As increasing numbers of Australians take to the roads in caravans, and the value of those vans climbs ever higher, it's little wonder caravan security has become a hot topic.
A combination of new technology, trusty old-fashioned devices and new laws have all made it more difficult for thieves to make off with our caravans and our possessions, yet too many owners leave things to chance.
That's despite increasing awareness of security thanks to the prevalence of built-in GPS trackers in new vans and the rising number of owners fitting older vans with after-market tracking technology. At the same time, new Written-Off Vehicle Register (WOVR) laws have made it more difficult for thieves to 'rebirth' stolen vans — a practice whereby crims transfer vehicle identification numbers (VINs) from damaged vehicles bought at auction, or elsewhere, to stolen vans to give them a 'clean' identity.
While such initiatives have helped deter thieves, it never hurts to review your security and look for improvements. Here's some handy tips for keeping your van safe, and a few products and apps to help keep your investment out of the wrong hands.
Caravanning is like a marriage — sort of. When you hitch up your vehicle with a van, that union should last forever — or at least until a new model rolls into view. To prolong vehicle-van monogamy and prevent philandering vans running off with an opportunistic thief, it's worth installing a lockable hitch.
Saracen Ultra Hitch RRP $189
Made from hardened high-strength steel to resist cutting and drilling, this hitch has a high-security, multi-pin barrel lock that's resistant to picking, drilling and gas freezing, to prevent a van being towed away. It’s hard to imagine an opportunistic thief wandering around with a high-powered drill or a bottle of liquid nitrogen.
The Ultra works with most vans fitted with an AL-KO hitch and suits Australian standard 50mm ball hitches. It fits when hitched or unhitched.
GPS technology has also added to the arsenal of van security. State-of-the-art tracking systems, designed for caravans, trailers and motorhomes, use convenient apps to help keep your van safe.
AL-KO Anti-Theft System GPS Tracker $599 with 12 months' connectivity
AL-KO worked with Black Knight Global Tracking Systems to produce this purpose-built anti-theft system. Its GPS Tracker includes 12-months' connectivity and Microdot Marker, to provide multi-level protection. A monthly subscription allows global coverage, an alarm that triggers when the van moves beyond a defined ‘parking spot’ and precision tracking to within 5m accuracy.
Black Knight Z3, $29/month
Black Knight’s Z3 is a high-performance GPS/3GSM tracker designed to be hidden in almost any vehicle, whether it be a car, 4WD vehicle, truck, motorcycle, caravan, motorhome, camper trailer or a boat. It works by offering real-time tracking via an app, alerts if the vehicle is moved or disconnected, and gives up to 12 months of travel history playback.
While new technology provides an increasing array of sophisticated security options, it's hard to beat an old-fashioned wheel clamp for stopping thieves in their tracks: you just can’t haul away a caravan if the wheels don’t roll. Recently a Toowoomba owner's van was destroyed when two young women stole her car and van for a joyride. A simple wheel clamp would have stopped the joyriders before they started.
The Purple Line Wheel Clamp and Hitch Lock Security Kit, RRP $229
The Purple Line Wheel Clamp and Hitch Lock is among the most popular products on the market. Highly visible and resistant to cutting and drilling, the Samurai Clamp is suitable for both on and offroad wheels.
AL-KO Easy Clamp Anti-Theft Wheel Clamp, RRP $76.99
The AL-KO wheel clamp comes with two keys and is adjustable to suit 13in to 15in wheels.
It's an easy-to-use product that will help prevent thieves from rolling off in the night with your caravan in tow.
JOIN THE DOTS
Alongside more visible deterrents, it's worth considering MicroDots, which make it possible to identify your caravan, and perhaps some of your belongings, no matter how much your van has been modified.
Almost invisible to the naked eye, these James Bond-like devices are tiny metallic flecks that have a unique code laser-etched into them multiple times.
They are brushed or sprayed in the thousands into your caravan's nooks and crannies, making it easier to prove ownership to the police in the event of theft. Register the code with police to streamline the process.
MicroDOT Spray, RRP from $75
MicroDOT Australia, a Sydney-based company, produces a brush and a spray can for RV owners to 'tag' their pride and joy. A spray can is recommended for larger surfaces such as a motorhome or caravan.
