DON’T NEGLECT THE BASICS
Law enforcement officials and security experts say common sense goes a long way in truck security. They suggest these inexpensive practices:
A few years ago, former cargo theft investigator Jim Harris and Jerry Nadeau, a driver supervisor with California-based Pro Express Inc., invited a convicted truck thief to break into a well-protected truck. Armed with a hammer and a screwdriver, the thief broke into the truck, hot-wired it, defeated a kingpin lock, opened the sealed and locked trailer and was ready to go – in 90 seconds.
So what chance does your largest asset have against determined thieves? Security experts say that’s up to you.
Truck theft is part of an estimated $12 billion to $20 billion in cargo-related property crime that occurs annually in the United States. Some stolen trucks are shipped south of the border and never seen again. Others turn up later, their cargo gone. If protecting your business isn’t motivation enough, consider post-Sept. 11 concerns about turning trucks into terrorist weapons.
Many owner-operators fail to make even a minimal investment in theft prevention, which can mean a severe, if not fatal, blow to their business, says John Albrecht, vice president of Transport Security Inc. “A fleet can absorb the cost of a theft,” he says. “The cost of insurance, the loss of a client, the downtime, missing a couple of payments – an owner-operator feels the cost of theft greater than fleets.”
GUARDING YOUR TRACTOR
Unfortunately, trucks are easy to break into. Because of relatively simple ignition systems, they’re also easy to start. Security experts say a thief can usually overcome a truck’s defenses with a hammer and a screwdriver. To enter the cab, thieves will push in a peeper window, break a door window or purchase a car entry kit available inside many truck stops.
Nevertheless, thieves have many trucks to choose from, so always do the obvious things to make your truck less attractive than the truck next to it. Never leave your truck idling. Always take your keys and lock the door.
Beyond such measures, security experts recommend taking additional steps to increase the odds that thieves will skip your rig. Security systems run the gamut from simple locks to high-tech tracking and immobilization devices. They also range in price – from as little as $50 to well above $1,000.
BASIC LOCKS. Even motorists are familiar with The Club, a steering wheel lock produced by Winter International. The company’s oversized version prevents thieves from steering a big rig if the device is properly fitted on the steering wheel. It retails for $60 and can be bought in truck stops and at automotive stores.
Another way to immobilize the steering system is with steering knuckle locks. These combine a pin inserted through the universal joint in the steering column and a padlock. Such locks retail for about $45 and can be ordered from companies such as Transport Security or bought at truck stops.
A steering knuckle lock can be relatively easy to defeat when a cheap lock is used, and like The Club, the time required to install it and remove it each time it’s used can be a drawback. Still, any steering lock can be an effective theft deterrent.
Air valve locks cover the air brake valves with a steel- or plastic-encased hood. One recent version is produced by owner-operators David and Barbara Cormeir, who drive for Landstar Ranger.
“The design came from necessity,” David Cormeir says. “We couldn’t find anything to secure our truck.” The couple, who occasionally delivers in high-crime hot spots like Miami, fabricated the device in their garage in Crestview, Fla.
Their Air-Cuff Lock covers the valves without requiring dash modifications. The device features a top-of-the-line Abloy lock cylinder, which is hard to pick. The couple hopes to begin marketing the device through Transport Security for about $80.
IGNITION. While most truck technology has become more sophisticated, ignition systems remain fairly simple. Some trucks can be started with a large screwdriver; others are easy to hot-wire. One solution to this risk is to upgrade the ignition.
A Magtec ignition, which sells for $625 installed, employs an electro-mechanical system that engages automatically when an engine is shut down, interrupting vital running circuits until the appropriate key is inserted. A thief can’t start the truck without the key, says Bob Morisset, Magtec president and CEO. Magtec uses a stainless-steel flexible jacket that goes around the wiring to prevent hotwiring, an Abloy lock and key that resists picking or duplication, and multiple sensors that can even immobilize a truck that is idling if an unauthorized person seeks to move it.
Morisset says no truck equipped with a system installed by his company has ever been stolen. “It would take a thief the better part of an hour to figure out what we’ve done and several hours after that to figure out how to defeat it,” he says. “It’s as good as it gets.”
Other ignition-related devices or systems are not yet on the market or are too expensive for owner-operators, but are getting more serious consideration in the wake of Sept. 11. Kenworth, for example, is touting its driver identifier, a fingerprint scanner that allows only authorized users to crank the truck. Trucking companies that haul petroleum products are particularly interested in the device because their trucks don’t tend to have sophisticated technology. Most are not even equipped for satellite tracking.
Lock makers have plans for more advanced mechanical solutions, including some using biometrics – systems that identify a person by a unique physical trait, such as retina, voice or fingerprint. “We have big plans for the future with much more sophistication,” says Kryptonite Lock’s Roger Cross. “Fleet owners want the ability to know who was in the truck and when they were in the truck.”
On Qualcomm’s OmniTracs system, fleets can require a password each time a driver returns to the truck to start it up. If the password is invalid, the fleet is alerted. Eventually, biometrics will be added to the system.
IMMOBILIZERS AND TRACKERS. While security experts say it is better to prevent a theft than recover
a stolen vehicle, some owners prefer a system that provides tracking and recovery or makes a truck impossible to move.
Main Engineering produces a device that prevents the parking brakes from being disengaged once they have been set unless the device is turned off by the owner’s remote control. Called the Stealth Guardian Sr., the system prevents air from reaching the brake chambers unless it is deactivated.
