It’s that time of year when many of us are putting our beloved caravans and motorhomes to bed for the winter.
It is difficult to find reliable figures, but my research suggests that each year in the UK, between 1500 and 3000 caravans are stolen. Most sources suggest that, with the increasing popularity of the British ‘staycation’, theft of recreational vehicles is on the rise. Very few stolen caravans are recovered – so besides the upset and inconvenience, theft will have a very adverse impact on your insurance premiums.
Theft can happen at any time, but the majority of caravans and motorhomes are stolen from storage. Gangs are even using satellite mapping technology to identify valuable leisure vehicles on vulnerable driveways or storage sites.
Stolen caravans are sold on in the UK and Europe. We were shown a disturbing European selling site on which a number of the caravans for sale had been photographed on very British-looking driveways. Some still sported British plates.
To understand how quick thieves can be, search ‘caravan theft’ on You Tube. This clip shows a locked, alarmed caravan, stored behind a security post, being stolen in broad daylight. The theft took a few seconds longer than 10 minutes. The footage comes from the owner’s protective CCTV.
It Happened to Us!
A couple of years ago, an attempt was made on our caravan, Kismet, during winter storage. We were abroad for the ski season when we got the call. “Did you have a TV in your caravan?” When we said, “No, we emptied the caravan…” we were told that everything was fine. Nothing had been taken.
It was only when we went to collect Kismet for our first trip of the year that we discovered the full extent of the damage. The thieves had cut off the ALKO wheel lock completely. We removed the hitch cover to find that they had almost cut through both sides of the Milenco Heavy Duty Hitch Lock.
They were professional thieves. They had disabled the storage site’s CCTV, unscrewed lockers and disconnected the caravan battery to find and disable any trackers and removed the wheel and hitch locks with an oxyacetylene torch. Afterwards, a caravan security expert told us that it takes less than a minute to cut off a wheel lock.
An oxyacetylene torch is quiet and produces little light. The thieves replaced the hitch cover to disguise their dastardly deeds – they must have been disturbed. Thankfully, they were rumbled before they came back to finish the job
The thieves took the remains of the ALKO lock. Perhaps to leave no evidence, although spares are available, so they probably sold it on and made a few quid.
We had to cancel our planned trip and contact our insurers, who gave us the shocking news that because our caravan now had no locks, our insurance was immediately void!
It took a while to explain that it would be impossible to replace the ALKO lock, because the remains of the bolt were still in the receiver. They agreed to resume cover as soon as the hitch lock was replaced, hence a very swift and stressful return trip to our dealership, twenty miles away.
The door lock was damaged where it had been forced and the oxyacetylene cutting had damaged the tow gear and made the alloy wheel so brittle that it had to be replaced. In all, it was around £1300 of damage. With the excess on our policy, it was not worth claiming – but it could have been worse.
The Silver Lining
With trips to more ‘challenging’ countries on the horizon, the silver lining is that this break-in and attempted theft really made us think about security. Not just in storage, but when the caravan is in use. The ease with which the door lock had been forced with a screwdriver was, perhaps, the biggest shock.
The last thing we want is to be robbed blind or rendered homeless in the middle of a trip.
Which Caravans Are Most Vulnerable To Theft?
The Crime Prevention Website suggests that the caravans most likely to be stolen are as follows;
- Caravans around 2 or 3 years old
- Caravans not stored securely
- Caravans without additional security devices
- People who fail to follow sensible crime prevention advice when out on the road and staying on sites are more likely to suffer a theft
The age of your caravan is what it is, but this shows that there are measures that can be taken to improve caravan’s security. You won’t deter the most determined thief, but the more difficult you make it, the more likely they are to move on to an easier target.
Caravans are often stolen to order, so certain types or makes may appeal more to thieves. We understand that Bailey is one such make, along with twin axle models and some good quality German brands.
How We Improved Our Caravan’s Security
1. In Storage
- JSB Hublock – this is fitted over the hub with the wheel removed, so is only really useful for storage or if you are pitched for long periods. It is heavy to carry around. It exceeds the Sold Secure ‘Gold’ specification, since it resists oxyacetylene cutting. (Sold Secure is a test house and certifying body owned by the Master Locksmiths Association).
