by Richard Kooyman

The story of having my van having been stolen is a story of Barney Miller type police characters, scary moments, and bureaucratic incompetency but the short version is basically this. It was dark and raining hard. I pulled over for the night where two major interstates connect just outside of Cleveland. I grabbed my overnight bag and headed to my room. Little did I know I just made every mistake in the book regarding vehicle security.

In the morning I checked out and went to my van. I was so tired the night before that I wasn’t totally aware of the location in the parking and for a minute I thought I may have parked my van someplace else. Then I saw the pile of glass on the ground and my heart sank as fast as my blood pressure rose.

I had checked into a safe looking low priced national chain. Unknown and undisclosed to me was the fact that this intersection of two interstates, while convenient to the highway traveler, was a hot bed of car theft from gangs and individuals in downtown Cleveland. They basically took the bus to this grouping of hotels and took there pick. I later learned the particular hotel I stayed at had 73 vehicle thefts in two years. No one advised me of this fact and they didn’t even employ a security guard. And I take my fair share of responsibility. I was naive at the time. I had a van with no alarm or steering wheel “club”.

What can you do to protect yourself while on the road either in a small town or downtown Philadelphia? What mistakes had I made? First, get a alarm. Steering wheel “clubs” deter but can be cut off, rendering then useless. Now a days alarms run around $200 installed. Get one that alarms all the doors and engine hood and has a motion detector. But the most important aspect is that it will kill the engine if activated, disabling the vehicle, and preventing the vehicle from being driven away. You may still get something stolen off your front seat in a ‘snatch and run’, but at least they can’t take your vehicle. Also have the alarm installed by a experienced installer. They can do a better job of hiding all the wiring involved which helps deter the experienced car thief from cutting key alarm wires.

Vehicle theft is a felony. Stealing everything you own inside the vehicle is a misdemeanor. They don’t want your vehicle they want your stuff or at least they think they do. The sad fact is they are probably more interested in your cordless Makita drill you carry than your artwork. Make it as risky for the thief as possible. Park where there is lighting, near your motel door, or in view of the main desk. Ask when checking in if they have a security guard or if they have a problem with theft.

Pulling a trailer is particularly problematic. Just chaining it to a lamp post in the parking lot is not enough. All commercial chains can be easily cut with bolt cutters. Neither is a ball lock enough. A better solution is to lock the wheels with a bar type locking system. Once again you want to make it as difficult and involved as possible for someone to drive off or pull your trailer away.

Check your insurance. In the event something does happen, will they pay for the return of your van from anywhere in the country. Good policies will. Its usually part of towing coverage. In the event your van is damaged does your insurance company use there own insurance adjusters or do they sub out this job to private companies. Good companies have their own adjusters. Private adjusters loyalties are with the company giving then work not with you the customer. Also in the event your vehicle is stolen have the police officer note in his report that you did have your keys. You don’t want your insurance company accusing you of leaving your keys in the car.

If the worst happens before you leave the town your van was stolen in get the names and numbers of the local police, state police, city police and any drug or gang task forces. Use these numbers to establish a relationship and keep in contact with these agencies regarding the search for your vehicle and belongings. Different departments don’t always communicate between each other to well. In my case I was contacted two weeks after the theft by the local FBI who found my address book in a crack house raid. Three weeks after the theft I received a letter in the mail from the city impound lot saying unless I came and picked up my van it would be sold at auction. My van had been found and towed from the side of the highway the day after it was stolen. It had been impounded and none of the police departments involved had been notified or bothered to check.

With a small finacial investment you can take control of the situation and have peace of mind on the road. And a little better nights sleep.

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