Security: Keeping van thieves at bay

The modern thief’s armoury...

1. Lock picks

Go and type ‘tibbie lock pick’ into Google video search.

The videos you’ll find will show you how to break into a Ford Transit van in minutes, using a specialised lock pick available online for just over £50.

These tools allow any amateur to gain access to any unmodified van. You could order one today and start a van theft spree tomorrow.

It’s not just Ford Transits that are vulnerable. Lock picks are available for all kinds of vehicles – ranging from specialist picks to versatile tools that can be used on a range of different vans.

However, increasing numbers of criminals don’t even bother to pick your locks. They’ve got even simpler technology that prevents you from locking your van in the first place — lock jammers.

2. Lock jammers

Modern vans are locked remotely using an electronic signal transmitted by your keyfob.

It’s an elegant way of locking a vehicle, and it quickly becomes second nature. Hop out of the van, press the button on your key fob and head off — without so much as looking back at your vehicle.

Thieves know this, and that’s why they’re increasingly using lock jammers to prevent you from securing your van. They target your vehicle, wait for you to get out of it and then activate their special lock jammer device.

This sends out a strong electronic signal that blocks the signal transmitted by your key fob. So you leave the vehicle thinking you’ve secured it, but the thieves have actually tricked you into leaving it unlocked.

3. OBD re-programmers

Once they’re in the van, criminals can plug a laptop or code reader device into your vehicle’s on-board diagnostics (OBD) port and clone your wireless key fob. It takes a minute or two at most — meaning your van can be stolen in the time it takes you to pop out for a cup of coffee.

4. Catalytic converter / spare wheel theft

These are not hi-tech crimes, but they’re increasingly common ones – especially in the current economic climate.

Catalytic converters on many vans are held in place by four nuts, meaning they can be stolen in minutes.

Spare wheels are usually equally insecure, and are also being stolen in increasing numbers.

...and the solutions

There are a number of measures that can be taken to slow down or stop thieves, according to Burnt Tree Vehicle Rental.

1. Change the locks

If your vehicles have vulnerable locks, replace them with anti-pick replacement cylinders. Choose models that have been endorsed by the Thatcham Motor Insurance Repair Research Centre or by Sold Secure. These products have been subjected to high-intensity security testing, guaranteeing the highest levels of deterrence.

You can also install additional locks to protect tools and prevent access via all doors. Look for accredited Slamlocks, Slamplates and deadlocks.

2. Make use of tracking (GPS) services

If you use GPS services to track your fleet, they provide an extra line of defence against theft. While professional thieves will know where to find a GPS device and remove it before driving off, many opportunist thieves will not. If they steal your vehicle, you can then track its whereabouts and alert the police.

3. Install a CATLOC

Catalytic converter theft is rising rapidly as thieves cash in on these easy-to-remove components containing valuable metals such as platinum or gold. Protect your catalytic converter by installing a security device called a CATLOC, sometimes known as a CAT Guard. Any attempt to cut the exhaust pipe or remove the retaining bolts will activate the alarm, preventing theft of your catalytic converter and damage.

4. Use an OBD protection device

If you use the Mercedes Sprinter, Ford Connect, Fiesta Van or Transit models in your fleet, be sure to fit an ECU/OBD protection device. These prevent thieves from plugging in a laptop or PDA to override your vehicle’s immobilisation system and driving away within minutes.

5. Think ‘thief’

Take simple precautions that make the thieves’ lives more difficult. Keep an eye out for people working under cars, park in safe and well-lit places and make sure your drivers are trained to lock doors behind them every time they leave the vehicle. Remember, a van can be stolen in minutes – far less time than it takes a driver to buy a newspaper.

The added threat of sat-nav equipment

The proliferation of clip-on sat-nav units is proving a happy hunting ground for thieves. And it is not just the units themselves that get stolen.

The thieves are using them to cause even more damage, by leading them to the rightful owner’s home. By logging into searched (or saved) locations, or even following the last route used, the thieves can follow drivers’ tracks and find out where they live.


Sat-nav supplier Snooper gives some good advice for preventing sat-nav thefts:

Take it with you

The easiest way to stop a sat-nav being stolen is to never leave it unattended. For short lengths of time, it’s fine to leave it hidden in the glove compartment, but for long periods it’s necessary to take it with you.

Cover your tracks

Sat-navs leave tell-tale signs all over the dashboard and windscreen. There’s no point hiding a sat-nav if thieves can still see the stand or suction marks on the glass. Make sure to remove any clips, chargers or stands and clean away any marks from the screen. Thieves won’t bother to question whether you’ve taken the sat-nav with you and will break into your van either way.

Hide other valuables

Just as important is to hide other valuables which may attract attention. A thief might spot a smartphone charger and at the same time may also find a sat-nav in the glove box.

Check your windows

Everyone is so used to automatic functions that sometimes drivers forget to close windows. Always check windows are closed. At a petrol station, don’t leave the van unlocked.

Know your model

Everyone knows their brand of sat-nav, but what about the make, model and serial number? Make a note of all these, or keep the warranty and manual in a safe place at home to rely on in case of theft. This will help police track a sat-nav and give a better chance of it being returned.


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