Alarms, trackers, immobilisers and automatic number plate recognition networks – it’s pretty tricky to steal modern vehicles these days.
But no amount of fancy electronics can stop some ne’er-do-well hurling a brick through a window and making off with the contents of a business car or van.
Theft from vehicles is a considerable problem nationwide.
Vehicle crime makes up 20% of all recorded crime in the UK and is estimated to cost the economy £3 billion every year, according to Government figures.
The latest crime statistics show that there were 502,663 instances of theft from vehicles during 2006/2007.
Satellite-navigation units and laptop computers are particularly prized by thieves, but they are by no means the only targets.
So easy is the smash-and-grab technique that even a few coins in change can be a temptation.
According to insurance and security research organisation Thatcham, the most stolen items from vehicles include sat-navs, mobile phones, any in-car entertainment systems, MP3 players, other hand-held devices, tools, laptops, golf clubs – “basically anything that can be removed easily,” a spokesman says.
In 2006, Lloyds TSB autolease found that body glass replacements, around 90% of which are caused by car crime, increased by 59% and totalled £280,000 in repair costs.
But if you’re going to tell your drivers to hide anything, make sure it’s valuable electronic equipment.
Satellite-navigation units are hot property for thieves, as are laptops.
The latter can cause particular problems if taken. Apart from the cost of damage to the vehicle and the value of the computer itself, there’s the cost of any data it may contain.
Lloyds TSB autolease’s head of fleet management, Marcus Puddy, said: “The Nationwide Building Society recently received a £980,000 fine when customer information was lost as a result of a laptop theft.
“This should send shock waves through businesses everywhere. Even if sensitive data isn’t lost, having a laptop stolen from a car incurs a significant capital expense and there are other hidden costs as normal business is interrupted.
“Drivers should treat their laptops as if they were £1,000 in cash. Would you leave that on display in your car?
“The majority of these crimes are simply opportunistic smash and grab attacks, where the thief sees a laptop on a car seat and they break the window.”
Firstly, if possible, don’t leave anything in the vehicle, and certainly don’t leave it on display.
Put things in the boot, and turn off all electronic equipment, especially if it’s got the wireless data transfer technology Bluetooth on it.
In 2005, we reported on a new spate of thefts where thieves use mobile phones to detect any Bluetooth equipment in car boots.
Laptops, mobile phones and PDAs that aren’t turned off will show up on the thief’s phone.
The police recommend such equipment be turned off and not left in the car, if possible.
If stuff has to be left, consider a vehicle safe.
These come in various forms and can be secured to the vehicle.
Companies such as Autosafe make safes that resemble a large metal box tethered to the vehicle, while others such as Modul-System go further and produce a case that can be docked into a bracket or removed and used as a carry case.
Many vans carry signs saying ‘No tools left in this vehicle overnight’ which can reduce the appeal to a thief.
Mike Brigges, vehicle security manager at Thatcham, says: “To combat the opportunist thief, avoid leaving any items on display within the vehicle – either take items with you or place them out of view.
“Where possible, choose a car that carries a five-star Thatcham security rating for ‘theft from’ – Thatcham’s security ratings are available on their website www.thatcham.org/nvsr.”
Consider where your drivers park – tell them to aim for well-lit areas. Better still, go for a car park that’s designated as safe.
The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and the British Parking Association has collaborated to come up with the Park Mark – a sign of security at car parks around the UK.
To find Park Mark car parks in a particular area, visit www.saferparking.com
Fleet managers stories
Michelle Hallam, Thermo Fisher Scientific
“We have had a few incidents which involve cars being broken into for portable sat-navs when the driver has left them on display. We’ve also had an incident where the thief could see the mount for the sat-nav and stole it from the glovebox.
“It is stated in our policy not to leave any items on display – if the driver disregards this then the cost of the replacement equipment is their responsibility. The cost to the company is replacement glass, which we don’t charge the driver for.”
Emmanuel Lewis, Vista Retail Support
“We don’t suffer a lot of thefts from vehicles and when we do it’s usually because the driver has left something on display.
“The thieves are after sat-navs. When one of our cars is broken into, it usually turns out that the driver has left a plug-in charger, or some kind of screen mount on view.
“The damage is never just the door glass, more often than not there is some kind of body damage as well.
“Our drivers are told never to leave anything on view in the car, not even loose change, as that bit of loose change is someone’s next fix.”
Alison Harding, BBT Technology UK
“Thefts from our vehicles are reducing as more drivers are heeding advice to remove items from vehicles, but this year I’ve claimed for three or four.
“In one incident a driver had his van broken into while he was shopping. The thieves found his private car keys in the van, stole his sat-nav system, pressed “home” on the sat-nav and went to his home address to steal his car.
“Running a van fleet we have also had incidents of tools being taken, but a simple “no tools left in this van overnight” sticker has proved to be a deterrent.
