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Van life security: how to protect your camper / vehicle from theft (16 tips!)

Photo by Tobias Tullius on Unsplash

Van life security: how to protect your camper / vehicle from theft (16 tips!)

Whether it be a DIY stealth van, cute little campervan or full-blown motorhome, everyone has at least some concerns about security. In a previous post I covered how to keep your valuables safe while living the vanlife, which was more related to preventing the burglary of personal items if someone were to gain access to your van. Here, I’ll provide tips on preventing theft or break-in to the vehicle itself.

For complete security, I recommend you read both as there is clearly some overlap!

We’ll look at affordable, ‘common sense’ and DIY-style tips. I’ll assume if you’ve the money for an expensive van or RV motorhome, it will likely already be fitted with some decent inbuilt security that is likely not so relevant to DIY-ers.

Some items, such as CCTV or GPS trackers, I’ll do a more in-depth post on at a later date. Meanwhile, let’s take a look at some of to best methods to protect your camper from theft (and/or catch the bastards if they try!)…

Use deterrent stickers on your van

A lot can be done without doing a lot, or paying a lot.

Deterrent stickers that say things such as, “This van is alarmed”, “CCTV”, or “This vehicle is tracked” can have a significant impact in deterring thieves from attempting to break in and an effective solution for very little effort/cost. There are lots of options for less than five bucks.

Furthermore, why not go to your local martial arts centre and see if they have some stickers or buy a few online. Be sure to weather and rub them down so they don’t look too perfect.

Use mock LED alarms

Another cheap fakie deterrent is a mock alarm. For less than $10USD, you can purchase a mock car alarm LED that you stick to the dashboard (or the most appropriate spot in your van). Basically, they flash to make it look like you have an alarm system.

Search online for images of your vehicle to see where they are normally fitted and stick in the same location if possible.

Close the curtains and shut up shop

Another simple solution; when you’re going out, close up shop as if you’re having a nap.

Not only does keeping things out of sight act as a deterrent, a thief will think twice about breaking into a vehicle if they think there is a chance someone might be home.

Steering wheel lock

A highly visible, economical solution to deter vehicle thieves is a steering wheel lock. It’s just another inconvenience for them to have to deal with if stealing your van was their plan. For ultimate security, the Disklok is the winner — a full disk that’s almost impossible to remove. However, you’re talking around $200 USD.

Original ‘Stoplock’ models are available for less than $50 and many copycats at around half that price. I personally like the bright yellow of the Stoplock as it jumps out and can be clearly seen by the potential thief.

Be sure to check the steering wheel lock you purchase will fit your van steering wheel — some only fit smaller wheels!

Buy a wheel clamp

This is another highly visual deterrent, however it’s rather clunky and at around $80 USD there’s probably better ways to spend your money. Of course, if you’re leaving your vehicle for an extended length of time or in a slightly dodgier area then the more the merrier.

In some places a wheel clamp might also help prevent you getting another (real) clamp or parking ticket!

Use a gear lock

Similar to the aforementioned, these visual deterrents make it difficult for the thief to make off with your vehicle as they first must remove the device. A gear lock attaches the hand break to the gearstick and prevents movement. You can get them for around $30 USD.

Install a wifi CCTV hooked up to the cloud

There are some excellent options available, including the popular Reolink Argus range that come with solar power and a rechargeable battery. You can save recordings to an SD card &/or the cloud, also check in at any time via your mobile device. Prices start at less than $100 USD depending on the model.

There’s no real limit as to how elaborate you can get (or how expensive) however when weighing up cost, effort and features, the Reolink Argus range starts at about $80USD is definitely one worth considering. Note that if you’re thinking of a dashcam and/or reversing camera it’s worth looking into how these units could double-up as additional CCTV.

Install a GPS vehicle tracker

Similar to CCTV options, there are now many GPS-style devices available that can easily be hidden in your van or attached by magnet under the body. Which one to install will depend on your requirements and/or desires (eg wired to 12v vs battery/wireless).

A popular, low-cost GPS tracker is the TKSTAR GPS TK905 – at around $50USD it’s waterproof, has a decent battery, no wiring is required and has a solid magnet to attach. It can be as simple or as complex as you like – you can use it simply to find out where your van is, or have it notify you if it leaves a pre-defined area (aka a Geo-Fenced area) or senses vibrations such as doors being opened. You’ll need a SIM card to operate, however there are many cheap PAYG options available. You could do something similar with an old smartphone, however the battery would likely be the main downfall.

There’s also the option of a smarttag such as Apple Airtag, Galaxy or Tile. Whilst these tiny devices are only around $50 and do not require a SIM, they come with some serious limitations in terms of coverage and accuracy as they require other phones (with certain criteria) to be within range to bounce off.

Install a vehicle or window alarm

Installing a vehicle alarm system is another great way to protect your valuables. These can be whole vehicle alarms or window alarms. A whole vehicle alarm is triggered if someone tries to enter your vehicle by force and there are some very affordable models available if you're up for fitting it yourself. You could also consider window alarm(s) which may be a cheaper alternative and more easily DIY installed. These alarms emit a loud noise if the window they are placed on is broken.

