Tool theft from vans is booming according to research conducted by Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles (VWCV).

More than a quarter (27%) of van owners who also own tools and equipment – plumbers, carpenters and other trades people – have had them stolen from their vehicles during the past 12 months, says the manufacturer. An average of 20,000 individual cases are reported to police forces across the UK every year, VWCV adds, with the estimated cost of replacing the items totalling at £15m annually.

Added to that is the cost of repairing vehicle damage and lost earnings because trades people cannot work until their van is made usable again and their tools are replaced. “Downtime costs companies an estimated £550 a day per van,” says VWCV.

“London is the hotspot for tool theft, with 55% of trades people having equipment stolen in the past year, followed by the West Midlands (33%), the north east (28%), the north west (25%) and East Anglia (23%).” it states.VWCV’s survey shows that 57% of van drivers who own tools are at risk if they regularly decide to leave them in their vehicles overnight.

Being too tired to remove the tools and lock them away somewhere safe at the end of a hard day’s work is understandable. “Yet a third – 31% – are not protecting their expensive equipment with extra alarms, secondary locks or vehicle trackers,” VWCV reveals.

If tools need to remain in a van, then one option could be to lock them in a steel vault that is bolted to the load area. Even if a thief manages to break into a van, a lockable vault may prove to be a challenge they cannot overcome.

David Hanna, VWCV’s head of sales operations, says: “We’re urging people who own expensive equipment to take extra precautions to deter would-be thieves, whether that’s removing items overnight, avoiding parking in unlit, secluded areas, or adding extra security measures.” Those measures should undoubtedly include extra locks, advises Dean Cassar, business development manager at Locks 4 Vans. “Thieves have never been furloughed, so we’d recommended hook-type deadlocks fitted high up on a van’s load area doors,” he says.

Installing this type of lock makes it harder for a thief to crowbar the door open or peel it away from one of its top corners, he explains. The lightweight construction methods used by manufacturers to reduce the weight of their vehicles, improve payload capacity, and cut fuel consumption has made the so-called “peel and steal” technique a more viable option for criminals.

It’s also worth thinking about a surface-mounted deadlock, says Cassar. The deadlock acts as a visual deterrent, as well as making doors more difficult to force open.

While deadlocks make sense for trades people, they are less appealing to hard-pressed courier drivers. 

If a driver is making umpteen deliveries each day, and always pressed for time, they want something that locks automatically the minute they push a door shut.

Good-quality slamlocks should be able to stand up to a determined thief and protect the van for up to five minutes says Cassar. “That should be enough to protect a courier van making a delivery because the driver is unlikely to be away for more than three or four minutes,” he adds. When the van is parked at night, it will be empty of packages and parcels.

Shielding a van’s factory-fitted locks with reinforcing plates is well worth considering, Cassar advises. They are yet another way of countering the way in which lightweight construction, using thinner body panels, has made vans easier to break into.

Shielding makes it more difficult for a thief to drill a hole with the aim of releasing the locking system, he points out, which is usually done with the aim of stealing the van and its contents.

Lock shield suppliers include Armaplate – its Sentinel shield contains a stainless steel exterior plate, which is bolted through the door skin and through a steel backing plate.

The company’s other products include Challenger hook locks and ArmaCat, which protects catalytic converters. The precious metals make them attractive to criminals.

Securing a van with quality locks will cost you less than £500 says Cassar; but there is no guarantee that your prudence will secure you an insurance premium discount, he contends.

“Some insurers will offer you free tools cover or free goods-in-transit cover, but others will offer you nothing at all,” he says. “Attitudes vary, and are certainly not uniform.”

Daniel Clark, head of commercial vehicle insurance at specialist motor insurance broker Adrian Flux, says: “The vast majority of our insurance schemes offer discounts for the fitting of an approved tracking system.”

Like load area doors, cab doors can be secured with additional locks says Cassar; a particularly sensible precaution if your vehicle happens to be fitted with a keyless ignition system. Even if a thief can overcome it by convincing it that the key fob is physically present, and start the engine, a separate set of locks will prevent him from entering the cab and driving your van away.

