Many van owners risk becoming the victims of theft, say security experts, thanks to a widely-available lock pick that can be bought online for as little as £25.
Thieves can use it to pick the driver’s door lock and obtain the key code so that a new key can be cut. They then return to the van, unlock the doors and programme the key’s chip using a laptop connected to the OBD – On Board Diagnostics – port.
Once that’s done the van can be started and driven away.
The immobiliser does nothing to prevent this from happening because it is fooled into believing the key is the genuine article. Any factory-fitted alarm fitted is over-ridden.
Ford Transits are especially vulnerable, with figures compiled by NaVCIS – the National Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service – revealing that a disproportionately-high number were stolen last year. Other models are being hit too.
Worthy Security Measures
Criminals are after whatever is in the load area; tools are especially desirable. Having taken the van they may opt to dismantle it and sell the hard-to-trace parts rather than sell it intact and risk getting caught.
Fortunately there is a way of preventing this from happening says Paul Nunn, Marketing Manager at Maple Fleet Services. “You can fit something called a Replock,” he explains.
Complete with its own key, it replaces the vehicle manufacturer’s door lock mechanism and resists attack by the sort of pick criminals are using. It resists drilling too, says Nunn.
“It costs from £100 to £150 depending on whether we fit it or whether you fit it yourself,” he says.
Something else that is well worth considering is a lockable shield for the OBD port, he adds. “That’s something customers can install themselves and they can let the garage have the key if work needs to be done on their van,” he says.
“The use of such protection devices is increasingly being recognised as a worthy security measure,” says Andy Barrs, Police Liaison Officer at Tracker. It installs hidden tracking systems that allow stolen vehicles to be located and recovered.
The use of a mixture of GSM, GPS and VHF technologies makes the equipment installed resistant to jamming, Barrs says. Like the lock picks referred to earlier, jamming devices are widely available on the internet.
Staying One Step Ahead
Ford says that the new Euro 6 Transit comes with enhanced security, including more effective protection for the OBD port.
An aftermarket package of security devices is now available for older Transits, the company adds, developed in conjunction with Trade Vehicle Locks and Garrison Locks. It includes OBD port shielding and deadlocks for the cab doors.
Not surprisingly, Ford is deeply concerned that lock picks are so easy to obtain and wants to see the government take steps to limit their availability.
Replock, the OBD shield and deadlocks show that physical barriers against theft still have a role to play, especially given the rising concern highlighted by Tracker about the security of keyless entry and ignition systems. Describing keyless technology as “a gift for hackers”, it suggests that many drivers are contemplating going back to using items such as steering wheel and clutch pedal locks as extra lines of defence.
They are certainly likely to do so – and install a tracking system too – if they glance through a Home Office report published earlier this year.
Entitled Reducing Criminal Opportunity – Vehicle Security and Vehicle Crime, it argues that there now needs to be what it refers to as a ‘third wave’ of more-sophisticated onboard security in order to frustrate thieves.
“If the automotive industry doesn’t make an effort to stay one step ahead then we could be sleepwalking towards a significant rise in vehicle theft,” says Barrs. Vehicle crime rose by 3% last year, he points out, and while on paper that does not seem significant, it represents the reversal of a trend; and a reversal that is likely to accelerate in his opinion.
“In some cases thieves are removing factory-fitted ECUs, replacing them with their own, and getting control of vehicles that way,” says Nunn.”One thing we’re increasingly recommending is the installation of secondary immobilisers with their own transponder on the driver’s key-ring.”
Locks, Locks and More Locks
Extra locks over and above those fitted by the vehicle manufacturer are undoubtedly worth installing contends Locks4Vans Managing Director, Chris Batterbee.
“Fit deadlocks to the cab’s doors and a thief will not be able to open them,” he says. “He’ll have to break a window to get in instead.”
The deadlocks his company provides typically cost £100 to £120.