“A thief getting into a truck wouldn’t even notice it’s there,” says CEO Lou Main. “A normal thief jumps in the truck and tries to drive off. But he can’t do that with our system.” The system includes a siren that wails if a thief attempts to drive an armed truck.
The owner arms and disarms the system by remote control. A switch allows truckers to leave a unit idling while the system is armed. The Stealth Guardian Sr. retails for $390.
A more versatile system, The Guardian, is produced by EGA in conjunction with HGI Wireless. It has up to eight options for triggering an alarm, such as unauthorized ignition, traveling more than 10 mph or traveling outside a designated geographic area, says Jim Prendergast of EGA. In addition to notifying police, the system can be set to remotely lock brakes or turn off ignition. Furthermore, an owner-operator can run a cell telephone line and Internet access off the same wireless connection. The Guardian is affordable for owner-operators, Prendergast says – from less than $50 a month for security monitoring only (including leased equipment) or an average of $60 to $70 a month when adding other communications systems.
Owner-operators leased to fleets with satellite systems such as Qualcomm have a built-in tracking capability if one of those systems is installed. However, security experts warn that the first thing truck thieves do is disable any satellite-tracking unit.
LoJack Corp., which specializes in vehicle recovery systems, hides its transceivers so that thieves are unlikely to disconnect them. The device emits a radio signal as soon as the vehicle is reported stolen. The company alerts local law enforcement. Most police cars are equipped to track the LoJack signal, says spokesman Paul McMahon. “When a vehicle equipped with LoJack is reported stolen, it automatically gets activated. Police out on patrol can listen in to the system.”
With LoJack’s latest device, if a thief starts the truck without the appropriate key, the company also notifies the owner via telephone or pager that the unit is on the move. The LoJack Early Warning System retails for $995, McMahon says. A cheaper version, which includes the basic LoJack transceiver, sells for $695 and still offers the basic tracking system.
Companies like Qualcomm, PeopleNet, Terion and Aether are making their systems more stealthy. Smaller antennas and better installations that hide wires in frame rails are available. VolvoLink, a proprietary system of Volvo Trucks North America, is integrated with the truck’s design. The truck maker may eventually add security features, such as a way to remotely shut down the truck.
“What we’re looking for and what customers have asked for is a way to protect the vehicle from being started,” says Volvo’s Frank Bio. “Or if a truck were suspected of being hijacked, a way to power down that truck.”
SECURING YOUR TRAILER
Thieves stealing a tractor-trailer usually are after the cargo, not the tractor, but they need to start the tractor to move the load to a remote location. In many cases, getting into the trailer requires no effort at all. Only 20 percent to 30 percent of trailers are locked, says George Rodriquez, cargo security director for the Transportation Security Administration and a former security director at Yellow Freight.
BASIC LOCKS. For those who want more protection than a simple plastic or metal seal, security experts say not to scrimp on lock quality. “It should be a heavy-duty lock – something encased in steel, so a thief can’t cut it off with bolt cutters,” says Transport Security’s Albrecht. His company sells a line of heavy-duty hasps and steel-shrouded padlocks. A hardened lock for roll-up doors is also available.
An owner-operator should look for quality in a lock’s shackle, for complexity with the lock’s key and cylinder, and for ruggedness in the trailer door’s hasp, says Roger Cross, director of global sales for Kryptonite Locks. A hardened hasp is important because a thief can bypass a sturdy lock by prying off the hasp.
A lock should have a shackle that fits snugly in the hasp’s hole. A good lock, Cross says, costs $15 to $50. Most truckers buy the cheapest lock available, but that’s a mistake because low-grade locks can be defeated by a hammer swing or a bolt cutter, he says.
“Get a lock that’s got a shroud around the shackle,” Cross says. “That’s another piece of material a bolt cutter or hacksaw has to go through to get to the shackle. The more time and more noise it will take to gain entry, the less likely a thief will tackle the project.”
If you’re going to leave your trailer somewhere and bobtail away, Albrecht recommends a heavy-duty kingpin lock. It covers the kingpin in a metal collar and prevents a thief from hooking up another tractor to your trailer. A high-quality version sells between $70 and $100 at truck stops.
FLATBED SECURITY. Just because flatbed cargo is exposed, it doesn’t have to be at risk of theft by anyone with a heavy bolt cutter.
Kryptonite makes a security chain from triple-heat-treated boron manganese steel, available up to 3/8 inch thick, which requires a power tool or large saw to cut it. The company’s Stronghold Anchor, a mounted, 5/8-inch hardened shackle, can be mounted on each side of a flatbed, making it possible to anchor a chain or cable with a padlock.
Master Lock makes the Python, an adjustable locking cable made of vinyl-coated, braided steel and a solid aluminum alloy, weather-resistant lock body. The device can be cinched and locked at any position along its length.
IMMOBILIZERS AND TRACKING. Main Engineering and LoJack make versions of their products for trailers that work similarly to tractor models, but do not require electrical hook ups. They are similarly priced and can be effective at theft prevention or recovery. Several satellite tracking companies also offer trailer tracking devices, but most of these are designed for fleet users.
How much you spend to protect your truck is up to you, but security experts say the more you spend – in time and money – the less likely the next truck stolen will be yours. With tens of thousands of dollars invested in your equipment and thousands of dollars at stake in downtime and higher insurance premiums, a relatively small investment in security can pay big dividends.