Van security: how to keep your van and tools safe
*All statistics are compiled from a 2019 FOI request to all police forces in England and Wales.
If you've ever wondered what van security improvements to make, consider van modifications, steering wheel locks & alarm systems to protect your vehicle and the tools inside.
Loss or damage to a van can do much more than inconvenience or immobilise the driver until an insurance claim is processed. Less than 3% of stolen tools are returned to their owners, resulting in a loss of more than £80 million for tradespeople across the country between 2017 and 2019. And when that means missed appointments, the effects can be costly.
Fortunately, through a combination of careful purchasing decisions, common sense van security measures and technological innovations, it is possible to protect a van and reduce your risk of falling victim to crime.
Some of these van security measures can even offer immediate savings by cutting the cost of your insurance premium, while all of them will make your vehicle less attractive to thieves and keep your tools protected.
Watch our video below to see our top van security tips.
We have gone into further detail about some of these steps below:
Prioritise van security when choosing your vehicle
Choosing the right van at the outset is an important first step when it comes to maximising van security and avoiding tool theft.
While no van is 100% secure, standards in the industry are rising fast, helped by initiatives such as the Association of British Insurers' (ABI) Group Rating system, administered by Thatcham, the industry's research institute. These ratings have a direct effect on the insurance groups of every vehicle in the UK.
Thatcham make their ratings information freely available via their MyVehicle Search tool. To access them, all you need to do is create an account and search for your chosen model to find out what insurance group your prospective new van would fall under.
You can then consult your insurer to get a rough idea of how much a premium for your chosen van will cost, before you make a final purchase decision.
By making van security a priority at the outset, you'll reduce the need to consider making any modifications later on.
Choosing a more secure van isn't all about the latest technology. Simple aspects of the van, such as whether it has rear windows that advertise the van's contents to thieves, should also be taken into account when making a purchasing decision.
Insuring your new van
Before taking out insurance, here are some questions to ask your van insurance provider to ensure you have the cover you need.
- What's included in the policy and what's expected from you when it comes to protecting your van – e.g. locking it in a garage at night?
- Are goods in transit included in the policy?
- Is windscreen and window repair covered by the insurance?
- If personal belongings are damaged or stolen will this be covered by the policy?
- Will a replacement van be provided if yours is stolen or damaged?
- Will the van's business contents (things like tools and laptops) be insured in the event of damage or theft?
- If you take out tools insurance, will your tools be covered overnight? We offer 24-hour tools cover, which can be added to your policy for an additional premium.
How criminals target your business
To minimise your chance of your van being targeted, it might be useful to understand the methods criminals might use to get into your van. While some of these approaches are hard to defend against, there are some newer techniques that you can avoid if you plan carefully.
Here are some of the most common techniques that thieves use, and some advice on how to avoid them. You can find out more top tips for foiling thieves below.
Smash and grab
In many thefts, thieves will simply smash a window and grab whatever they can reach before the alarm is raised. Vehicle alarms can help, as most vans only have windows in the front – and these are usually monitored by an alarm. It's also a good idea to empty your van every night, to avoid leaving valuable items on show to potential thieves.
In many vans, the anti-theft sensors will be in the front, as it's the easiest point of entry. But that leaves the roof, and the side and back doors without any protection. Thieves can literally peel these doors back, or cut through and peel back the thin metal, without breaking any locks or setting off alarms. The best defence is to park your van in a locked garage or in a well-lit area.
As the number of wireless key fobs rises, thieves have adapted their techniques. Hackers scan for the wireless signals that your key generates, then replicate it to fool your van into thinking the key has been pressed. This is mostly silent, and the system might even disable alarms.
To avoid this, think carefully about where you store your keys when they're not in your van. The scanners have limited range, so keep your keys away from your main entrance at night. You might also consider investing in a GPS tracker for your van, so you can alert the police and give them its location if the worst happens. We’ll talk about these in more depth below.
Consider making van modifications
There are modifications that you can make to your current van to improve its security.
However, choose these carefully because some modifications – even if they are undertaken with van security in mind – could actually increase your premiums or even void your policy. So make sure that you discuss any proposed modifications with your insurer first.
We also advise installing only security modifications with Thatcham Security Certification, due to the rigour of Thatcham's testing methods and its status within the British insurance industry.
Even if your modification does reduce your premiums, there is of course no guarantee that the saving will outweigh the cost of the work done on your van.
In any case, let's consider some of the most effective modifications and van anti-theft devices to achieve a more secure van.
Invest in a vehicle tracking GPS
An increasingly popular and high-tech way to boost van security is to invest in a vehicle GPS tracking system.