As always there are a variety of options available online, from very cheap eg this BANVIE alarm is just $35 to state-of-the-art vehicle alarm systems costing thousands.

Install an immobiliser

Most reasonably modern vehicles will come with a factory-fitted engine immobiliser. If yours isn’t one of them, there are some aftermarket options. The one you choose will depend on your vehicle and the immobilise method. It will likely require professional installation and probably not an economical solution when compared to combining some of the other methods mentioned in this post.

Keep a personal alarm (or trigger) by the bed

If you don't have a vehicle alarm or you have one that cannot be set whilst you are in the vehicle, consider keeping a personal alarm handy inside the van.

These are really cheap (you can get 6 for less than $20 on Amazon) and they can be used as a deterrent if someone ‘attacks' your van while you are inside, whether that be properly aggressive with intent, or simply a drunken hallion. Note – these are loud and you'll be trapped inside with it – you might want to consider storing the alarm(s) with a set of ear plugs!

Can't bear the thought of the noise? You could look at a wireless bike alarm instead. These are available for less than $20 (this Wsdcam is currently $16.99) and the alarm itself could be attached outside of the vehicle or under the bonnet whilst the controller is kept inside. At 113dB they are not quite so loud as the 14dB personal alarms, however being on the external of the van they would likely sound just as loud to someone outside.

Keep your windows and skylights small

One of the easiest ways to enter a vehicle is via a window — or in the case of a campervan; a skylight. If possible, make this small enough that the average person cannot easily pry open and gain access.

If you have an external ladder, can this be locked up to make it more difficult for someone to use without permission? If you don’t have a ladder, but want one, consider a folding version stored inside the van!

Obviously, you’ll need to take your personal safety into consideration should you be using a window as an emergency exit.

Restrain the cab and rear doors (exit via the side)

Assuming you have access to the cab, restrain your cab doors and exit via the side door. There are multiple ways you can do this, depending on your vehicle (and the doors!). One of the simplest, free methods is to hook the seatbelt through the door handle (if you have one) and plug it in. That way, if someone tries to open the door, the seatbelt should make their life a lot more difficult.

You can also connect the two doors with a chain or cable and hook mechanism. Or a cable and hook for each door. For the rear doors, a simple bolt usually works. Choose the method that works best for your van.

IMPORTANT: If you plan on using any additional restraints whilst sleeping in your van, be sure to do a full risk assessment to ensure you can easily escape in case of an emergency ie. Complex mechanisms and locks should be avoided – just use hooks and/or simple sliding bolts.

Be stealth when urban

Clearly this is not so possible with campervan-campervans, but if you’re a DIYer with an inconspicuous van then keep it that way, especially in urban environments.

Don’t just slide open the side door and start cooking, then close up for the night. If you’re parked up in an urban environment, do your best to lay low – eg exit via the cab doors if have a good lock on the slide door.

Add extra locks to doors

Deadlocks, slamlocks and van locks are the three you’ll read most about. These are additional locks that can be added to any of your van doors.

Dead locks are simply an extra lock and key, whereas a slam lock is a locking mechanism that locks automatically when the door is slammed shut (don’t leave your keys inside!) and a ‘van lock’ is an external lock such as the Thule van lock.

We have not added additional locks to our van, however the deadlock would likely need a professional to install as precision cutting for the barrel and case is required. Same goes for the slamlock which is a separate locking mechanism.

Lock your swivel seat in reverse

If you’re fortunate enough have a driver’s swivel seat like us, it can double up as a great anti-theft device.

The chances are your driver swivel seat is a pain in the arse to rotate anyway, requiring full body co-ordination (and sometimes two people if you’re on a hill); foot-on-the-brake, handbrake off, pul the swivel lever, sliding and tilting of the seat,…all whilst swivelling and making sure the vehicle does not move.

Even if your driver seat swivels with ease, rotating it can still be a deterrent.

Furthermore, have a look and see if there is somewhere you can place a small padlock to prevent the seat being turned. Simply place the driver’s seat in reverse, and lock!

That’s all, folks!

So there you have it. Quite a few free and fairly low cost ways of securing your van from theft and increasing the chances of catching the buggers if they to manage to nick it.

If you’d like some tips on how so prevent your personal items being stolen from your van if some hallion does manage to break in, head on over to this post.

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Disclaimer: As with everything on this site, this article is for informational purposes only and is not advice of any kind. I simply share my experiences and my opinions for information. I am not a financial adviser and I am not providing investment advice or financial or legal advice of any kind. Cryptocurrencies (and most business opportunities) are very high risk. Many of the opportunities I discuss exist in new, high risk and unregulated markets. Some methods require significant investment of time and/or relevant skills. Please do your own research (DYOR) and due diligence; do not blindly follow anyone!

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