We’ve all heard the urban myth about thieves: “If they want it, they’ll get it.” Well, the bottom line is, that just isn’t true. Thieves aren’t mystical ninja’s with magical powers to drive off with vehicles. They are limited by the same things you and I are: time and resources. They have limited time, and limited resources to get your vehicle or heavy equipment, so your job as a fleet manager is to make it take longer, and require more tools to steal your resources. If they can’t start it quickly and easily, they’ll move on to your competition down the street.
To understand heavy equipment theft prevention, the first thing to know is how thieves prefer to steal vehicles and equipment. Over 95% of stolen vehicles are driven away. Nearly all heavy equipment is towed away, but needs to be driven onto a trailer before towing.
For tow vehicles, thieves prefer to break in and hide under the dash, often working below the level of the window sill, so they can not be spotted easily. They want to get in and away inside 3 to 5 minutes. Hidden under the dash, thieves have time to defeat any alarm or security device that is connected there- they just trace the wires back, and off they go.
The same holds true for heavy equipment. However, many manufacturer’s make it very easy to start by taking a one-key-starts-all approach to their products. This makes it easier to manage a fleet and drive onto a trailer and conversely, makes heavy equipment theft prevention harder.
An once of prevention is worth a pound of cure
In 2009 13,452 pieces of heavy equipment were stolen in 2009 according to NCIC. 18% of those thefts were recovered.
Even though recover rates are higher for vehicles, your first choice when it comes to security should be to render the vehicle or equipment immovable so thieves can’t take it in the first place. When your property is taken, it impacts you, your customers, your employees and your bottom line. And once recovered, there’s still time repurchasing tools, scrambling to support your customers and dealing with insurance filings. Keep it from being stolen and you won’t have to deal with any of it.
What can be done to prevent vehicle theft?
Remove the key. Sure it’s obvious, but the most common reason thieves get away with vehicles is that the vehicle had the keys left in it. Instill in your team the impact to the business and ramifications to them if keys are not turned back in or remove from the vehicle.
Protect your fleet with a proven immobilizer. An immobilizer that prevents the engine from running will prevent heavy equipment from being driven onto a trailer, or a work truck from leaving its parking spot. Get one that has partnerships with organizations such as the National Insurance Crime Bureau or AAA. One such device is the Ravelco Anti-Theft Device. Most fleets can be protected at less than the cost of 1 theft.
Most company vehicles are stolen for their cargo, or their ability to tow cargo. If a thief finds that your company has valuable tools or equipment inside the truck or van, they’ll start to target your vehicles so they can get the tools. Thieves are less likely to break in a grab a few things. They’re more likely to start the vehicle up and drive off with it. It’s faster, easier, and they can remove everything out of it without worry of the driver coming out to confront them.
Big rigs are stolen for two reasons. Sometimes it’s to drain the fuel tanks or to remove the wheels, other times it’s to use the tractor to steal a trailer. Big rigs are easy targets as they often don’t have any security and are very easy to steal by prying open the panel with the ignition switch, and jumping a couple wires across. If your security system is wired under the dash, it’s no problem for the thief as they are hidden from view in the cab. A security system that forces them into the open to bypass will discourage them from attempting the theft and they’ll target another one.
What can be done to prevent heavy equipment theft?
David Arebalos worked for 30 years in law enforcement and is now the Executive Director of the Construction Industry Crime Prevention Program and has quite a bit of experience with theft of construction equipment. As most heavy equipment is towed away, making your equipment less desirable in a thieves’ eyes is critical. David recommended a few things:
Paint your equipment with easily identifiable markings or bright colors that people associate with your company. When a thief looks at generator or skid steer, they’re look at how easy it will be to get rid of it (for money, drugs, etc.). If people in your area know you have lime green equipment, or logos are painted on the sides, it will reduce the chances of a thief being able to sell it to someone else, or use it plain sight.
Mark your equipment so that if it is stolen, it can be traced back to you if found. The National Equipment Register (www.nerusa.com) can provide you with kits to mark your vehicle and register it. If thieves know it can be traced, they’re less likely to take it.
If you leave the equipment at a site for a period of time, remove the wheels. Making it hard to tow away is critical. They’ll look for an easier target. Most will not spend the money to buy wheels for it, when they can go somewhere else and get the same thing.
Do not leave equipment on a trailer unattended. You’ve cut a thief’s time significantly if all they need to do is hook up a truck and drive off.
If you have heavy equipment that are motor driven such as skid steers and backhoes, get an immobilizer to prevent the engine from starting. If the thief can’t get it started using his standard approach, odds are he’ll jump off and go for something else. They won’t want to spend time going through the electrical system. It’s far to obvious they’re attempting to steal the equipment if they are tracing down wires.
Most heavy equipment that is stolen is either used on private property, sold to unsuspecting used equipment dealers, or taken across the border. So, bright paint, logos, permanent identifying numbers, etc are all discouraging for two out of three of those.
What can be done to help recover after a theft attempt?
Tracking devices can be a good secondary approach to dealing with theft. Consider these the ‘cure’ as it is more expensive to treat theft after the fact. But there are some shortcomings to be aware of. It takes 10 minutes to clean out a truck. Will your tracking device alert you and allow you to respond in that amount of time? Will it work if the vehicle crosses a boarder, or if the thieves have time to find the GPS antennae? Police respond to crimes in progress much faster than a theft that happened a few hours ago or over the weekend.
The bottom line is that tracking systems are designed to get your car back AFTER it has been stolen. This approach may help law enforcement find crime rings, but for the fleet manager, you’re often looking at getting back what the thieves don’t want: a truck stripped of it’s valuable parts and equipment.
We also recommend keeping good records. Know exactly what equipment you have and where their identification numbers are will help law enforcement identify equipment as yours, should it turn up.
Thieves are opportunistic. They rarely have a need for YOUR particular vehicle or equipment. So do what you can to discourage them and prevent them from taking your equipment or vehicle. You don’t need to be a victim by taking some very common sense steps.