Trackers are available from as little as £20 - £40, but the benefits will be more certain if the tracker and the person who installs it have been approved by Thatcham.
The cost is likely to run into the hundreds of pounds for a dependable system such as those provided by market leaders like CobraTrak, Teletrac and Smartrack, but there are also subscription models available to reduce upfront costs.
Use van locks, steering wheel bars and anti-theft alarm systems to protect your van
More traditional methods of improving van security include installing heavier duty van locks.
The most common modifications are deadlocks, which are used independently of the van's existing locking mechanism and offer protection from brute force attacks.
Slamlocks work similarly except that they lock automatically when the door closes, whereas a deadlock needs to be locked and unlocked manually with a key.
Deadlocks do involve an extra step – locking the door a second time – which means as a system they’re only as dependable as the person responsible for operating it.
Other available security modifications include:
- catalytic converter protection systems
- steel plates to protect your door handles and mechanisms.
A steering wheel lock is a lower-cost addition that does not involve any modifications to the vehicle or a complex installation process.
These tools, which were more widely seen in the days before the sophisticated vehicle alarm systems around today, still have their uses. Thatcham continues to accredit steering wheel locks that you can buy for £50 to £100.
When it comes to third party alarm systems, the first step is to make sure that the system you're considering is truly better than what came with the van.
Let's have a look at how Thatcham Security Certifications categorise vehicle security and how this relates to alarm systems.
There are eight categories of van security according to system. Strictly speaking, these do not grade the effectiveness of the security measures, but rather categorise them by type. However, there is a lot of overlap between these two considerations.
Category 1 security systems in vans offer:
- perimeter detection
- ignition detection
- passenger compartment movement detection
- an audible warning (with battery backup power supply)
- a passively set immobiliser that isolates a minimum of two operating circuits/systems.
Category 2 systems do not need an alarm, but they do require an immobiliser that meets the above criteria.
If your van has been accredited with Category 2 status, it is not possible to have it upgraded to Category 1.
However, by having an approved engineer install a Thatcham-accredited alarm, you can achieve a category 2/1 – which is essentially the highest category available for a van without a pre-installed alarm that meets the above criteria.
Upgrading your vehicle's category from 2 to 2/1 may have benefits in terms of your insurance premiums as well as achieving a higher degree of van security. But always check that this is the case before making any changes or modifications to your security system.
Behaviour: securing your van with simple safety measures
The best lock in the world is useless if a driver doesn't use it. And the loudest alarm available is pointless if it's ringing out across an abandoned industrial park in the dead of night.
The key to maximising van security is to use all the tools available to you to secure your van, and to form the habit of following the most secure practice.
Never leave valuables in your van
Many vans have a sticker that informs would-be thieves that no valuables are left unattended in their vehicle overnight. But how many drivers actually empty their van every evening?
It goes without saying that the best way to prevent van tool theft is to take them out of your van overnight to store them in a secure location.
During the day, when you may be going in and out of your van with hands full of tools or materials, it may be hard to lock your door every time. Consider investing in a lockable tool safe to add an extra layer of deterrent, particularly against opportunist thieves.
Choose your parking spots carefully
Avoid poorly-lit car parks and empty streets with few eyes on them. If you tend to park when the sun is still shining, it's easy to miss this simple step.
Look out for streetlights and anticipate where the darker corners of the car park will be before you choose your spot.
Even if you're parking in your own driveway, you should still consider taking some straightforward security measures, like installing security lights or a lockable gate.
When it comes to insurance and parking, one of the most important steps is to park your van where you told your insurer you will be parking it. That way, if you are unfortunate enough to fall victim to theft, you'll still be covered.
Keep a record of what's in your van
Keeping a detailed inventory of the contents of your van will really help if you have to make an insurance claim.
It may also remind you of the value of all your tools and equipment – which may help you to remember to take sensible security precautions.
As tradespeople tend to build their collections of tools over many years, it's very easy to underestimate their total value. The average value of a reported stolen tool is £385, and an estimated 217,000 tools were stolen between 2017 - 2019.
For particularly expensive items, keep receipts in order to simplify the claims process if it comes to it – just make sure you don’t keep the receipts in your van!
Make your staff aware of van security
You may remember to lock your doors and unload your van at night, but are you as confident about those who work with or for you?
If other people have access to your van, make sure they are well informed about its security features and understand your expectations.
If you have an employee induction programme, make sure to include some security training so that it becomes part of the culture of your business.
Whatever security precautions you decide to take, you need to make sure you’re covered – learn more about Direct Line Van Insurance here.
*All statistics are compiled from a 2019 FOI request to all police forces in England and Wales.