Fleet News

Security: beating the van thieves

As it levels out, or a new piece of European legislation comes into force to tax our minds, so we find something else to focus on.

Even the Government, apparently intent on reducing vehicle crime, seems to have forgotten light commercial vehicles to some extent. Go looking for statistics on the sector and you’ll come across the excellent tome: ‘The Nature and Extent of Light Commercial Vehicle Theft’. Excellent that is, but for the fact that it was published in 1998. That’s six years ago and if that was when it came out, you can bet the research behind it was from a year or two before.

Yet even then, the researchers found that one in 50 vans on the road could expect to be targeted by thieves, costing businesses around £152 million in lost assets.

And that’s without the lost earnings of having vans off the road for repair or recovery. In fact vehicle recovery specialist Tracker puts the price of each theft today at around £4,700 in repairs, lost earnings and lost property – and that’s only if they get the van back for you.

So what is being done by manufacturers, and what can you do to make your fleet more secure? Firstly there are two very different things to look at here – van theft and theft from vans. The chances are that the person stealing vehicles themselves is not the same as the scumbag helping himself to your tools and stock.

Let’s look at theft of the vehicle first. Virtually every van on the road these days comes with an immobiliser, which means that the van won’t start without the correct key in the driver’s hand. This is good news. However, it has led to a rise in, yes you guessed it, key theft.

Tracker says that before 1998 around 10-15% of the vehicles it recovered were stolen using their own keys. In 1999 that rose to 20%. So far in 2004, no fewer than 80% of the cars and vans that the firm has recovered were taken using their own keys.

The message is clear – don’t leave the keys in the vehicle at any time. Drivers should also be warned not to nip out on a cold morning and just start the van to get the interior warmed up and not to leave their keys in while they go and pay for diesel.

More serious though is the fact that thieves are targeting keys away from vehicles. At home, in the office, in the canteen, at the gym, keys should be kept secure and make sure that drivers keep their keys out of the prying hands of van thieves.

Of course if they do get away with your vehicle then the only way to stop them, or get it back, is to fit some form of tracking device. Tracker is the most well known but, as the adverts say, other systems are available.

Tracker is recognised by all 52 UK police forces and has an enviable record for getting vans back. It also carries a Thatcham Q rating, the highest possible, which should result in a 3%-7% drop in insurance premiums, which will go some way towards paying for the installation.

The actual Tracker unit costs from £160-£424 per vehicle, depending on which level of security you choose. With Tracker Retrieve you have to tell the police and the firm that your van has been stolen, while with the Monitor and Horizon levels, Tracker itself will contact you if the vehicle is moved, to see if it has been taken unlawfully.

On top of that, you are looking at an installation charge of £85-£150 per van, and an annual subscription charge of £92.

Most van dealers will either be able to fit Tracker or one of the other systems available, or be able to put you in touch with a specialist who can. Mercedes-Benz dealers are all trained to install the system, and Tracker’s own installers are trained to work on Mercedes vans at the firm’s UK head office in Milton Keynes, so they won’t be cutting into those expensive CANbus wiring looms in the wrong place.

But what about protecting the actual van and its valuable contents from the light fingered? Well, let’s start by making it clear that if someone wants to get into a van badly enough, they will do it. They may have to smash windows or stick a JCB forklift through the side, but they will get in.

But you don’t have to make it easy for them and it’s a fact that most opportunist thieves will look for the easiest vehicle first, rather than tackle additional locks or security systems. Manufacturers take a varying amount of interest in vehicle security.

Yes, they all fit immobilisers, but surprisingly few have alarms as part of the standard package, though they are nearly always available as cost options.

For instance, perimeter alarms are optional on all Ford vans, at a cost of £150.

However take-up on the option is very low. Commercial vehicle marketing manager Jon Fisher says this is because there is no insurance premium benefit with a perimeter alarm.

He said: ‘The volume sensing alarm is the only one to get Thatcham 1, but they are unsuitable for vans as they tend to go off a lot , so customers don’t favour them.’

That said, Ford has put a lot of work into making it hard for the thief to get into its products. Slam locks are available on Transit Connect, and an option on big Transit.

Unglazed rear doors are standard on all but the Fiesta van, where you can have a steel window grille.

Ford’s vans all come with a lockable bonnet, and the Transit and Connect have shielded lock-in-latch mechanisms to ensure that a thief punching through the steelwork cannot gain access to the mechanism. The firm has recently carried out a number of security upgrades on its vans to stay ahead of the thieves.

The alarm story is much the same at Vauxhall. Alarms are an option costing £195 on car-derived vans and £75 on the Vivaro and Movano. Again, take-up is depressingly low, at around 3%-5% on car-derived models and up to 20% on Vivaro. That figure is slightly distorted, however, as an alarm is standard on the Vivaro Sportive and big Vivaro customer BSkyB stipulates an alarm on all of its vans.

‘More important to van operators is breaking into the vehicle in the first place,’ said Vauxhall product manager Phil Harwood. ‘All of our locks are shielded so you can’t bash them out. We also offer slam locks on Combo, Vivaro and Movano.’

In partnership with racking manufacturer Bott, Vauxhall offers a dealer-fit racking system with a false floor, offering storage of valuables away from prying eyes.

Bearing in mind the co-operation between Vauxhall and Renault in van design and manufacture, it is perhaps surprising to see that the French firm has alarms on all of its vans as part of the standard specification. Anti-drill locks and ignition barrels are there too, along with RAID, Renault’s anti-intruder device, which basically locks the doors once the vehicle has moved above 5mph, so that when you stop at the next lights a car-jacker can’t pull open the passenger door and take your phone or bag from the seat.

In fact Renault works on the basis that there are no security options available at all. If the firm makes a security device, it is included in the standard kit. Nice policy.

Over at Nissan, you have to go for the higher spec models to get all the security toys. Standard vans have immobilisers and anti-drill locks, but you’ll need to go for an SE spec Terrano or Primastar if you want an alarm.

Of course for many, the standard kit, however comprehensive, just isn’t going to be enough. Whether you’re carrying valuable goods or parking in particularly vulnerable areas, additional and in many cases very visible, locks are the order of the day.

Leading suppliers like Armaplate UK provide a variety of lock protection systems for most makes of van. Armaplate’s system uses a stainless steel plate that completely encases the door lock on the outside, with a second, much bigger plate covering the lock mechanism inside the door.

This makes it virtually impossible for the thief to punch a screwdriver through the door skin or the lock and activate the locking mechanism. Perhaps equally importantly, it also provides a very visible deterrent to a thief. Why bother with this well-protected van when there are easier pickings parked down the street?

Does it work? Armaplate has a pretty impressive list of customers that seem to think so including, somewhat bizarrely, the Metropolitan Police. How determined do you have to be to break into or steal a van from the police?

But that’s the point really, isn’t it? If a thief is determined to take from, or break into your van, they will give it a try. It’s up to you how easy or difficult you make it for them to succeed.

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