The police have warned commercial fleet operators of an increase in ‘keyless’ vehicle theft affecting vans, with Ford Transit, Ford Transit Connect and Mercedes-Benz Sprinters most at risk of being stolen.
The warning came from superintendent Paul Keasey of West Midlands Police, head of the UK’s Central Motorway Police Group, speaking at the National Light Commercial Vehicle Workshop.
Keasey said keyless vehicle theft was a national issue, with London as the worst affected.
He said: “The technology is no longer just in the higher end of the market, it’s used by all producers of vans, and vans are using it because it’s the new gimmick.
“The fact criminals want to do something with it is something we need to be much more aware of as we move forward.”
Some criminals are bypassing manufacturers’ security software by purchasing legitimate equipment normally used by garages.
This technology is readily available online to anybody – including car thieves.
One national fleet manager told delegates his business has had a small number of vans stolen in the past, taken by thieves using such equipment.
He said: “I must admit, when we first heard of it we thought it was people just taking the Mick.
“When we saw the devices coming up for sale on internet auction sites, we started to believe it.
“I think the biggest issue for us is the after-effect. You can resolve the loss of equipment or vehicles relatively easily, but it’s the loss of customer appointments and disappointed customers which affect us the most.”
Laura Parker, commercial vehicle specialist at Ford of Britain, said: “The problem is exacerbated by the purchase and supply of equipment used for vehicle thefts being unregulated.
“Ford is working with partners including the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), the police, independent vehicle security experts Thatcham and others to ascertain the extent of the problem and to develop preventative measures collectively across the industry.”
Mercedes-Benz, another one of the manufacturers affected, told Commercial Fleet that it was working with the police, insurer research facility Thatcham and its dealer network to boost the levels of theft prevention.
“We have recently upgraded our ordering process for theft-relevant parts, including vehicle keys and, while this has caused some inconvenience to our customers, it is part of our ongoing commitment to security,” said a spokeswoman.
“We also have a range of products available designed to act as a deterrent to vehicle theft.
“For example, our onboard diagnosis guard has been developed to shield the onboard diagnostic port, preventing unauthorised access.
“In addition, we offer an electronic control unit bracket, which adds further security to the vehicle ECU, as well as an ignition switch guard, which encases the ignition switch housing.
“Both products are designed to prevent unauthorised component removal.”
Keasey advised van operators to consider more traditional forms of security, such as fitting steering wheel, gear knob and handbrake locks.
However, Mark Cartwright, head of vans at the FTA, expressed caution when securing vans against thieves. “You can get to the stage where you put so much security equipment on a vehicle, that if a thief does get in, they wreck the vehicle in doing so,” he said.
“If they’re determined enough, they will get in.”
Parker added: “Ford has recently launched a new security product programme in conjunction with Trade Vehicle Locks, an industry-leading supplier of security products to the automotive industry, to help van owners and operators enhance the security of their vehicles.”
Among its new products launched in response to the rise in theft are an OBD port immobiliser and an OBD port protector kit.
The protection kit is a Thatcham-compliant steel casing to physically prevent access to the port in Transits produced from 2006-2014, priced £123.31, and current generation Transit and Transit Customs, priced £110.81.