One of the best ways to secure the cargo area’s doors, he says, is to fit a slamlock such as the Ultimate Courier Slamlock. Its profile should help it ward off hammer attacks and its internal fixings are designed to stop it from being ripped out of the door.
“The current model uses a rotating latch as the locking mechanism rather than a sprung pin and it can be specified as a deadlock,” he says.
Price? “It’s £200 per door,” Batterbee replies.
Other physical barriers include the Guardian and Sentinel from Armaplate. Bolted into position and made from stainless steel, it is designed to protect a van door’s lock barrel and the area surrounding it from assault.
Armaplate also markets deadlocks, slamlocks, a rear step for a panel van which can be folded backwards and locked into place to prevent the back doors from being opened, and a device designed to stop catalytic converters being stolen.
Mercedes-Benz Sprinters have earned a reputation as being especially vulnerable to catalytic converter theft but the latest Euro 6 models appear to be better-protected than their predecessors says Nunn.
Some light commercial owners simply require a lockable chest that can be used to store tools securely. That is something that Armorgard can offer in a variety of different sizes.
Better van security can often involve common sense.
Always lock the vehicle when it is unattended, and ensure you take the keys out of the ignition and lock all the doors when you are filling up at a service station. Keep the van locked in a garage – preferably one protected by an alarm system – at night if at all possible, and if you have to park it in the street overnight then park it somewhere that is well-lit.
If you park it in a yard then protect the yard with palisade fencing topped by razor wire. Install lights that illuminate automatically if there is any movement and install an electrically-operated gate; they are especially difficult to force open.
Protecting Your Trucks
Turning to trucks, hauliers on international work – especially those travelling through the port of Calais – need to keep illegal immigrants out of their vehicles. Failure to take precautions can result in fines of up to £2,000 for the truck’s driver, owner or hirer for each one found onboard, warns the Home Office.
That is one reason why Maple has developed Integritas, an automatic, electronic, tamper-evident combined security seal and slamlock which can be used on both roller shutter and barn-type doors.
It provides a record of when and for how long the doors were opened which can be uploaded to a remote server. Unauthorised openings – by clandestines breaking the seal for example in order to gain entry – automatically trigger an alert.
By contrast, disposable plastic seals can be broken then carefully glued back together by an accomplice who remains outside the vehicle.
Integritas can be locked and unlocked using a PIN number or a touch key issued to the driver. Alternatively it can be locked and unlocked remotely.
“It costs £595 if it is fitted to a roller shutter door rising to £800 if you fit it to barn doors,” says Nunn.
Illegal immigrants may of course try to get into a curtainsider by cutting the curtains, although the damage done would probably be spotted by the authorities – unless quickly repaired by an accomplice – and prompt them to conduct a search.
Curtains can be protected against such attacks with an anti-slash backing. TISS offers one called CurtainSafe which uses Kevlar material heat-welded to the inside of the curtain. Produced at heights of up to 3m, it does not make the curtains more difficult to open or close, TISS says.
Desperate migrants will take desperate measures, says the Road Haulage Association, including setting fire to a truck just outside Calais which happened recently. Other trucks in the vicinity of the blaze were boarded by clandestines while the drivers and the emergency services were distracted by the conflagration; which had been deliberately started as a diversion.
Consider Safety Too
Having looked at the security of their vehicles commercial vehicle operators need to consider safety; and the safety of vulnerable road users in urban areas in particular.
To avoid the risk of colliding with cyclists more and more hauliers are equipping their trucks with camera systems supplied by specialists such as C-KO. They enable drivers to spot bike riders pedalling alongside their vehicles who may not always be instantly visible in the exterior rear view mirrors.
In particular they enable the driver to see cyclists in the truck’s nearside blind-spot; vitally important if the truck is about to turn left. The cameras feed images to an in-cab monitor and everything they see can be recorded.
Nor need this involving lots of extra wiring C-KO points out. Wireless packages are available.
“They take power from the vehicle’s electrical system but need no coax wire to send the pictures to the cab,” says a C-KO spokesman. “They use an aerial to pick up the images instead.”