- The ALKO wheel lock and hitch lock – are a condition of our insurance, so we use all three locks in storage. Curiously, some insurers are not comfortable about removing caravan wheels in storage, so do check. These insurers approve the JSB Hublock as an alternative to a wheel lock, although in my view, two wheel locks are better than one!
- CaSSOA Gold Storage – CaSSOA – the Caravan Storage Site Owners’ Association lists hundreds of accredited sites nationwide. The three levels, Bronze, Silver and Gold, relate to the presence and effectiveness of the site’s access control, CCTV and perimeter fencing. Visit the CaSSOA website to find your nearest site. Many insurers offer discounts if you use CaSSOA storage.
- Remove All Contents – and leave the blinds and cupboards open. This protects the spring return on the blinds, allows air to circulate to prevent condensation and mould – and demonstrates to thieves that there is nothing inside to steal.
- Tracker & Alarm – we dismissed these options, since the tracker relies on the battery and thieves are pretty hot on finding and disabling such devices. And when did you last pay any attention whatsoever to a house or car alarm? When we’re occupying the caravan, four dogs are a highly effective intruder alarm!
- Corner Steady Locks – we may consider these in the future.
- Immobilisers – I know nothing about these devices, but some insurers offer discounts if they are fitted. Internet research suggests that they electronically disable the engine, so are suited to motorhomes rather than caravans. Your wheel and hitch locks are effectively physical immobilisers.
- SuperMule Ground Plough – I have heard mixed reports about this physical immobilisation device. It is reputedly heavy, which can affect payload and it is bolted to the chassis, which can invalidate the warranty. I could not find this item to purchase, but if you consider fitting one, check with your manufacturer and insurer.
- Security Post – if you store your caravan at home, this is an additional but not infallible deterrent.
2. In Use (& In Storage)
- Door Lock – we fitted a Milenco Large Security 41 Hand Rail which doubles as a grab handle when in the ‘open’ position. It is bolted to the exterior caravan wall and has two high security locks. It is very secure, although we have heard anecdotally that when such devices are fitted, attempted break-ins in storage have wrecked the whole side of the caravan rather than just the door. To counteract this, some users say that they simply empty their caravan and leave the door unlocked. Other door locks are available; however, this solid device gives us a great deal of peace of mind when we leave Kismet unattended on campsites.
- Window Locks – the acrylic or polycarbonate windows of a caravan are flexible and surprisingly easy to force. We invested in a set of Lock M Out window locks, which slide over the catches to prevent them from being opened. There are versions to fit different types of window and they could not be simpler to use. They are robustly made from steel, so we do make an allowance for them on our caravan towing weight spreadsheet.
3. Other Sensible Precautions
Clearly visible security devices will deter opportunist thieves, but it makes sense to follow these precautions;
- Photograph Your Locks – every time you pitch with a phone or digital camera. This provides unequivocal time- and date-stamped proof to insurers that the required locks were fitted in accordance with your policy requirements.
- Close and Lock – all windows, roof lights and doors every time you leave. Note that Mark once got stuck in the caravan bathroom. Despite being 6’6” tall, he managed to climb through the smallest window in the caravan!
- Spare Keys – do not leave a spare set of keys inside the caravan. This is a condition of our insurance.
- Register with CRiS – CRiS (Central Registration and Identification Scheme) and keep your details up to date. (All touring caravans manufactured since 1992 by members of the National Caravan Council (NCC) have been marked on their chassis and on all windows with their unique 17-digit Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), which is recorded on the CRiS database. Since 1997, they have also been electronically tagged with RFID Chips. In 1999 CRiS was extended to include the registration of caravans manufactured prior to 1992 and privately imported caravans.)
- ID Marking – UK Police use RFID readers to establish vehicle ownership during roadside checks.
- CRiS RFID electronic tags – conceal several identifying tags around the caravan in case a thief removes the visible VINs. (Most caravans will already have RFID tags installed under the CRiS scheme. CRiS also provides a microdot marking system. Each microdot carries the VIN and these can be applied to a number of surfaces inside the caravan.)
