Van security tips to keep your tools safe

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Vans are more often than not a workplace on wheels, so it pays to keep them secure. Here are our top tips for stepping up your van security and keeping your contents safe.

Men with van

A freedom of information request to the Metropolitan Police revealed there were 6,806 tool thefts from vans in 2019. This averages out to more than 18 tool thefts a day in Greater London alone. 

The impact stretches far beyond covering the cost of the missing tools and any damage caused to the van. Research by the Federation of Master Builders found 52% of tradespeople affected by tool theft couldn’t work for at least one day afterwards, with 7% out of action for five working days or more. 

The loss of income and reputational damage can leave tradespeople thousands of pounds out of pocket.

Here we take a look at ways in which you can step up security for your van and its contents.

How thieves break into vans

So what are we up against? According to a Federation of Master Builders poll in October 2019, more than three quarters (83%) of UK builders had been victims of tool theft, with more than one in three incidents (38%) involving theft from vans. 

This might involve prising open the side panel or door (‘peel and steal’), breaking windows or picking locks. 

And as van door lock security moves with the times, so do the thieves. Vans with electronic locks can also be targeted, using a relay box to effectively replicate the owner’s key fob. Keyless theft is particularly insidious, as it leaves no trace. Plus it can be some time before the van owner realises they’ve been a victim of theft.

Choose your van door locks wisely

Keeping the van locked when unattended is always prudent to avoid opportunistic theft. Even if you’re just paying for petrol or unloading at your place of work, remember to lock up whenever the van’s out of sight.

In addition to your van’s factory-fitted security, there are additional locks you can install. 

Slamlocks are a popular choice, which lock as soon as the door slides or slams closed. These ensure the vehicle’s locked after you leave, meaning you can’t forget. This comes with its own potential pitfalls though, such as upping the chances of locking your keys in the van.

If you’re considering upgrading your van security locks, getting van deadlocks fitted is a worthwhile option. Deadlocks are much more difficult to pick than the spring mechanisms in standard slamlocks. They will need to be professionally fitted, however, and vary widely across makes and models.

Keeping your tools safe in the back

On top of keeping your van locked when you’re working and it’s unattended, another way to keep your stuff safe is to unload all the tools while not working.

But if it’s not practical or possible to unload fully at the end of every working day, it’s smart to take additional steps to protect whatever you keep in the back.

Keep equipment out of sight, so you’re not presenting a menu to would-be thieves. If the back of the van has windows, consider getting them tinted, or getting a window blank or grille. You can also get a sticker which states no tools are kept in the vehicle overnight.

These visible features have the supplementary benefit of showing you care about your vehicle’s security, which can deter thieves in itself. It sends a message you’re not going to make it easy for them.

You can add an extra level of safety with a tool store, which can be secured to the inside of the van. If it’s impractical to unload your kit at the end of every day, a steel storage box with integrated lock could prove invaluable.

If the van doesn’t already have one, install a bulkhead to separate the cab from the rear. If you have entirely separate locks in the cab and the back, and make sure you can’t open the rear of the van from the dash, this will frustrate any attempts to steal equipment via smashing cab windows.

Park smart

Although some calculated thieves use hi-tech methods to break into vans, most thefts are opportunistic. 

As such, parking your van safely is one of the most effective - and cheapest - security tips. Obviously parking up somewhere brightly lit, with CCTV, would be ideal.

Think about your doors too. Parking your sliding door or rear doors tight to a wall will make it difficult for thieves to open them, or get larger equipment out even if they can.

Protect your catalytic converter

The catalytic converter is part of the exhaust system and turns combustion engine exhaust emissions into less harmful gases. They contain precious metals, so when demand is high for these metals, catalytic converter thefts increase too.

And because the exhaust is relatively easy to get to with most vehicles – and especially those with high ground clearance – they’re often easy pickings for thieves.

Besides following the tips above to park safely, you should:

  • Avoid parking half on the kerb and half on the road, as this makes it easier to access the underneath of your van
  • Ask your local garage to weld the bolts to make your catalytic converter more difficult to remove if it’s bolted on
  • Consider a ‘cage clamp’ which locks around the converter 

If you see someone acting suspiciously under a vehicle, report it to the police.

Other van security measures

  • Buy a secure van: When looking for a van, make sure it has a Thatcham category 2-approved alarm and immobiliser
  • Lock down external tools: If you have ladders or tools that need to be fitted to the van’s exterior, be sure to secure them too with a lockable ladder clamp
  • Keep an inventory: Make a thorough list just in case things do go wrong. This will help you put a price on any losses incurred. It’s not a terrible idea to keep receipts for all of your equipment too. Not only will this be useful in the event of a van insurance claim, but it’s also handy for your tax returns
  • Mark your property: Marking your tools with a UV pen or stamp that’s specific to you may help you get them back if they’re recovered by police. Or by you if you chance upon them on Gumtree or in Cash Converters.

To be totally secure, get the right level of van insurance cover. Consider insurance that covers goods in transit, your own goods and professional equipment, and Carriage of goods for hire and reward for transporting third-party goods.

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