Guides | Van Break-In and Theft Statistics Show Alarming Attitude to Safety

Van Break-In and Theft Statistics Show Alarming Attitude to Safety

We’ve explored UK van driver attitudes when it comes to preventing van theft and break-ins and where the van crime hotspots are in the UK.

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Van related crime is sadly an all-too-common occurrence across the country, and having a van broken into, or even the tools and equipment kept inside it being stolen, often prevents businesses from carrying on as usual. This is a particular issue and concern for those who are self-employed.

In fact, a recent study has highlighted that half of tradespeople (50%) that have been victims of tool theft in the past were left unable to work the next day, with some even off work for up to two weeks following the incident*.

So just how prevalent is this, and what can be done to prevent it?


UK van drivers careless when it comes to vehicle safety

We recently surveyed 1,000 UK van drivers who use their vehicle for work purposes to see what actions they currently take to secure their vehicle and the possessions inside it, when they are not using it.

Two thirds (62%) of those we polled said they have previously been a victim of van related crime, so we expected that many would now be particularly security conscious. However, this doesn’t appear to be the case.

What we discovered is that many van drivers are complacent when it comes to van safety and security, and remarkably nearly half (45%) don’t even do the simple task of locking their vehicle when it’s not in use.

The findings further illustrate a general lack of care, as the majority of van drivers (76%) admit they knowingly leave their van at risk of being stolen.

Two thirds (64%) confess that when their van isn’t being driven, they fail to remove tools and other valuables from their vehicle. Meanwhile, over a third (77%) do not even have an alarm or immobiliser installed to secure their vehicle.

Despite various national lockdowns limiting the nation’s movements, according to a report from Which? between 2019 and 2020 the theft of catalytic converters rose by a staggering 104% in England, Northern Ireland and Wales**. This was widely reported in the media, but many van owners don’t appear to have heeded this warning as a shocking 95% are yet to secure the catalytic converter on their vehicle.

When it comes to leaving their van unattended, eight in ten drivers (81%) also revealed they don’t park in a way that makes it tricky for thieves to gain access, for example parking by a wall.

Some UK drivers are simply naïve when it comes to van theft with more than a quarter (27%) believing that the best way to deter ‘easy theft’ from their vehicle is by storing their van keys away from the front door on an evening. Unsurprisingly, thieves are extremely savvy in ways they target vans and due to vehicles having sensors at the front, they will use a door-peeling method at the side and back instead to avoid being detected, and to take advantage of the vans being made of thinner metal.


Glasgow van drivers show limited actions to prevent theft

Our survey findings highlighted that van drivers in Glasgow are particularly lax when it comes to vehicle security, with only a third of respondents admitting they always remember to lock their van when left unattended. Almost three quarters (73%) even shared that they fail to remove their tools and valuables from their van when not in use.

In comparison, van drivers in the Northern Irish capital of Belfast were found to be the most safety conscious, with over half (58%) removing tools and valuables each time they get out of their vehicle.

Liverpool residents are the canniest when it comes to locking their vans according to the survey, with over three quarters (76%) always remembering to do this.

Whilst so many van drivers in the UK are yet to wake up to the fact that catalytic converter thefts are on the rise, it is van drivers in Belfast, Edinburgh, Manchester, Norwich and Sheffield that are least likely to have secured their catalytic converter already.


UK van theft and break-in hotspots

We also sent out Freedom of information (FOI) requests to police forces across the country to delve into the extent of van theft and break-ins nationwide, asking the authorities to tell us how many vans were stolen or broken into between 2018 and 2022.

The responses we got back from 21 police authorities have enabled us to identify the van theft and break-in UK hotspots.

van that map highest

According to this data, Leicestershire is the current UK van theft and break-in hotspot, with 10,494 van-related crimes recorded during this four-year period.

The most targeted areas in Leicestershire included:

  1. LE3 (Braunstone and Rowley Fields)
  2. LE3 (Braunstone Town)
  3. LE3 (New Parks)
  4. LE7 (Syston)
  5. LE9 (Earl Shilton)
  6. LE10 (Burbage)
  7. LE10 (Hinckley Greater)
  8. DE12 (Measham)
  9. LE16 (Harborough Town)
  10. LE17 (Lutterworth)
  11. LE67 (Whitwick and Ibstock)

Other areas across the UK that have experienced high numbers of van-related crimes include Hertfordshire (9,740), Avon and Somerset (6,832), Surrey (5,145), and South Wales (3,919).


UK areas with the lowest number of van thefts and break-ins

On the other hand, the Welsh counties of Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion, Pembrokeshire and Powys reported only 50 van crimes combined from 2018 to 2022, while Cumbria had only slightly more with 86 van crimes since 2018.

van that map lowest

Ford Transit is the most targeted van by thieves

Across the whole country the FOI findings showed that the Ford transit was the most popular van to be targeted by thieves. This may come as no surprise, with the Ford Transit Custom van being crowned the UK’s best-selling commercial vehicle in 2021 with over 53,000 sales in the year***.

In Hertfordshire a massive 4,685 Ford Transit were targeted by thieves, accounting for nearly half (48%) of all the van crimes in the area (9,740 between 2018-2022).

