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If you rely on your van for business, it’s vital you not only keep it running well, but maximise security too.

Vans can be a target for opportunistic thieves, especially if they think there’s something valuable inside.

Many van owners transport and store expensive tools and equipment. Thieves know this.

Dangers of van theft

Having your van broken into is stressful and can prevent you from carrying on business as usual.
It’s a real problem faced by self-employed builders, plumbers and other tradespeople.
When a van – and the tools it transports – are your livelihood, having them stolen is a huge headache.

In 2016, tool theft cost the UK’s tradespeople just under £100m (£94,521,600), according to one report.

Workers rely on these tools to get the job done, so it’s not surprising theft forces people to miss work and

potentially lose out on money coming in. In fact, in the same report, some people were over £14,000 out

of pocket after just one break in. Other findings included:

71% of workers admitted they felt stress and/or anxiety after being stolen from

50% of tradespeople couldn’t work the next day, with some workers having to take two weeks off

Being unable to work costs 50% of tradespeople at least £500

There’s also the effects on existing customers, and potential reputational damage. I

t’s a lot for tradespeople to worry about and can quickly have an impact on wellbeing.

UK theft statistics


111,999 cars were stolen in 2017-18, up from 75,308 in the 2013-14 financial year.

5 MINUTES On average, vehicle theft occurs every five minutes in Britain.

300 Motors being stolen every day. Source: This is Money

VAN THEFT 22,749

van or tool thefts in 2017. That was a rise of nearly two-thirds in two years.

23 MINUTE A van is broken into and the tools stolen every 23 minutes.

62 That’s around 62 thefts every day.

Source: Power Tools 4 U

Unfortunately, car and van theft is on the rise. Criminals are also breaking into vans,

not to steal the vehicle, but to take the tools inside. With the average tool theft claim costing £1,692,

falling victim is costly. 50% of people asked had even been stolen from more than once.

Even more (70%) knew someone who had tools taken from their van.


Areas worst for van theft
Areas worst for van theft

Source: Installer Online

How criminals target your

Whether you live and work in one of the hotspots or not, you’ll want to minimise the chance of theft.
One of the best ways of doing this is understanding how criminals work.

Of course, many thefts happen in a typical smash-and-grab style. But as vans use more sophisticated

technology, criminals have to modernise their methods. They’re pretty savvy and can get past many

advances in security. Some experts criticise the police budget cuts too, as fewer officers doesn’t help.

Some of the newer ways criminals are targeting vans include:


A lot of vans have sensors in the front, so side and back doors, and even roofs, can be literally peeled

back without anything being detected. It’s all down to newer vehicles being made with thinner metal

to improve fuel efficiency. Shockingly, thieves don’t need any specialist tools to do this


The radio signal from your keys to the locks on your van can be intercepted and replicated.

Criminals can then unlock the vehicle easily using a scanner. In 2018,

reports confirmed the rise in keyless van thefts. Up 44% from 2016, 82% of vans were stolen

without keys in 2017. The most frequently stolen and recovered van is the Ford Transit, followed

by the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter.


Did you know there are seven times more light good vehicles than lorries on our roads?

According to SMMT, there are more than 3.2 million vans used for business across the UK.

That’s a lot of vans which could be targeted. Learning how to maximise security could pay off.

Parking your van safely

Your van is most at risk when you leave it somewhere. Parking securely can deter criminals.
After all, most thefts are opportunistic. If you don’t give thieves the opportunity,
then they might pass your van by.

Some of these tips might seem simple, but they’re easily forgotten after a busy day at work.

Try and get into a routine, and remember to do the following regularly:


Take them out of the van and put them somewhere secure – whether that’s at a business storage facility or at home.


You can mark your van and all the tools with paint, permanent markers or ultraviolet pens to make sure you’re the recognisable owner if they’re found. Similarly, take photos and keep a note of any serial numbers to prove ownership.


