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Tool Theft from Vans Continues to Escalate


Back in February we highlighted the increase in tool thefts and the impact these crimes are having on tradespeople. A recent edition of the Locksmith Journal has focused on this crime epidemic and encourages tradespeople to pay attention to their van security.

Statistics and crime reports reflect why its important to pay close attention to trades van security. The Office For National Statistics reports that there were over 112,000 incidents of vehicle theft in the year up to June 2021 and vans were clearly a prime target. Latest statistics show that van owners and operators are targeted around 624 times every day, on average. There are now over 225,000 break-ins or attempted break-ins each year and the average cost of items stolen from vehicles in the UK is £13,475. In the UK a van is broken into every 23 minutes - which is why its vital that everyone who uses a van for their trade and business operations takes rigorous security precautions.

Latest Tool Theft Reports

Local newspapers in all areas of the UK routinely feature crime reports detailing how local tradespeople have been devastated by tool theft from their vehicles. Here are just some of those seen in recent months.

£5000 Worth of Tools Stolen from Van in Bursledon

A young carpenter from Bursledon lost £5000 worth of tools from his parked van in broad daylight, while he was working. He was parked in the Lidl store car park and when he came to move his van to another parking location he noticed the rear door had been opened by thieves who had drilled into the lock. He was left devastated and unable to even start the carpentry job he had just undertaken as all his tools had been stolen.

His thoughtful girlfriend setup an online fundraiser to raise the money needed to replace some of the tools. But the impact of this tool theft is sadly very common for tradespeople who use their vans to store their vital tools and equipment.

Van Window Smashed to Steal Garden Tools

In Lowestoft the rear window of a trades van, parked in a local street, was smashed and various garden tools stored in the van were stolen. The theft took place overnight in July 2023 and local police are seeking witnesses.

Sadly, its common for vans to suffer significant damage caused by criminals as they gain access to steal tools and equipment they know are stored inside. The average cost of vehicular damage caused by thieves is reported to be £750.

Power Tools Stolen from Car

In May 2023 thieves targeted a Vauxhall Zafira parked in a car park. They smashed one of the rear windows and made off with Makita power tools worth over £600.

CCTV camera captured images of the criminal responsible and police are asking if people recognise him.

Multiple Van Crimes in Dorset

Police in Dorset are appealing for information after a spate of criminal break-ins and attempted break-ins in June 2023. Its reported that on Friday 30th of June three people broke into a van and attempted to break into another van in the Broadwindsor area. They made off in large white car after being disturbed.

These incidents follow previous crime reports in which a cattle handling system was stolen from an isolated location near Powerstock and business premises had been broken into in the Burton Bradstock area.

Van Robbery Suspect Crashes into Police Vehicles

In Hythe, tools were stolen from a Mercedes Sprinter van. A police pursuit subsequently took place during which the suspect, driving a Citroen Berlingo Van, collided with multiple police cars. The van was eventually stopped and a 32 year old Dublin man was arrested on suspicion of robbery, drug driving, failing to stop after a collision, failing to provide a specimen, dangerous driving and failing to stop for police.

The local police force is appealing for witnesses.

Tools Stolen From Van Recovered by Police

In Leamington, tools stolen from a van were quickly recovered thanks to police vigilance. Officers had spotted the suspicious driver and his cloned VW Golf which had been linked to the tool theft. When the driver noticed the police he attempted to hide in the local Airport Retail Park but was quickly captured and arrested enabling police officers to recover the stolen items.

Police Appeal after Tools Stolen from Van

Local police are appealing for witnesses after thousands of pounds worth of tools and equipment were stolen from a Ford Transit van parked at Cribbs Causeway near Bristol. The van was parked in the B& Q car park at around 4.30pm on Wednesday 7th of June.

This is yet another impactful theft that demonstrates how brazen, opportunist criminals carry out their crimes at any time of day or night, often in highly public locations.

Tool Thefts Impact Four in Five Tradespeople

The tool theft epidemic has been further highlighted in analysis conducted by broadcaster LBC. Their report notes over 40,000 reported cases in 2022 and how these account for an average of over 110 tools being stolen each day.

The widely respected ‘On the Tools’ online construction community has previously reported how four in five tradespeople have experienced tool theft. These crimes have a particularly detrimental impact on self-employed tradespeople who may use their vans to store valuable tools and equipment along with their business documentation and paperwork. London is noted as the location where nearly 50% of all tool theft crimes take place.

The impact of these crimes on self-employed people targeted by criminals is enormous. As reflected in some of the previously noted crime reports, when a trades-person loses all of their tools they can’t work. This means they don’t get paid and completion of the job they were working on will often be delayed.

And police charge rates for these impactful crimes are woefully low throughout the UK. Stolen tools are very easy to resell on the black market, which is one of the key reasons criminals are attracted to stealing them. Criminals also know the police aren’t likely to catch them.