In Leicestershire, the UKs hotspot for reported van theft and break-ins, a total of 1,874 Ford transits were targeted, which was nearly a fifth (18%) of all van crime reported in the area.

Other van makes and models that have proven popular with thieves include:

  • Mercedes Sprinter
  • Vauxhall Vivaro
  • Citroen Berlingo

How often are stolen vans and contents recovered? 

According to the FOI responses, sadly it is typically unlikely that, once stolen, a van (or its contents) will be recovered and returned to the owner. 

Cumbria’s Police force leads the way here though, recovering a fifth (20%) of the 86 vans or stolen contents that were reported as being taken from the area between 2018-2022.  

Gwent and North Yorkshire Police forces also have a high recovery rate compared to the other regions, as they have recovered 14% and 12% of stolen vans respectively.  

As Leicestershire and Hertfordshire topped the table of the most van theft and break-ins, it is therefore perhaps unsurprising that they have recovered the most vehicles too – although their recovery rates are low.  

Leicestershire Police recovered 463 vans and items, which amounted to only 4.4% of the 10,464 van thefts, while Hertfordshire Police recovered 302 which was a mere 4% of their total reported van thefts. 

During the four-year period analysed, Sussex Police had the lowest recovery rate, recovering just 3% – 105 of the 3,180 stolen vans reported to have been taken from the area. 

How to keep your van and its contents safe

Our survey has highlighted that it’s clear that many van owners and drivers are being neglectful in their vehicle security.

For those looking to up their security measures, it should be noted that extra care should be taken between 4am-8am and 12pm-4pm in particular, as our survey showed these are the most likely times for van related crimes.

Our business van insurance experts here at iCompario have pulled together top tips for van drivers to follow to minimise the chance of theft:


1. Lock your vehicle and put your keys in a safe place:

The simplest tip – but one that many forget to do after a busy day at work – is to lock your van before leaving it unattended and give the handle a try to check it’s secured.

Leaving your keys out of reach will also stop thieves from easily stealing them through a window or letterbox, or even breaking in if they can see the keys from outside.

Key cloning is being used more by criminals through intercepting signals to unlock vehicles, so putting your keys in a safe place away from the door is vital.


2. Remove tools and equipment overnight: 

Leaving expensive tools and equipment in any vehicle overnight is not advisable. We recommend that you remove these from your van and store these somewhere secure overnight to minimise the risk of theft.

It may even be worth displaying a sign that says, “no tools stored in this vehicle overnight”, which can be an added deterrent to would-be thieves.

As well as removing tools and equipment, don’t leave valuables or tech devices on show which can easily catch the eye of thieves. Even if they decide not to take anything that was on show, an attempted break-in can still leave your vehicle damaged and in need of repair.


3. Park intelligently

Clever parking can make it difficult to enter your van. If possible, try and park your van so that there isn’t room to get in at the side, and so the back doors are up against a wall or garage. Essentially you want to try and limit potential access points as much as possible.

The ideal place to park is somewhere that is well-lit and visible, with thieves being aware that there is a higher chance they could be seen by the public.


4. Invest in locks

Extra locks are a great way to add further protection and get peace of mind. There are a variety of locks that can be useful to avoid van theft:

  • Slam lock: When slam locks are installed, they will engage the lock immediately after the door is shut, so for those who forget to lock their van or do multiple drop offs (where the van is left unattended temporarily) this extra break-in prevention method is a must.
  • Steering wheel locks: They may feel like an outdated security method, but they do act as a good visual deterrent to thieves. Also, even attempting to remove these without the key generates lots of noise which is very risky.
  • Catalytic converter lock: As previously mentioned, van catalytic converter thefts are on the rise, due to being made from some precious metals which can be sold on. Installing a specialist anti-theft lock can prevent this happening and help you avoid costly repairs.
  • Deadlock: A more secure lock than your standard van lock, a deadlock has no spring in its locking mechanism and will give vans an extra layer of security. These are particularly good for vans that are unattended for long periods of time – but of course you still need to remember to lock the vehicle!


5. Fit an extra immobiliser

An immobiliser ensures that the vehicle can only be started by the correct key and the engine won’t start if thieves try hot wiring it. Vans made since October 1998 will have a factory-fitted immobiliser, but thieves are getting more clued up on the ways to avoid or get around them, so it may be worth getting an intelligent immobiliser fitted, which will be harder to avoid.


6. Get a tracking device

It can be extremely difficult to track down a van or the contents once stolen as our findings have proved. Installing telematics devices or GPS trackers can help you, the police or your insurance company to locate your vehicle if it has been stolen.

Our Conclusions

Much like the regular vehicle maintenance checks that should be made like topping up your oil or checking your tyre pressure, making the time each day to ensure you van is parked safely and securely when not in use should be at the forefront of every van driver’s mind.

Following our tips can help make your vehicle more secure and help prevent potential break-ins, however, it is essential that you are covered through business insurance to make sure your assets are protected too, especially if self-employed, a sole trader or a limited liability company.


Sources & Methodology

  • A survey of 1,000 UK van owners/drivers, correct as of June 2022
  • FOI data received from 21 police authorities across the UK (49 were submitted) in June 2022
  • FOI data was compared for van related crimes that occurred between 2018 – 2022