You can stop the vehicle from being started by storing the fob in a metal container or a Faraday pouch, advises insurer Direct Line. Locks 4 Vans has been busy distributing Faraday pouches to some of its major fleet customers in a bid to frustrate criminals, says Cassar, and Clark supports their use. 

“Mechanical steering locks can be effective deterrents to theft and we would advise van owners to try to keep their vehicle in a locked garage, building or compound if it’s going to be parked overnight,” he adds. “Fitting better-quality alarms and immobilisers makes sense too.”

Maple Fleet Services offers the Drivelock immobiliser. It prevents a vehicle from being moved, even if the keys are in the ignition and the engine is ticking over, unless a transponder worn by the driver is present.

AX, whose specialities include assisting fleets with the security of their vehicles, makes the point that many keyless technology systems can be temporarily switched off in a bid to prevent theft. Businesses that wish to do this should consult the nearest dealership that represents the make concerned for help.

While many trades people are clearly not protecting their vans fully, according to VWCV’s report, demand for supplementary locks is rising steadily nonetheless. Cassar comments, “we’re busier than we were before the pandemic, and we’ve seen a massive spike in demand for slamlocks thanks to the growth in home delivery,” he reports.Making your vehicle more secure need not take long. “A skilled technician will take no more than 30 minutes to fit two hook-type deadlocks,” he says.

Locks alone will not always stop your van or its contents from being stolen; commonsense has to be exercised too. It includes parking your vehicle in well-lit areas preferably covered by CCTV, and parking in such a way that the load area doors cannot be opened because the van has been positioned against a wall.

“Remember that where security is concerned, there is no golden ticket,” Cassar remarks. “It’s a combination of things, and if you specify devices such as alarms and deadlocks, then make sure you use them.”

Manufacturers, such as VWCV, market a variety of supplementary security devices. VWCV’s We Connect allows you to use your smartphone to check you have locked your van’s doors, while We Connect Plus will send an alert to your smartphone if someone is trying
to break into your vehicle.

Notwithstanding VWCV’s research, leading insurer Admiral has not seen a significant increase in theft from light commercials during the past 12 months. “However we are looking at claims, and not all thefts may have been reported to us,” observes a company executive.

Nor has it witnessed a noticeable rise in the number of claims from clients who have had their vans stolen.

“This could be due to the working restrictions imposed during the pandemic.” she says. “In more recent months, we’ve been starting to see hints of a steady increase towards more normal numbers of theft claims, but these incidents are still low in volume.”

Head of the commercial vehicle division at Markerstudy Insurance Services, Andy Southgate says: “We saw the frequency of van thefts fall in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the various lockdowns. Since then it’s increased slightly, but remains below what we saw in 2019.

“I think van owners may be becoming more security-aware,” he adds.

Repair costs and the cost of writing off a vehicle have far more of an influence on light commercial insurance premiums than theft does, Southgate adds. And here the pressure is undoubtedly upwards.

“That said, van insurance premiums are fairly flat at present,” he comments. “In fact the market is pretty stable.”

A spokesperson from Admiral says: “Our current van insurance prices are roughly in line with this period last year.”

There is no room for complacency however, the insurer stresses, especially when it comes to combating catalytic converter theft.

Using a cage clamp, which locks around the device is certainly a wise precaution, the spokesperson added. 

“If a catalytic converter is bolted on then ask your local garage to weld the bolts in place to make them more difficult to move. Park close to fences, walls or kerbs , ensuring that the exhaust is close to the barrier, thus making the catalytic converter more difficult to steal. 

“You should also avoid mounting your van on a kerb when you park as it gives thieves easy access. With this in mind, fitting a tilt sensor that activates an alarm if someone tries to jack up your vehicle could make sense,” they added.

While van insurance costs may not be skyrocketing, businesses naturally want to contain them if they possibly can, given the rate at which other outgoings are rising. One way of doing so, according to Southgate, is to ensure your cover is tailored to your needs.

“If you told your insurers that you do 12,000 miles a year, but you subsequently realise that you only do 8,000, then let them know,” he advises. “And don’t have your entire workforce authorised to drive your van if only two of them ever do.”

Both steps, along with regular licence checking, should go some way towards corralling insurance expenditure.