With interest rates set to keep rising, inflation rampant, energy costs eye-wateringly high and a deep recession just around the corner, people are getting desperate. Leave a van full of valuable power tools unlocked, and hitherto-honest individuals might just be tempted to grab whatever they can and flog their gains for cash in the corner of a pub car park after dark.

Whether it be habitual petty thieves or sophisticated and highly-organised gangs that treat stealing light commercials and their contents as a full-time job – they are always trying
to stay one jump ahead of the anti-theft experts.

So how are van owners expected to cope with this swirling maelstrom of crime? Start taking measures to protect themselves right now if they haven’t already done so, advises TVL Group managing director, Laura Moran.

The Brentford, Essex-based company’s specialities include designing and producing van security products, which it supplies to vehicle manufacturers, including Ford, and to the aftermarket. It is busy compiling a countrywide database so the size of the van crime tidal wave can be assessed, and its initiative is being backed by the police says Moran.

“Because police databases are organised regionally, there isn’t a true national picture of the scale of the problem,” she says. “Furthermore, because there isn’t a standard way to capture details of van crime, including methods used to gain entry, drivers and owners don’t know what to look out for.”

The Tell TVL initiative asks those who have had their light commercials stolen or items stolen from them to report all the details, with images, to www.tellTVL.co.uk – that is of course in addition to reporting the crime to the police. Securely recorded as agreed with the National Business Crime Centre, the data is collated and shared with the law enforcement authorities in support of central efforts to crack down on van crime.

Registered Tell TVL users get free anonymised data reports highlighting crime hotspots. They also receive targeted crime prevention advice based on trends in entry methods so van owners can be aware of all potential risks.

Tell TVL is hosted in partnership with the International Security Register, and guarantees that the information it receives about individual crimes will be shared with no-one other than the police. Website users are not obliged to give their contact details.

Supporters of the Tell TVL initiative include load area racking specialist Bott, commercial vehicle safety specialist Brigade and the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association.

While nationwide theft data may be sketchy at present, there are some statistics that jump out says Moran. 

“Tools are stolen from a van every 20 minutes across the UK and 50% of van crimes occur in broad daylight,” she states. That includes incidents in supermarket car parks where drivers have gone shopping, and forgotten to secure their vans properly.

“The biggest risk operators face is complacency,” she observes; drivers failing to make use of the devices fitted to their vehicles because they don’t believe they will become crime victims.

A recent study conducted on behalf of Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles (VWCV) revealed that more than a third of van drivers have had tools stolen from their vehicles over the past 12 months, up from a quarter during the preceding 12 months. The average value of tools taken from each van totalled £2,500, with the trades people concerned left unable to work for an average six days as consequence of the loss.

Says VWCV head of direct sales, David Hanna: “Tool theft continues to be a huge problem, and it’s worrying to see it spreading across the country.”

Driving for Better Business, a government-backed National Highways programme delivered in partnership with RoadSafe, suggests that 30 vans are stolen daily. It goes on to point
out that 51% of members of the Federation of Master Builders have had light commercials broken into and tools stolen.

So how can light commercial owners fight back? Simple measures such as impressing on drivers the importance of locking their vehicles before they leave them unattended and taking their keys with them are clearly vitally important.

“Park in a well-lit area, ideally one covered by a CCTV camera, and back your van up to a wall if you possibly can so that the rear doors cannot be opened,” Moran advises. If the van happens to have a sliding nearside load area door, and that can be shielded by a wall too, then that’s even better.

Make sure you don’t leave items such as laptops or smartphones lying around in the cab. If thieves see them then they are sure to smash a door window, and reach in and pinch them if they possibly can.

If you don’t want to take them with you, then remember that many vans have hidden compartments under their passenger seats. Stow them there.

All sorts of supplementary security devices can be fitted over and above the measures installed by the van manufacturer as standard. “Around 60% of vans have aftermarket security products fitted to them,” Moran says.

Supplementary door locks sourced from suppliers such as Locks 4 Vans are certainly worth considering. Hook-type deadlocks fitted high up can make it more difficult for a thief to peel the door away from one of its top corners, while surface-mounted deadlocks
make it harder for a criminal to force a door open as well as acting as a visual deterrent.

Slamlocks are vital if you are a courier making multi-drop deliveries because they work automatically whenever the door is pushed shut. There is no need to lock them manually. 

If you are prepared to rely on the door locks installed on the production line then you can always make them more effective by having them shielded with reinforcing plates.

Tools can be secured in a lockable steel vault that is bolted to the vehicle. Now marketing the Renault Trafic alongside the Renault Master, Renault Trucks is advocating the use of supplementary security gates fitted behind the van’s factory-fitted doors; so if a thief manages to force open the latter, he is immediately faced with a further obstacle.

One device that is worth considering, says Moran, is a lockable box that shrouds the pedals in the driver’s footwell, effectively immobilising the vehicle. It is finished in bright yellow,
she adds, which makes it a clearly-visible deterrent.

She also recommends another lock; one that goes over the van’s OBD (Onboard Diagnostics Port). If thieves can access the port then they may be able to disable the vehicle’s immobiliser if they have the necessary technology.

The proliferation of keyless ignition triggers other security worries. When not in use, the key and fob concerned should be kept in a Faraday pouch to block any illicit attempts to capture the signal and unlock and start the vehicle.

Make sure you use a good-quality pouch though, Moran warns. Buy a cheap, budget-priced one and you may find that repeated use causes the material that lines the interior to wear away somewhat rapidly, rendering the pouch useless.

“The pouches we supply can cope with 20,000 key insertions,” she states.

Returning to the risk that a driver will leave a van unlocked, security specialist HH Driveright offers a device, which immobilises the vehicle if the individual fails to return to it within ten seconds. The GM2020 utters an audible alert first to remind the driver to lock up.

For some years Maple Fleet Services has offered an immobiliser which makes it impossible for a vehicle to be driven away even if it has been left unattended with the keys in the ignition and the engine running. The immobiliser can only be disarmed when the driver returns with the necessary transponder on his or her belt or key ring.

If your van is taken then all may not be lost if you happen to have had a tracker fitted. Doing so could help you get it back; although you are likely to find that whatever it was carrying will be long gone.

Installing additional anti-theft devices can result in reduced insurance premiums says broker Adrian Flux. “Extra security precautions, such as an alarm, immobiliser or tracker may pay for themselves because they will likely earn you a generous discount,” it advises. 

It goes on to indicate that discounts are more likely if the devices are Thatcham-approved. Berkshire-based Thatcham Research is the country’s only independent insurer-funded automotive research centre, and if an alarm or immobiliser is fitted to your vehicle then it is worth checking to see if it has the Thatcham seal of approval.

Says broker A-Plan Insurance: “By ensuring your van is harder to break into, thereby lowering the risk for your insurance provider, you may be able to reduce the overall cost of cover considerably. 

If you talk to your provider and explain the security changes you’ve made, then you may find they’re willing to negotiate a lower premium for the same amount of coverage.”

If an upfront discount is not available, then you may find that anti-theft measures will reduce the premium you pay anyway in future years. If they turn out to be effective then that should mean fewer claims, so insurers will view you as a good risk; and hopefully reward you accordingly.

“One of the challenges insurers face though is knowing whether security products fitted to a van are being used or not,” Moran observes. Adds HH Driveright managing director, Rebecca Hall: “Remember that if the driver has left the van unlocked, or with the keys in the ignition, then the insurer has every right to refute any claim.”