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How do criminals break-in to work vans?

Theft from vans results in at least a 6-week loss in earnings. Read on to learn how to protect your van and your wallet.

Home » Tradesman Insights » How do criminals break-in to work vans?

If you work in the construction industry and rely on a van to do your trade, then you are at a huge advantage. You can load your van with the tools and equipment you need to do the job, and travel anywhere in the UK. There are not many professions that have this opportunity. You’re not limited to an area or fixed to a desk. And if you don’t get on with the contractor you work with, once the jobs complete, you can work with someone else.

However, there are also significant risks. And because your business is mobile these risks change. Work in a city and the risk is higher than working in a town. There are more thieves about. And these vile individuals are on the hunt for a van like yours.

The tools and equipment you store in your van are valuable, take seconds to steal, and are easy to resell. A great return on investment for thieves, but a headache for victims who lose out financially.

So how do criminals break-in to work vans? What follows are two common techniques and some advice on how to protect your assets.

Door peeling

No tools necessary! Thieves drive up alongside your van, use their fingers to grip the gap in the door seal, and peel back the door panel.

This gives the thieves enough of a gap to see what’s inside your van. And if they eye something worth taking, the door panel is pulled back further to reach your tools and equipment.

Then it’s a simple grab and pass process to an accomplice who loads their vehicle with everything you rely on for your trade. And that’s it. The theft takes minutes. Does not require a specialist skill and poses a huge risk to your income.

The technique sounds simple because it is simple. Fortunately there are several things you can do to prevent this from happening.

If you can, avoid storing your tools and equipment in your van when it’s unattended. Most thefts and break-ins occur on the van owner’s driveway, so it makes sense to remove valuable items from the vehicle and store them in a more secure location overnight.
This will not stop thieves breaking into your van, but if they do, they will be disappointed that nothing worth stealing has been left inside.

You can also display a ‘no tools in van’ sticker on your windows, or CCTV warning signs on your property. Again, these deterrents are no guarantee that your van won’t be targeted, but it might make thieves think twice.

There are also options to strengthen the door panel of your van. Reinforced plates can be installed on the doors interior to reduce the chances of it being peeled away.

Key fob hacking

One of the advantages of using a wireless key fob for your van is that there is no physical key. It also means that the van cannot be started unless the key fob is in range.

However, it’s this convenience that is also the key fob’s weakness.

Thieves have developed radio frequency technology that either boosts or blocks your key fob’s signal.

If the signal is blocked, when you press the fob to lock the vehicle it doesn’t reach the van. Nothing happens. You walk away thinking the van is locked, but it has been left open.

Jeff Scott gives an overview of keyless entry risks and suggests ways to protect your van

Criminals wait close-by until you’ve left the area, walk up to your van and open the door like they own it. Before you know it you’re on the phone to your insurance company negotiating how long it will take to replace your tools and equipment.

If boosted, the signal can be extended over a wider range. If your keep your keys in your home, the signal can be hacked, which gives access to your van in seconds. Your van and all its contents will be rolling off your driveway when you’re in the land of nod. No alarms. No smashes. No grabs. It’s as if the door has been held open as the thief settles in behind the wheel.

How to protect your van

According to the Federation of Master Builders:

  • More than half (51%) of UK builders have had tools stolen
  • 46% had their side panel or door broken/pierced and pried open
  • 23% had their windows smashed and doors opened from the dashboard
  • 22% had their locks picked

In other words, your van is vulnerable.

A van is broken into every 23 minutes in the UK, leaving tradespeople in a very challenging situation. On average, £5,584 of equipment is lost which puts professionals, like yourself, out of work for at least 30 days.

And it’s not just the tools you’ve lost that will make it difficult for you to get on site.

19% of builders store their tools inside their home at night, which is one way to protect them. However, thieves don’t know the van is empty until they have broken into it.

If door panels have been ripped off, or windows have been smashed, your van won’t be in a road worthy condition. Again, this means cancelling jobs and losing income.

Here are a few more ways builders protect their tools:

  • Install extra locks in the van (19%)Park against a wall (18%)
  • Mark tools with an address, phone number or paint them a special colour (9%)
  • Park in an area not visible from the road (9%)
  • Install safes in their vans (7%)
  • Install CCTV and advertise its use (7%)
  • Install extra alarm systems in the van (7%)
  • Register serial numbers of tools on an online database (7%)

Deciding where to park your van reduces the risk of your van being a target. If you park on the street, make sure it’s in a well-lit area. And for a van on a driveway, install floodlights, a doorbell camera, or CCTV to deter thieves.

Extra locks for your van are recommended, and making changes to the locks that were installed by the manufacturer is advisable. Thieves are familiar with the security features on different models of van. It’s easier for them to break into vans that have not added additional protection.

It’s also worth adding tool insurance to your main policy. This optional cover will pay out up to £10,000 per person and includes protection for theft from unattended vehicles.

Van Saver insurance is also an excellent way to make sure your business doesn’t suffer due to a theft or accident. Beef up your policy with a range of add-ons and you’re guaranteed a replacement for your van, and full breakdown cover in the UK and EU.

And both tool and Van Saver insurance include legal expenses up to £250,000, free helplines and business advice. Accidental death and work abroad cover are also part of your Tradesman Saver policy, at no extra cost.

Tradesman Talk

Have you ever been a victim of van crime? If yes, how did this impact your business and what steps do you wish you had taken to protect your van?

Or are you the lucky van owner who has never had their vehicle broken into? Can you offer any advice to other drivers in the industry?

Leave your comments below.

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