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How to keep your work vehicle secure

By Rebecca Milligan

Don’t become a victim of vehicle crime. Follow our tips to ensure you’re doing all you can to keep your van safe.
Which? Trusted Traders van going down the street at night

Your van is more than just a set of wheels – it’s your tool storage, transport and mobile workplace all in one. Vehicle theft and damage is more than a matter of increased insurance premiums - it can stop you working until the damage is repaired. That’s why it’s essential to follow some straightforward steps to ensure the security of your vehicle.

Police-recorded crime showed an increase of 10% year on year from 2016 to 2017, although the rate of vehicle crime went down slightly, with 42 incidents per 1,000 people. Nevertheless, you don’t want to be one of the 42.

See our guide to the restrictions around parking commercial vehicles to make sure you don’t get a ticket. Read on for more about vehicle security.

Park safely

The highest proportion of all vehicle crime takes place in the street outside the owner’s house, so take precautions at the end of the day. Fit security lighting to your driveway that will illuminate and deter potential thieves. See our article on security lighting for more details. Noisy gravel underfoot can also act as a deterrent.

If you need to park on the road, try to do so in a well-lit area that’s covered by CCTV.

If using a car park, look out for locations with a ‘Secured Car Park’ or ‘Park Mark’ sign. These indicate that either CCTV or other security protection is in place to deter crime and anti-social behaviour.

Built-in security

The design of your van can affect how secure it is. Glazed rear doors may be useful for visibility, but they let everyone see what’s inside your vehicle. Solid bulkheads or mesh grilles between the cab and load area also protect your cargo by keeping it hidden and out of easy reach.

Most vans will have an alarm and immobiliser fitted as standard. The system should be Thatcham Category 2 approved for insurance purposes. Ensure your system meets the standard, and consider upgrading if not.

Get the basics right

A high proportion of vehicle crime is carried out by opportunist thieves. It takes seconds for them to steal your vehicle or supplies from out of the back. Don’t make it easy for them – ensure you get the basics right when it comes to vehicle security. It might sound obvious at times, but it’s essential that you:

  • lock all the doors and shut the windows whenever you leave the vehicle unattended
  • always set your alarm when you leave the vehicle
  • don’t leave the back of your van open when you can’t see it
  • always take your keys out of the ignition when you leave the vehicle
  • look after your keys - don’t leave them on a windowsill, near an open door, in a changing room or other public place where they can easily be taken
  • don’t leave paperwork with personal information anywhere it can easily be taken.

Protect your belongings

To help keep your belongings safe, make sure you:

  • store tools and materials out of sight if possible
  • don’t leave tools in your van overnight
  • consider lockable toolboxes for valuable equipment
  • register your stereo, laptop, sat nav and other electronics on the free online property database Immobilise, which could help police trace your property if it’s lost or stolen
  • do not save significant addresses in your satnav as ‘home’ or ‘work’ to prevent thieves identifying your address - input the post code for a nearby landmark, such as a supermarket, instead
  • have your catalytic converter marked and secured to deter thieves who steal them for the precious metal components.

Take action against vehicle theft

You can reduce the likelihood of theft by ensuring you:

  • use an approved steering lock or gear clamp when you’ve parked
  • add slam-locks or deadlocks on your doors, to ensure you don’t leave the vehicle open by mistake
  • fit locking wheel nuts and lockable fuel-filler caps to prevent theft
  • etch your windows, headlights and mirrors with your vehicle registration to prevent thieves changing the vehicle’s identity if it’s stolen
  • fit a ‘Thatcham approved’  or ‘Safe by Design’ tracking device, to help recovery of your vehicle if it’s stolen. A dual-band tracker that works on VHF/UHF and GPS is useful, should criminals attempt to use GPS blocking techniques to avoid detection
  • stop thieves from cloning keys from your on-board diagnostic (OBD) system by fitting an OBD safe device. This is a lockable device that fits over the diagnostic port in the cabin, and prevents criminals using software to code a key from the vehicle.

Securing your vehicle with insurance-approved prevention devices can also help reduce your premiums. But you need to check your terms and conditions carefully first.

Dean Sobers, insurance expert at Which?, says: ‘If you're considering upgrading for an immediate insurance benefit, check with your insurer (or the insurer you're planning to switch to) first. Some will take security devices into account when calculating your premium - but at least as many don't.

‘Similarly, there will often be constraints on which security features will be recognised. For instance, some will only accept certain makes, or Thatcham-approved devices. It may also be a requirement that particular devices (such as trackers) have been professionally fitted.’

Let thieves know you’ve taken preventative measures

Put signs in the windows of your vehicle to advertise the prevention methods you’re using. It might seem like a cheap option, but it can help deter casual attempts on your vehicle. Let potential thieves know that:

  • you leave your vehicle empty overnight
  • you have your catalytic converter marked and registered
  • your vehicle is fitted with an alarm, immobiliser and tracking device.

If the worst should happen

Sometimes, despite all your best efforts, you will be a victim of crime. If this is the case, you should contact the police to report the crime at the earliest opportunity. Even if it’s an attempted theft with nothing stolen or damaged, it’s still worth reporting – call 101 for non-urgent reporting, or 999 in an emergency. You will be issued with a crime number, which you will need to make a claim on your insurance.

Contact your insurer to begin a claim. See the Which? guide on how to make an insurance claim for more details.

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