaplate can supply a hefty-looking steel plate that surrounds a van door’s lock, and possibly the door handle too, and defends them against attack. “It’s easy to install — 92 per cent of the reinforcing plates we install are fitted by the end-users themselves — and makes for a powerful visual deterrent,” McQuiggan observes. “Opportunist thieves scavenging the streets for soft targets will see it and go elsewhere.” Protecting five doors will cost you approximately £250.

One of the great advantages of these plates is that they are fit-and-forget items and do not require the driver to carry extra keys to make them work. They can also be used to conceal any damage that has already occurred because a thief has attempted to punch a hole in the door’s skin with a screwdriver.


Slam Locks

That’s not to say that extra locks don’t make sense. They do, with many operators favouring slam locks, so-called because they lock automatically when the van’s door is slammed and have to be unlocked using a key.

Good examples include the R1 Snaplock and S1 Snaplock for rear and side load area doors respectively from Expresslock. The former costs £145 while the latter is slightly more expensive, at £155.

Weighing over 2kg, and solidly-constructed, they signal their presence very clearly; clearly enough to prompt a thief to try a less-well-protected vehicle instead according to Expresslock managing director, Tony Withey. “They’re easy to fit too,” he adds. “It should only take around an hour.”

The Snaplocks form part of an Expresslock range that also includes locks for the sort of roller shutter doors that are fitted to Luton bodies. “They’re very popular at present,” Withey observes.



Deadlocks, which cannot be opened without a key, are worth considering, and are especially useful when it comes to protecting cab doors. Even if a thief smashes the glass, he won’t be able to get the door open.

If you want even more protection, then it could be worth fitting the cargo area doors with transponder-controlled electro-mechanical shoot-bolt locks such as Activlock Secure from Maple Fleet Services. Diablock from Locks 4 Vans works along similar lines.

Thieves sometimes attack the central locking system’s wiring loom, aware that by doing so they might just be able to release all the vehicle’s doors. Locks 4 Vans is one company that markets a device called Cable Guard that can protect it from interference.

Hefty locking bars that fit across the steering wheel act as a useful visual deterrent and can of course be moved from one van to another easily. They can be forcibly removed, but that takes a bit of extra time; time the thief may not have.

At least one manufacturer of security products believes that manufacturers are making vans vulnerable to thieves by fitting doors and body panels that are too flimsy and too vulnerable to attack by anybody with a screwdriver capable of using a bit of force. Be that as it may, there is no denying that light commercial makers deserve praise for fitting engine immobilisers that present anybody who wants to steal the vehicle as well as its contents with a formidable challenge.


Key Theft

Increasingly it’s the case that this challenge can only be overcome if the thief can gain access to the keys. That may involve stealing them from the van owner’s office or from the driver’s home, so it is vital that they are locked in a safe or otherwise concealed when the vehicle isn’t in use. Don’t leave them on a table next to your front door. It’s not unknown for thieves to poke a fishing rod through the letter box and hook them.

All too many drivers make their vans vulnerable to theft by leaving the keys in the ignition while they deliver a parcel or pay for fuel. For some time Maple has offered a clever device called Drivelock that will immobilise the vehicle the minute the handbrake is released by somebody unauthorised, even if the engine is running.


Common Sense

As well as locking your van and taking the keys with you whenever it is left unattended, try to ensure that it is parked in a well-lit area at night. Park it on your drive if you’ve got one — thieves particularly dislike gravelled drives because of the noise the gravel makes underfoot — and get a motion-sensitive security light installed.

Better yet, if your van is small enough to be locked in your garage, then that’s where it should go. Anything valuable should always be removed, although this is admittedly not always practical. “The fact is that a thief will always have a buyer for your tools and leaving them in your vehicle is asking for trouble,” says TV presenter and former tradesman, Tommy Walsh.

Don’t bother with a notice telling thieves that there is nothing of value in your van. A thief won’t believe you and will force his way in anyway.



It’s certainly worth thinking about having an alarm fitted. While alarms tend to be ignored by passers-by, only a really cool-headed thief will carry on breaking into a van while a siren is howling away at maximum decibels. Maple offers one suitable for light commercials under the Acer Red Alarm banner.

An alarm can of course be selected as an option when a new van is ordered from a dealer and security should be a high priority when you’re specifying a shiny new light commercial.



These days unglazed rear doors are usually standard — bad news for the light-fingered — and you should make a point of specifying a full-height solid steel bulkhead if that’s not standard too. While this will clearly cause difficulties if you’re used to folding the passenger seat flat in order to accommodate extra-long items, a bulkhead will stop anybody who breaks into the cab from getting into the cargo area; and getting at whatever you happen to be carrying.



If the worst comes to the worst and your precious light commercial does disappear, then any tracking system you happen to have fitted should enable you to hunt it down; assuming of course that the thief isn’t smart enough to disable it.

It may even alert you to your vehicle’s imminent departure. Geo-fencing can ensure that you are alerted by text message if it is moved out of a certain area — your yard, say — between certain hours.

Unfortunately a lot of thefts are inside jobs committed by employees, so take up references and peruse their CVs carefully before you hire them. That two year gap in their employment history they cannot account for could be the time they spent in Wormwood Scrubs.



The standard of line-fit security on vans has never been better, but there are plenty of cost-effective aftermarket products out there to beef it up if necessary.


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