The crime wave against vans and their contents is not abating. How can operators protect their livelihoods?
When it comes to vehicle crime, LCV operators face two major threats; theft of the contents of their vans and theft of the vans themselves.
Stolen vehicle recovery specialist Tracker is concerned with the latter issue. The firm collaborates with 43 police forces across the UK and has installed 2,000 tracking devices in vehicles nationwide, which it claims enables it to achieve a 95% recovery rate of stolen vans.
Steve Whittaker, Tracker’s police liaison manager, says theft of LCVs has increased 30% since pre-Covid days. However, he does not attribute this so much to the cost-of-living crisis giving rise to an upturn in opportunistic crime, although he admits this is a factor, instead, he points to the activity of organised criminal gangs and the simple fact that “some vans are easy to steal”.
“Vans are stolen to order or to be chopped,” said Whittaker, explaining that a “chopped” van is one that is stolen to have particular components, such as the engine, roof or wing, stripped out and fitted to other vehicles. He also added that “vans are stolen [to be used] to commit further crimes or shipped abroad”.
Whittaker explains 95% of van thefts are keyless, with criminals employing relay electronic devices that trick the key fob device into reacting as if the key is near to the vehicle.
He advises van owners to keep their keys in a faraday bag or even a microwave oven to block attacks and to fit a disc lock to the van’s steering wheel. For operators parking their van on their driveway, Whittaker advises installing security posts like those used in car parks.
He stresses, however, that Tracker’s main activity is recovering stolen vehicles and claims its very high frequency (VHF) GPS technology is immune to the jamming devices criminals use to block the signals from other tracking devices.“Villains can’t block our frequency,” said Whittaker.
Security firm TVL also works closely with the police, and through its Tell TVL initiative it has built up an online database of van attack methods. However, the company is more concerned with preventing criminals breaking into vans to steal their contents than with van theft itself.
Traditionally, TVL has supplied its products to the aftermarket, but Ford has recently taken the lead in offering TVL security packs as factory-fitted options.
“We are now seeing more OEM’s following suit to provide customers with security options from the factory, recognising the need for customers to have bespoke solutions,” said managing director Laura Moran.
Moran says economic hardship has led to an increase in van crime. She cites figures from insurance company Direct Line indicating that on average a UK tradesperson has tools stolen from their van every 17 minutes, up from the previous estimate of 20 minutes.
Moran says Tell TVL has enabled the firm to identify new criminal attack methods. “We recently picked up via Tell TVL that there was a new attack method where thieves were stealing bonnets and even headlights from vans,” she revealed.
“Our innovation team was able to develop, manufacture and launch a bonnet protector shield within a matter of days to offer our customers a solution against this new attack method.”
She says bonnets and head lights are targeted because they have no VIN markings and can easily be sold on for parts.
Moran also shed light on how criminals are stealing from vans to facilitate other illegal activities.
“We have received some anecdotal feedback that the head lights are stolen by criminals for growing hydroponics – marijuana basically!”
Moran said there were no regional differences in attack methods because news of new techniques spread between criminals so quickly, usually online. She agreed with Tracker’s Whittaker that organised gangs were behind most crimes.
“Our belief is that the majority of van break-ins are carried out by organised crime gangs who are sharing intelligence on attack methods,” she said.
“The organised crime gangs are extremely quick and precise with their attacks as they have the knowledge on exactly how to enter the vehicle, whereas the opportunists and petty thieves tend to make a very messy entry to the van.”
Moran says electric vans present new challenges to manufacturers of security products. This is because they are often constructed from thinner and lighter materials in order to keep weight low and optimise payload, however, materials such as aluminium are potentially easier to cut through.
“At the CV Show 2023 we launched our new anti-cut panel solutions that will protect vulnerable areas of the van, using lightweight material so as not to detract from the payload. We are seeing a real interest in this from fleets who are migrating to EVs.”
Moran says that while parking in safe areas is always a good idea, half of thefts from vans occur in broad daylight, with thieves banking on drivers not being vigilant about activating their security devices.
“Even where additional security products are fitted to the vehicle, the thieves are counting on driver complacency; that they will not have engaged the additional locks if they are just stopping at a supermarket for a short period of time for instance,” she said.
According to research from Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles (VWCV), tool theft from vans has increased by 33% since 2020. VWCV claims more than a third of van drivers fell victim to theft in 2022, with the average value of tools stolen from each van exceeding £2,000.
As a consequence of criminal activity, UK tradespeople reported £3.5bn worth of stolen equipment last year, says VWCV. The research also disclosed that 48% of van drivers leave themselves vulnerable to theft by admitting to keeping £2,150 worth of tools in their vans overnight.
Following a freedom of information request from VWCV, UK police forces reported more than 9,000 complaints relating to tool theft in 2022. London was the hot spot for crime, with two-thirds of the complaints coming from the capital.
Volkswagen Financial Services warned: “From a financial perspective, van owners who are on the receiving end of tool theft are at risk of an increase in future insurance premiums.”
In order to protect themselves against theft from their vans, it advises operators to park in well-lit areas that are visible to passers by; to check their surroundings before unloading high-value tools; to fit their vans with a tracking device so they can be easily located; if possible to remove tools from the load bay overnight; and affix a sign saying no tools are on board, which may act as a deterrent to thieves.
If operators do need to leave tools in their vans overnight then VWCV says they should take a note of their serial numbers and affix stickers to the tools advertising this fact.
Finally, it says if vans do have to be left in high-risk areas then operators should fit additional safety locks to the rear and side door and install lockable racking and safe boxes to make it is more difficult for thieves to break in.
Locks 4 Vans has extended its range of security products available for the Volkswagen ID. Buzz electric van. The range, first introduced in February this year, now includes a barn door hook lock (including tailgate), side door hook lock, anti-peel kit, window guard, external shielding, internal latch shields and a Thatcham-certified van alarm.