- Other Asset Markers – Datatag and Selecta DNA offer RFID and UV microdot marking systems that meet with recognised security standards. You mark the caravan yourself and then register the details with the supplier. It is almost impossible for thieves to remove every trace of UV marking.
- Roof Markings – visible to police from helicopters and motorway bridges. Use the CRiS number and year of manufacture, not your postcode.
- Remove Documents – caravan paperwork inside the caravan simply helps thieves to export and sell the caravan.
- Remove Valuables – put them out of sight or lock them in a caravan safe. Thieves know that holiday-makers carry valuables like money, phones, laptops, GPS, satnavs, passports, driving licences etc in a caravan. (Phones, keys or other valuables near open caravan windows are also very easy for a passer-by to reach in and grab.)
- Put Up Your Awning – taking down an awning takes time and might arouse suspicion. However, don’t leave anything tempting in the awning. We lock up our bikes, windsurfers and SUP boards.
- Note Model & Serial Numbers of Inbuilt Equipment – this will help to identify your caravan if stolen.
- Use Proper Campsites
- Choose a site with access control.
- Make friends and be a good neighbour. Report any suspicious activity to the site management or police.
- Know The Graces of Aires – for motor homers in France, note the difference between Motorway Aires (definitely NOT secure) and Aires du Camping Car, which are inexpensive motorhome stops in towns and villages. Technically, caravans are not permitted to stay overnight in either.
- Gassing – research suggests that this is an urban myth. A statement from The Royal College of Anesthetists confirms that “It would not be possible to render someone unconscious by blowing ether, chloroform or any of the currently used volatile anaesthetic agents, through the window of a motor-home without their knowledge, even if they were sleeping at the time.” Not only that, “If there was a totally safe, odourless, potent, cheap anaesthetic agent available to thieves for this purpose it is likely the medical profession would know about it and be investigating its use in anaesthetic practice.” For 35 years, Mark ran a fleet of trucks for an international logistics company. In all that time, with operations in around 220 countries worldwide, there was not a single incident of truck drivers being gassed on sleepouts. Robbery IS a reality, however, so don’t drop your guard.
- Be Vigilant at Motorway Services – at home and abroad, never leave your caravan unattended, even with locks fitted. Thieves can remove locks in under 10 minutes and there are reliable reports of people returning from a quick coffee or breakfast to find their caravan unhitched and gone, contents and all.
4. What to Do if your Caravan is Stolen?
Stolen caravans are listed on the Police National Computer, CRiS and insurance databases, so if your caravan is stolen;
- Contact the police – and exchange the following information.
- Make and Model
- VIN Number from your CRiS documentation.
- Any distinguishing features (stickers, roof or asset markings, damage etc.)
- When and where it was last seen
- Get a crime number
- Contact your Insurance Company – give them the crime number and all the above details to initiate your claim.
- Contact CRiS – so that they can record the caravan as stolen and notify police and potential purchasers.
- Notify The Theft to your Tracking Company – if applicable.
- List on Stolen Caravan Forums – there are a number of fora on caravan websites and social media where you can list your stolen caravan. Sightings can be reported and forwarded to the police.
5. Further Information & Links
- Caravan Guard – insurance company which gives a list of caravan / motorhome security locks.
- Insure My Caravan – a run-down of different security devices, such as trackers or alarms.
- Towergate Insurance – a guide to caravan security devices.
I said earlier that you will not deter the most determined thief. However, if you remain vigilant and follow these precautions, it will go a long way to stopping an opportunist.
In conclusion, I want to say that it is important to get the risk into context and not to worry so much that it spoils your trip. For the last four years, we have traveled almost full-time throughout Europe. Other than the attempted theft from storage, we have never had any issues while touring. The number of caravans stolen relative to the number of caravans in ownership is still relatively small, and if you take proper precautions, you reduce the risk of theft significantly.
Stay Safe and Happy Travels!
Please note that I am not a caravan security expert. This post is for information only, based on my personal experience. Please see my disclaimer.
For further information on all aspects of touring, please see the Top Tips section of my blog.
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