23/09/2020
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Motorhome security advice

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There are two types of security: those that help prevent belongings from being stolen from a motorhome and those that prevent the motorhome itself being stolen. We’ll mainly focus on the latter, but it’s important to also look to the former.

Motorhome theft

Around 2018, there was a spate of thefts of Ford Transit-based motorhomes. Insurance premiums went up and sources confirmed that the thefts were probably the result of a demand for replacement Ford engines and gearboxes – low-mileage motorhomes were valuable commodities.

Now, it is likely motorhomes are being stolen because there is a demand for them. In addition, keys are not needed with many vehicles and thefts can happen in seconds.

Computer gadgetry underpinning modern vehicles can be used to bypass ignition systems. Tim Booth, a Leisure Vehicles Officer of NaVCIS Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service, says: “Unfortunately equipment is available off the internet for very little money that can pick both the Ford and Fiat locks – in a matter of seconds! Once in the vehicle, of course, then the ECU can be compromised, the vehicle started and away they go!”

Physical security for motorhomes and campervans

A wheel lock is a physical deterrent (Image Stronghold))Physical deterrents are great. It’s about risk versus reward. If the thief has to spend time with an angle grinder or other such device, the risk of them being seen or caught in the act is greater.

Ben Cue, from Comfort Insurance, says: “Don’t rely on a single device, use a combination of both hidden measures and visible stuff.”

So, think about security posts for driveways, wheel clamps and steering wheel locks.

Tim has specific pointers, too. “Use a steering wheel lock – the extended arm type, as the short arm can still allow the steering wheel to rotate in a motorhome – Milenco, Stronghold and others produce a Sold Secure version of such locks. There are also now full wheel clamps available for motorhome-size wheels – ideal for home/site storage, but perhaps rather heavy to travel with!”

Tim goes on to point out another product. “The Clutch Claw is a useful deterrent – not Sold Secure-approved, but this device locks the brake and clutch pedal together, preventing the vehicle from being driven,” he says.

Ben adds: “Thatcham-approved devices are still recommended. If in doubt, call your insurance company for advice.”

There’s also a relatively new device that secures a vehicle’s OBD port by fitting over the port to prevent thieves from accessing the on-board diagnostic systems to start a motorhome without keys. Tim does have one caveat: “If your motorhome goes in for service – make sure you leave the key for the lock!”

Another easy DIY security measure is using a padlock to lock the driver’s seat into the reverse position facing the rear of the motorhome. 

 

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Invisible Deterrents

VIN chip can be added to all motorhomes aftermarketNon-visible deterrents like alarms and trackers also play a valuable part. You have a much greater chance of getting the motorhome back if a tracking system is fitted – long-standing security company, Tracker, has a 95% recovery rate.

Clive Wain, Head of Police Liaison for Tracker confirms that more security is essential. "Motorhomes should be stored securely, with multiple physical barriers in place to deter criminals. Unfortunately, many experienced professional thieves will still get past even the best security measures, in which case a Tracker device is invaluable protection.

“Having an active Tracker device installed significantly increases the chances of a vehicle being recovered quickly and in one piece, before the criminals have a chance to sell it on.”

However, you do also need to make sure these systems are working properly. According to Tim, research carried out for Swift Group showed that a significant number of caravans and motorhomes that are kept in storage are left with their alarms or tracking systems not set!

There are battery issues with leaving a vehicle in storage and setting alarms or tracking systems that drain said batteries, but there are options.

You can buy battery monitors with GPS to keep an eye on levels and solar panels can top up the battery. Also take the motorhome for a regular run to top up the batteries, move the wheels and keep systems like brakes functional.

The National Caravan Council (NCC) is working towards Code of Practice (307) that sets out standards for leisure vehicle alarms and trackers. It will set minimum requirements for components, system features and the installation of complete alarm systems, and to ensure that the system is a deterrent to thieves, but also does not interfere with the vehicle’s electronic system.

Using a motorhome storage site

Storage sites also need some thought, as Tim says that criminals can see these locations as a target for premium products.

Ben adds: “Keeping a motorhome at home is more favourable, under their owner’s watchful eye, but this can highlight when people are away and some new housing estates have covenants that don’t allow this, too.

“It’s a very expensive asset – you need to ask yourself do you want to be leaving it on an individual locked compound, with CCTV, added security and a good distance between vehicles? Also check that it is well maintained.”

Key motorhome and campervan security issues

Keep your keys in a protective bag and don’t keep a spare set in the ‘van

Keys are another thing to safeguard. Keep your central locking key in a Faraday cage or shield that blocks signals and never keep a spare set of keys in the motorhome, even while on holiday.

Locker doors are a common weak point. Doors leading to underbed spaces with an interior hatch or under lounge seats, for example, should be protected with extra locks. Tim suggests the use of battery-powered panic alarms that sound if the door is opened without the cord removed.

Obviously upgrading locks or investing in an alarm system that is wired into these hatches are other such solutions.

Alternatives

Roof markings can also be useful, as Tim explains. “Now that the majority of strategic road network is monitored by ANPR, consider marking the roof with the last six characters or numbers of the vehicle VIN – Not the VRN or postcode.”

The markings should be left to right when looking at the front of the vehicle, so the information reads like the number plate. The issue is that the VRN can change through ownership changes – or if a personal VRN is used. The VIN is unique to any vehicle.

Using the last six characters of the VIN we are able to search databases to identify any stolen reports – both for caravans and motorhomes (the PNC search system uses a right to left process of search so six characters is a good indicator).

Trials with West Mids Police – and their Air Support team, found that six characters were enough – any more on a roof and it may be confusing!

(Using the personal VRN on a roof would mean at change of keeper the number would have to be removed – painted over- so this avoids having to do that as well!)

VIN chip is used by police when identifying stolen goods. These are RFID chips fitted at the point of manufacture within the body and chassis of the motorhome. According to Comfort they can be read by police from a distance and/or while the vehicle is travelling at speed.

Tim confirms this. “Fitting the VINCHIP product now also allows us to scan moving vehicles – so it’s not only ANPR systems that are looking at vehicles ‘remotely’ now – as I reported 60mph scans are now being achieved regularly!”

Auto-Trail, Elddis and Swift include these in their models, and it can also be retrofitted from CRiS (Caravan Registration Service) for £34.99.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that anything with complicated electronics or something that is bolted onto a motorhome may affect the vehicle warranty, so check with your insurance company as well as your dealer or manufacturer.

Good motorhome insurance

Despite all of this, if a thief does steal your motorhome or campervan you need comprehensive insurance that is designed specifically for such vehicles.

Check out the insurance feature in What Motorhome's September issue for more advice on this important topic.

Top motorhome security tips

  • If you have an alarm or tracking system, pay for the subscription and use it
  • Fit visible physical devices that deter thieves
  • Improve driveway security with bollards, lights and CCTV
  • Add extra security to all doors, especially locker doors if they lead to the motorhome interior
  • Consider roof markings to help identify the vehicle
  • Think about an aftermarket VIN chip system if one is not already fitted to your ’van
  • Apply window stickers to warn potential thieves that there are hidden security devices in use
  • Do not leave registration documents in the motorhome, as they can help thieves sell it on

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