Security: Under lock and key

Date: Thursday, August 18, 2011

With the promise of a cargo bay full of booty, vans can be a magnet for the light fingered.  James Dallas looks at ways to batten down the hatches.
 You can be fairly confident that some of the notices you see in vehicles’ rear windows are not literally true.
If, for example, you spot the legend ‘Princess on board’ while waiting at the lights, it is probably safe to assume that you are not really on the tail of a member of the Royal Family, but rather being asked to drive with extra care because a very young lady is in transit.
One that is more difficult to call is the message often seen on the back of panel vans, ‘No tools stored in this vehicle overnight’.
Oh really? Judging by the fact that the Ford Transit is the UK’s most stolen vehicle, and that includes cars, it would seem that a lot of thieves are prepared to take a punt that this is not the case.
Leaving equipment in a van overnight is particularly foolhardy because, as the police’s dedicated vehicle crime unit the ACPO Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service (AVCIS) points out, this is when 80% of vehicle crime occurs.
AVCIS says thieves target the Transit, which is by far the UK’s biggest selling van with 47,300 units leaving showrooms last year, because of the possibility of finding equipment stored in the load area and also because of the van’s high scrap value.    
AVCIS boss, detective chief inspector Mark Hooper is at pains to point out that the Transit tops the theft table not because of any inherent security flaws – “it’s a very good piece of kit”, he says, which is backed up by the fact that the Transit has been a What Van? security award winner – but “because it’s so popular”.
Of 26,625 vehicles stolen between 1 January and 31 March, 1616 (6.1%) were Transits – almost 60% more than the second most stolen vehicle, the Vauxhall Astra, of which 1017 were stolen. The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter was the only other commercial vehicle to feature in the top 10. It was the eighth most popular with thieves, who stole just over 500 of the large vans – 1.9% of the grand total for the first three months of the year.
With the considerable improvements in vehicle security systems over the past 20 years, vehicle insurance repair research centre Thatcham claims 80% of vehicles are now stolen after thieves first get hold of the keys.
This chimes in with Hooper’s advice. “Don’t leave the keys in it (the van) or on a peg with a label on it in the office,” he says.
Not leaving the keys in the ignition may sound obvious but Hooper claims it is a particular problem for van operators when swapping drivers at the end of shifts. Hooper also makes the case for choosing a van with panels rather than windows when he says “don’t leave things on display” and he urges drivers to “park somewhere sensible”.
He advises van operators to fit additional security equipment to their vans and particularly recommends tracking devices.
“They help us to get the vans back,” he says.
The device is hidden inside the van and can be turned on remotely by the installer when you realise it has been stolen and alert the police.
Hooper also suggests investing in some extra hardware locks, although he admits this can be a gamble if it draws attention to the van: “People might think there’s something inside it.”

Locking up

Obviously there are times when it is necessary to leave tools in a van, either when out and about on jobs or when staying away from base overnight. If either scenario is likely to happen, the first priority is to check your insurance policy to ensure you have the correct level of cover to leave equipment inside your van. Then you can look at the products available to keep it as secure as possible.
Deadbolts can be fitted inside the rear and side doors of a van and are tamper proof once installed. They can either be remote controlled or mechanical key operated.
If you are in and out of the cab delivering packages it could be worth fitting slam locks to your van’s rear and sliding side doors.
As the name suggests, these automatically lock the doors when you close them so you don’t have to worry about what’s left in the load space when your back is turned. They are not such a good idea for the cab though, in case you leave the keys inside and lock yourself out. Both dead locks and slam locks are likely to cost up to £150 each.
Armaplate lock covers are stainless steel plates that completely encase the van door lock and handle. There is a further steel plate on the inside of the door. The exterior plate has thread studs on the reverse that go through the door skin and the internal plate. The unit is held together by 10mm lock nuts to form a solid triple barrier.

Inside job

A full-height solid-steel bulkhead can prevent a thief who breaks into the cab from getting at whatever is stowed in the cargo area.
Van boxes, too, are a useful theft deterrent for tradespeople who regularly have to leave tools in their van. Coming in various sizes they are high-tensile steel vaults with anti-drill locks that can be securely fastened to the van’s interior.
If the rear doors are glazed then window grilles or blanks are a must to prevent what is a common route for break-ins. Blanks are solid-steel sheets while grilles are mesh barriers that allow visibility through the rear windows.
Another feature worth considering from the options list alongside items such as a solid-steel bulkhead is an alarm. However, while it or any other of the measures outlined above are not guaranteed to protect your van, they might just do enough to persuade the light-fingered to move on to an easier target.


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