CARAVAN THEFT AND break-ins are on the rise, according to insurers, retailers and repairers. Some even say an awareness campaign is needed to convince owners that security should be a higher priority.
Despite searching far and wide, Caravan World was unable to obtain official, specific statistics, and CIL Insurance, for example, does not yet have a database showing what portion of claims is made up by thefts and break-ins. But anecdotal evidence that caravans are increasingly becoming targets for thieves seems irrefutable.
A SOFT TARGET
It seems that caravans are pretty easy to steal, whether straight from dealers’ yards, owners’ driveways, or campsites – thieves just drive up, hitch up, and drive away. Vans are even being stolen to be re-birthed for sale. Our investigation focuses on Vic – widely regarded as the hub of the industry – but the problem appears to be nationwide.
“Between May 2009 and May 2010, we did notice an increase in the number of caravan thefts nationally,” CIL Insurance executive manager, Andrew O’Hara, said.
“February 2010, in particular, saw a marked increase in caravan thefts (predominantly in Vic), with only one recovery recorded. Our records show that caravan theft increases around the peak holiday period of December to February.”
Lionel Mussell, the national chairman of the Australian Caravan Club and CW columnist, concurs. “I don’t know how many are stolen (each year), but it is definitely happening,” he said. “The industry and dealers are aware of it.”
Peter Wright, executive officer of the Caravan Trade Industries Association (Vic), said theft reports were up and tend to increase around holiday periods.
“It’s not just private owners, but also dealers. Thieves will take one, maybe two, vans around this time, depending on the ease of access.”
Wright said there were particular hot spots in Vic, with reported thefts listed on the CTIA website. “It’s where the majority of caravans are located. Areas like Bayswater, Geelong and Keysborough, which are the major dealership hubs. We’ve also had a number of calls from caravan parks along the Murray, where vans stay in one place all year and are not visited often.
“When owners return and find they’ve been broken into and go to a dealer to get something fixed, dealers let us know. We alert our dealers in case someone is trying to trade-in or sell a van and wants cash.
“But we have had only one instance in the last three or four years where a caravan has been returned to a dealership to be sold for a cash settlement. We think they end up on blocks of land. They don’t get found at the end of the day.”
CIL’s O’Hara agrees. “Our experience shows that caravans are more often stolen from storage yards, often in remote areas, or from home addresses when the owner may be away,” he said. “These thefts usually occur when there is a lack of van security, such as a tow hitch lock, and caravans are facing outwards, making it easier to tow them away.”
Andrew Phillips, whose busy RV Repair Centre in the Melbourne suburb of Bayswater does a lot of insurance work, believes thefts in the area dropped in mid to late 2010 after police arrested a local offender. “A guy was caught and it seems he was the instigator of everything – thefts and break-ins have dropped. We still get the odd private caravan where someone has smashed a window to take a TV, but in our yard and neighbouring yards there have been broken doors and windows.”
Though they still happen, caravan dealers go to great lengths to stop thefts. But according to Lionel Mussell, private owners are the most vulnerable. It seems the carefree days of leaving vans unlocked or unattended while you hit the beach or drop a line are long gone. “I’ve heard of people dozing on the beach and the buggers have come and towed their van away,” he said. “And I’m not just hearing it from my members; I see it in a lot of online forums, and I get all sorts of queries and a lot of feedback on my website.
“People in bush camps seem to be pretty honourable, but there are some problematic country towns.”
Peter Wright said the old days of Aussie trust were a thing of the past. “I think that world is gone. Even at caravan parks these days you’ll notice most campers will lock up, even if they are just going to the shops or the beach, whereas not too many years ago they would have left everything open with the security of having people around them.
“That’s not the case today.”
Are manufacturers doing enough to help prevent thefts or break-ins? “I don’t think it’s changed too much,” said Wright. “Most caravans these days have security locks to a degree. I think there needs to be more awareness in the public. When someone purchases a van or product they need to insure it – a key lock is not enough these days.”
Concept Caravans’ Wayne Freeman has had less feedback about thefts but “that doesn’t mean it’s not happening”. He said Concept’s vans were in line with industry standards. “We don’t do anything differently to other manufacturers,” he said. “We don’t put alarms in them or anything; we’ve never been asked to. The main doors are all triple-locking and windows are all self-locking from the inside.
“If people really want to get in, they will. A lot of vans are still made the way they were 30 years ago, apart from what’s in them.
“I don’t think we’ve ever had one stolen.”
A SAFER HAVEN
You would expect caravan parks to be one of the safest places and, according to Peter Corish of the Victorian Caravan Parks Association – and a park owner for 10 years – you’d be right. “Occasionally we get a report of a stolen caravan, but it’s most uncommon in a park, and boom gates have decreased the risks,” he said. “My members are not telling me about break-ins or stealing, but that’s not to say it doesn’t happen. It’s just not a subject that comes up at divisional meetings or at our national conference.”
He said thefts from vans in parks were mostly perpetrated by outsiders. “If there are no boom gates people will drive in and look around. You can protect against cars, but parks are usually pretty open and it’s very hard to protect against somebody just walking in. And they’re not likely to be challenged during a busy time.” Corish believes the onus is on the owner to make sure their van and its contents are insured.
When asked if he thought boom gates should be mandatory, Corish warned against over-regulation. “It would be impossible to afford to protect everybody from everything and everyone. We have so much regulation that minimum standards for the protection of customers’ property, including boom gates, would be absolute overkill. And these are not inexpensive.
“A park would have to have a computer system and the gates would have to be linked to that, and there are further ongoing costs. Twenty years ago my system cost $20,000.”
How easy is it to steal a caravan? According to Andrew Phillips, it’s child’s play. “Thieves will drive past, see a caravan, hook it up and drive off,” he said. “You can put a coupling lock on, but you can also buy an 18V angle grinder and just cut it off.
“I had to pick up my mate’s van, which had a coupling lock that I sold him. But because it had been there for 18 months the lock had frozen and we couldn’t get it off.
“I got my angle grinder out, cut it and the coupling lock fell off. I had it off in a minute.”
Scary stuff, and Phillips is more than a little exasperated. “There’s also nothing to stop them unbolting the coupling from the caravan with the lock on it and bolting on a new one because the bolts to the coupling are welded to the chassis.”
There is no magic cure-all for caravan protection, but everyone we spoke to chanted the same mantra: insure, insure, insure. Still, some people don’t go far enough, according to CIL’s Andrew O’Hara. “We find that customers are generally under-insured when it comes to contents. Customers may have basic contents insurance, but we would encourage people to look at increasing the level of contents cover they have.”
So, insure, get a tow hitch lock, a wheel clamp, fit locking nuts on alloy wheels, lock up when you leave, and hide your valuables. And always think about security. “People buy vans and get all excited and install DVD players and TVs before they worry about spending $50 on a ball coupling lock,” the Peter Wright said. “And that’s the sort of education we need to work on.”
CIL'S SECURITY TIPS
1. Invest in a security or locking device, such as a coupling lock or wheel clamp – these can be a deterrent to thieves.
There are a number of devices on the market that suit different types of vans.
2. Always try to park with the drawbar facing inwards.
3. Evaluate your van’s contents in the same way you would your home, and take out adequate additional contents cover.
4. Try to ensure that your caravan is parked in the safest part of the park, reserve, etc.
Be mindful of setting up near river banks and under trees.
5. Always lock up if you are going out and store any high-value items, such as generators, inside the van, rather than in an annexe with no hard walls.