Van Security Advice for Tradespeople

The tool theft crime wave has prompted insurers, police forces and security professionals to provide valuable advice and guidance for tradespeople to help them avoid becoming crime victims and losing their valuable tools and equipment. Here’s a summary of their key recommendations.

Install a Van Lock

Heavy Duty Van Locks are designed to significantly improve van security. Corrosion resistant van locks can withstand the worst extreme weather conditions and their hardened steel bodies along with six-pin lock cylinders provide a significant van security enhancement.

Secure Tools and Valuables Inside the Van

While bolstering van door security will inhibit criminal access, determined thieves will still manage to break-in. Van-door peeling is an access technique used by experienced tool thieves, especially in the London area. This access method often results in very significant vehicular damage due to van doors being brutally bent and peeled open.

There are some specialist security devices and van door locking mechanisms that can help prevent door-peeling exploits. But its also a good idea to make it difficult for thieves to remove valuable tools from a van once they’ve gained access to the interior. One technique involves installing internal security cages in which tools and equipment are securely stored. Robust internal security cages for commercial vans are growing in popularity due to the current tool theft crime-wave.

high security chains
High Security Chains and Cables


Tools and equipment left inside a van should also be locked together and securely attached to immovable anchor points, robustly attached to the vehicle chassis. This can be achieved using high security cables and chains along with high security padlocks.

high security padlocks
High Security Padlocks

Park for Protection

As noted in some of the previous crime reports, even when parked in highly public parking areas (such as B&Q and Lidl car parks) commercial vehicles are highly susceptible to criminal attention. If thieves know there are valuables inside a van they will target a vehicle almost anywhere. And with the aid of readily available portable power tools they can often overcome door locking mechanisms very quickly.

But carefully considering and selecting where to park a van containing valuable tools and equipment can deter and possibly prevent theft. If possible, parking a trades van inside a locked garage where it can’t be seen or accessed is the most secure option for overnight parking. But this facility isn’t commonly available.

Alternatively, parking on a private driveway is cited as a secure overnight parking option. Exterior property security systems including movement triggered security lighting, CCTV security cameras and alarm systems are all beneficial in protecting parked vehicles.

If this option isn’t available and a trades van must be parked on a public road, selecting a well lit location is recommended. Additional parking security recommendations include making it difficult to physically access rear or side doors by parking close to adjacent walls or other vehicles.

Security Mark and Label All Tools

Police forces throughout the UK strongly recommend that all tools and valuables that might be left in a van should be security marked and labelled.

security marked tools
Simple Security Marking

Security marking tools and equipment immediately makes these items less appealing to criminals as labels are impossible to remove and make it very difficult for items to be resold on the black market. Security labelling also enables recovered stolen items to be returned to their rightful owners.

Don’t Leave Valuables Inside the Vehicle

Van security doesn’t only apply to the hardware and equipment stored in a trades vehicle, it also applies to the business documentation many busy tradespeople often need to access when they are out and about. Losing valuable tools is enormously impactful, but losing documentation can enable criminals to gain access to accounts and even steal identities, allowing them to impersonate respectable businesses.

While it can be difficult to remove all tools and equipment at the end of each day, which is why many tradespeople leave these valuables in their vans, removing documentation is relatively simple. Keeping all business documentation in suitable file storage and taking this home at the end of each day is a feasible, practical security precaution.

Be Prepared

Unfortunately, many tradespeople targeted by criminals find out how they were poorly prepared after their valuable tools and equipment have been stolen. The message from police forces and insurance companies to self-employed tradespeople is to both take adequate security precautions and be prepared for the worst.

Being prepared helps mitigate the impact of a theft when it occurs. All tradespeople who carry valuable tools and equipment in their vehicles need to make certain they have the right level of insurance cover. This applies to hair dressers, who will often carry a variety of specialist tools, along with electricians, plumbers, construction professionals, installers, flooring contractors, carpet fitters and many more.

Establishing and maintaining an accurate inventory of exactly what’s stored in a trades vehicle is vital. Police forces often receive reports of tools and equipment stolen from vans but the owners are unable to provide accurate details of exactly what was taken. Creating and maintaining a list of everything stored in a van is vital. Expensive power tools should be listed with their serial numbers and ideally photographs should be taken and stored in a safe cloud based location. Whenever tools wear out, get damaged or are replaced the inventory should be updated.

If a van break in takes place, or if there is evidence of an attempted break-in, the police should always be informed. Although police charge rates are low and item recovery rates are even lower its still vitally important for the police to be informed of crimes or attempted crimes.

And trades-people should be on the look out for dodgy tool offers and always report them to the police. If there wasn’t a market for cheap, stolen tools then criminals wouldn’t be able to sell them on. Unfortunately, various readily available sales channels make it easy for criminals to reach unscrupulous buyers in search of a bargain.

If you have any questions about security and which options are appropriate for your needs, remember we are here to help. Give us a call on 01273 475500 and we’ll provide you with free, expert advice.

This message was added on Thursday 20th July 2023

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