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Personal & Van security

Security is on everyone's mind these days and it is wise to take as many precautions as possible. The most likely problem will be the opportunist thief. Occurrences of a violent nature are quite rare and the risk is more a matter of perception than reality. That is not to say that precautions are not needed.


All the usual precautions - and don't get into a confrontational situation. Carry a personal alarm if you feel that it would help you. You might want to buy a CS spray for more effective protection - get this in France as its not legal in the UK and don't forget to dispose of it before returning home.

Carry money in a money belt next to the skin along with essential documents such as passports. A "disposable" wallet might save you some grief. Put some out of date cards and a few low value notes in it to keep a mugger happy. Wear your money belt other than round your waste - muggers are getting wise to this.

In more extreme situations an imitation passport might be handy - these can be obtained for non existent countries (those which no longer exist or have changed there names). A terrorist with a political axe to grind may well segregate some nationalities to keep as hostages and let the others go - all based on passports. Such imitation but realistic passports aren't cheap.

Ideally your clothing will have zipped or velcro pockets to keep loose cash, keys etc in.


Thieves either want to get in or they want to take the vehicle (either for the vehicle itself or to strip the contents at their leisure). In general terms it is better to disuade them from trying to get in rather than set off an alarm after the damage has been done.

Never leave the van unoccupied
Most thieves do not want a confrontation and will avoid an occupied van. Taking it in turns is one way to reduce the period of van sitting but its no fun. Making a judgement when it may be necessary may save a lot of expensive problems.

Safe Parking
Obviously some places are safer than others. Camp sites and attended car parks are likely places. Crowded places may also be a possibility although this will not deter the boldest thieves.

Leave nothing on display
Even if you park safely a desirable object on view will encourage the would be thief. Bear in mind that what is desirable in some countries may have little significance to you, but the damage caused will still be just as much a problem. Accordingly leave absolutely nothing on display.

A corollary of this is to reduce inward visibility as much as possible. A couple of options are high windows and net curtains or blinds.

A reasonably unpickable dead lock or window lock will discourage the smash and grab as the main purpose is to open the door or window. Many thieves are unwilling to enter through a broken window - they may be hurt and their means of escape is restricted. A steering wheel bar or wheel clamp will deter the taking away of the van. Wheels should also be protected with locking wheel nuts. Don't forget the spare wheel. If there is a quarter light window screw this up. Consider making the window winding handles removable.

Another very visible deterrent is a substantial chain connecting the two cab doors, wrapped around the steering wheel and padlocked. However this reduces your means of exit in an emergency

Window grills
This is a good way to protect windows from smash and grab and many travellers have variations on this theme. However not only are they difficult to install and a pain to use but they are unsightly as well. To be effective all windows would need to be covered.

External ladders
These are another invitation to the enterprising thief - he may well hope for a prize or two on the roof and then find a nice hatch to get in. If you need access to the roof have a large hatch fitted that you can climb through and dispense with the ladder.

Numbers etched on windows
This is a useful and cheap deterrent to anyone wanting the vehicle in Europe. Further afield it's probably of little value.

Alarm systems
Ideally an alarm will frighten a thief away before any damage is done. For this, a proximity alarm is needed. These work in a similar fashion to security lights. One type is the Clifford Sense-n-Tell. If a window is touched or someone is near then a loud verbal warning is synthetically produced. Demonstration in 3rd world countries is often a great entertainment but gets the message across.

The Clifford Blackjack system provides anti high jacking measures. If the van is driven away after an event then in a short distance it is incapacitated and a loud alarm is sounded.

A simple hidden switch in the van's ignition circuit will effectively prevent the vehicle being taken away. This will isolate the fuel cut off solenoid on a diesel vehicle. A manual tap can be put in the fuel feed line. A variation is to include a delay timer so that if you are highjacked and are able to activate the timer the vehicle is immobilised at a safe distance.

Another alternative is to put in a heavy duty switch in the starter motor circuit. This will need to carry 200 amps or more but is also very useful to isolate the battery. Marine versions often have a key to lock them.

Lockable Compartments
The most obvious lockable compartment is a safe. These vary in size and robustness. Think carefully before choosing a safe as to the size you need. For example a fairly large one might be specified if you want to keep a laptop in it. A common method of dealing with this is to make a lockable shield to cover the box under a cab seat. Cash boxes etc can be used with blind bolts accessible only from the interior for money, passports etc.

Make as many compartments as lockable as possible - this will delay the thief as he won't know which one contains anything of value but may result in more damage..

Against this of course is the risk that if the vehicle is stolen then so are the passports etc.

Don't hide spare keys for the van on it somewhere outside (eg taping under the mudguard). This will invalidate your insurance.

Other ways of keeping your keys can be devised. An easy solution is for your partner or co driver to have a set as well. Keep keys with you at all times. An extension of this buddy system is for a further set to be kept by a club member in another van. We all trust each other of course!

Written by Clive Barker in preparation for UK to China and back.


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