When you press the spray's nozzle, the propellant delivers MicroDOTs along with an adhesive so you can easily identify your van and authenticate it in the unfortunate event that it is stolen.
The MicroDOT cans are available in three sizes:small at $82.50, medium for $99 or large at $132, all plus GST.
THE RIGHT APPROACH
Although most stolen caravans are never recovered, new technology is making thieves' work increasingly difficult.
In the not too distant future we may see app technology integrating with existing systems to control lighting and CCTV functions to record when an unidentified user interferes with a hitch lock or moves the van.
Biometric technology might also enable a caravan or vehicle to 'recognise' unique human characteristics such as fingerprints, retina scans and voice recognition, allowing only authorised users to access the van.
Advances in access control technology might also allow owners to get information about the caravan and who’s around it simply by talking into their device.
Also on the horizon are developments in machine-to-machine technology (M2M) that will use robotic systems combined with artificial intelligence to learn each particular caravan owner’s behaviour patterns, and then automatically arm and disarm security upon request.
The bottom line is that while there's plenty of high-tech security innovations on the horizon, there's already a wide array of effective security measures available. Prudent owners will act now and invest in whatever level of security best suits.
Once you've taken measures to secure your van and your possessions, it's also worth thinking about keeping yourself and your loved ones safe while exploring the great outdoors. Here are some tips for keeping secure on the road.
1. Know where you are – install the Emergency+ App
Knowing exactly where you are is key to getting prompt police or other assistance when a felon robs you or your van, or worse still, becomes a potential threat to your safety. Knowing your latitude and longitude (GPS coordinates) might mean the difference between a quick emergency response and a devastatingly slow one. The Emergency+ App provides your coordinates in the event of an emergency, even when you’re out of phone range.
2. Calling Triple-Zero
The key here is to remain calm, describe your location and detail your predicament, follow instructions given to you and help will be on the way.
3. Research your journey and conditions
When on the road, knowing any dangers or adverse conditions you're likely to encounter may help you to prepare for avoid the worst.
4. Never leave your vehicle
Never leave your vehicle if you become stranded. Park in a safe place off the road and do your best to contact help.
Advice for Caravanners to stay safe on the road
Each year, hundreds of caravans are lost to theft. Moreover, the thief often has detailed knowledge of caravans, their value and vulnerabilities. They also know about caravan locks and are keenly aware that canvas annexes are easily accessible.
Authorities understand that an accomplished burglar knows, not only about caravan security, but also how to enter a van when occupants are asleep, without making the van rock.
Owners need to lock up and secure their caravan and its contents, whether they are on the road, choosing a place to park and even when storing their caravan at home.
As well as taking sensible precautions and installing anti-theft technology, preparation should include adequate insurance cover to provide RV owners with peace of mind.
The caravan's identifying VIN number can be inscribed on the underside of drawers, in cupboards or behind wood panelling and under appliances which may be stripped out and sold. There are also new security solutions such as Camec’s keyless door, which grants entry via an encrypted wristband, so you'll never need a key again. The wristband is waterproof so you don’t need to take it off.
SECURITY STARTS AT HOME
Travellers need to be just as security conscious when travelling as they would be at home, says Caravan Industry Association of Australia CEO Stuart Lamont.
He says securing your RV is easy, whether you’re at home or away.
“Regardless of where you camp, you can take additional measures to avoid becoming the target of an opportunistic thief,” he says.
Caravan owners should secure their vans with a choice from the good range of products on the market specifically designed for caravans and campers.
“From the research we’ve reviewed, most offenders are petty thieves and opportunistic criminals,” says Lamont.
Whenever you need to park the van somewhere, it’s imperative to keep your prized home-away-from-home safe.
At home, leaving your van in the driveway without securing it is an invitation to observant crims keen to relieve you of your prized possession. So make sure you roll the van into a secure shed, or at least behind a fence, and lock the gate. Out of sight, out
Away from home, Lamont says police data indicates that campsites outside of caravan parks experience more crime than those inside caravan parks, perhaps because most parks have security measures in place, such as clear property boundaries, good lighting, security cameras and secured storage areas for guests.
He advises caravan owners to consider a range of anti-theft measures. “You can immobilise your van or trailer with a hitch lock, ramp up your caravan’s locks and security screens, secure any valuables around your campsite, and take out appropriate insurance for your RV, its contents and your belongings,” he says.