“Our driver handbook has also been tightened up and worded far more strongly. The worst locations seem to be hotel car parks .”
Joanne Pearce, King UK
“Theft from vehicles was always a problem with our company car drivers as they would leave their laptops in the boot or behind the driver’s seat.
“We issued revised procedures saying they were not to be left in the vehicle under any circumstances and the driver would be held responsible for the replacement cost if stolen. This appears to have solved the problem.
“We now have a new problem with portable navigation systems being stolen from the cabs of our commercial vehicles.”
Clive Howlett, Plumbase
“We have had several portable sat-navs and one or two laptops stolen from cars. This usually occurs overnight and the thieves identify vehicles by sat-nav sucker marks on the screen.
“The cost of the stolen item is not the end of the story – there’s also the glass and the loss of working time. If we report it to the police it causes even more downtime, as they want to fingerprint the car and so on. We can only try to educate our staff of the perils and costs of these incidents.”
Fred Illing, Pickerings Lifts
“We do not have a major problem but on the occasions it has happened it becomes a headache as the items stolen tend to be the drivers’ own property – sat-nav, sunglasses, etc – and as such are not covered by the company’s motor insurance.
“We do have alarms fitted to all our vehicles and rear screen grilles fitted to all our vans.”
Ann Dukanovic, Kaba Door Systems
“We suffered quite badly with thefts of laptops, especially from cars. About two years ago I introduced Smart-Water to the company, which identifies all valuables by unique DNA.
"Since that date, we have not had a single one stolen. We have also put SmartWater on our PDAs and other items of value and there has been zero loss.
“We tell drivers that such items should never be left in the passenger area of the car, only in a locked boot, and always removed overnight.”
Paul Plummer, PHS Group
“We have the usual break-ins looking for sat-navs and laptops, usually at hotel car parks overnight.
“We also get the occasional fuel theft from trucks, where the thieves drill a hole in the side of the tank and siphon it out. Also an Escort van left out overnight in the car park at our depot in Hayes had the complete dashboard stolen!”
Paul Taylor, Morgan EST
“The main problem we have suffered has been repeated break-ins to our Mercedes-Benz Sprinter vans.
“We have now had the Armaplate system fitted around the lock and handle assemblies and are looking to specify it as standard fitment.
“The problem is the damage caused as well as the equipment stolen. Fitting the Armaplate system negates the repair cost too, as it straightens and covers the damaged area.
“The modification has been effective in preventing further break-ins.”
Liz Hollands, DTZ
“We get a lot fewer thefts than we used to. We make it known to drivers that we don’t insure personal belongings, which makes them more careful. We also charge them the full excess, rather than part, if the car gets broken into.
“I know some fleets won’t let leasing companies attach their dedicated number plates.
“If I saw a car with a “no smoking” sticker in it and a dedicated number plate, I would hazard a guess it’s a company car with something inside worth taking.”
Ian Parris, WA
“We have recently been installing new locks to our vehicles as our Mercedes Sprinter vans are easily accessed.
“One of themhad the passenger window smashed in and they got away with a sat-nav, wallet and some clothing, but because our insurance premiums are so high our contents excess is £5,000, so there is no way of claiming.
“Most of our guys tend to work away all week, so it is a complete nuisance and becomes extremely expensive when we have to hire the tools and locate the local hire shop together with lost production.
“We have identified one particular hotel as a complete no-go area – we have been broken into on 12 separate occasions there over the past year.
“With cars it is the complete opposite. We have not had any thefts or break-ins over the past three years.
“All drivers are told not to leave belongings in view in the cab.”
Mick Donovan, Bowmer and Kirkland
“Fortunately, we do not suffer greatly from theft – when we do the reason is normally driver-led.
"Either they leave a phone in the cradle, a charging lead plugged in or a laptop on the seat because they only popped into the services for a quick coffee and did not think their car was a target.”
Helen Bolton, Ceuta Healthcare
“On a fleet of 96 cars we have on average four break-ins a year. The trend tends to be between December and April, mostly in major towns and cities and in the daytime.
“Once we had two boxes of hair remover stolen, which caused some amusement.
“We have had two smash-and-grab incidents whilst the driver was sitting in a parked vehicle. In one, a sat-nav was snatched from the holder on the dashboard, and in the other a laptop was snatched from the driver.
"On both occasions the drivers were parked in daylight, in busy residential streets and in a locked car. These incidents are the most worrying as I don’t believe they could have been avoided.
“All our drivers are advised not to leave anything on show in an unattended car, no matter how small the value. Most incidents have occurred when drivers have ignored this advice.
“We also have an A5 laminated ‘Nothing of Value Left in this Vehicle’ card in the handbook for drivers to display if they believe they are parked in a vulnerable area. This may be why we have had so few break-ins overnight.”