Van signs can indicate to criminals what types of tools they could find inside. But large displays, including your contact details, can be deterring for criminals who don’t want to pay for a re-spray. It’s up to you.


Something as simple as additional lighting can be enough to deter criminals. They’ll know the risks of being visible to other people who might alert the police.


If possible, reverse your van so the side and back doors can’t be accessed. This stops anyone being able to cut into thinner metals and peel them back to get access to your van. With clever parking, you’ll give them no area to work on these entry points.


Good quality trackers are off-putting and can help you get a stolen van back. They can be a huge help for the police trying to get your van back to you.


Throughout the year, there are certain spikes when thieves seem to be more active. These include:

  • The months leading up to Christmas
  • Mondays
  • July


They might seem old fashioned, but visible deterrents such as steering and handbrake locks can be effective at making your van a less appealing target.

Types of Locks

To improve your van’s security, many experts recommend taking additional steps to protect your assets. One of the best lines of defence is a decent lock. But where do you start? Some common types of lock include:


Vans with slamlocks installed lock up instantly as you shut the door. There’s no risk of forgetting to lock the van or leaving it temporarily unattended. It’s always protected.


Harder to pick than other locks because there’s no spring in the locking mechanism, a deadlock will secure the doors with a single bolt. You do need to remember to lock the doors every time you leave the van unattended, though.


The catalytic converter in your van has particulate filters which contain precious metals. Thieves can easily sell these on. You can buy specialist locks to protect your catalytic converter.

Source: Confused.com

Getting the right insurance

In addition to the usual types of insurance policy (telematics, third party only, third party fire and theft, and comprehensive), there are different levels of cover depending on what you use your van for:


With this, you’ll be covered for everyday activities like the school run, food shop and any social outings. But it won’t cover you if you use your van for any business purposes – including commuting.


If you use your van for work, you’ll need a commercial policy. These include:

Carriage of own goods

This will give you cover for carrying the equipment and tools you need for your trade. It’s ideal for builders, plumbers and carpenters, but people who use their van to get to and from work would need this type of policy too.

Carriage of goods for hire or reward

For anyone who delivers goods, especially to multiple addresses and customers, you’ll need a specific policy to cover this.


This type of policy tends to cover drivers who take a single load a long way. If your business helps people move house, for instance, you’d need this type of insurance.

If you’re not sure what type of policy you need for your van, chat to a few different insurers to get a better idea of what policy suits your use.

It’s worth bearing in mind that prices will vary. Shop around to get the best deal. If you’ve made any modifications to your van to improve security, you’ll need to inform insurers, too. You might be trying to make your van safer, but it could make your insurance premiums more expensive.

To avoid this, look for Thatcham-approved security systems. It’s considered to be the gold standard by most major insurers. A Thatcham Security Certification is an industry benchmark, and “provides reassurance around the functionality, design and performance of alarms, immobilisers and tracking systems.”

How van owners are
fighting back

If you find yourself a victim of van or tool theft, it can be frustrating waiting for an insurance pay out. What’s more, many people are disappointed with the punishments given to any burglars who are caught. These include community service or a fine.

Fed up with the situation, many tradespeople are committed to raising public awareness and driving change. This includes:

Demanding stronger laws

There’s a call for stronger punishment – for tool theft in particular. A ‘Tool Crime Deserves Time’ petition, with a target of 50,000 signatures, was set up by Lee Watts. “Our Government must look strongly into the growing problem of tool theft from vans and must impose much tougher penalties on those convicted of these crimes,” he writes.

In March 2018, more than 150 vans travelled to Plymouth city centre in convoy to protest the increase in tool thefts in the area. Up and down the country, it’s a problem tradespeople share – and they’re prepared to fight for change.

Sharing tips amongst other tradespeople

There are groups on Facebook, including Tradesmen Against Thieves, as well as websites (e.g. Van Security Talk Group) which share help and advice on stolen vans and tools.