Trackers

Are they worth the expense?

Should you fit a tracker?

Opinions will vary greatly but in my humble opinion a ‘good’ tracker is a very wise investment for any van owner, and here’s why:

  1. There’s a potential saving to be made on your insurance premium.
  2. You can confirm the precise location of your van at any time.
  3. It can alert you immediately the van is moved or impacted.
  4. You can track the vans movements if it does get taken.
  5. Recovery time is greatly reduced.
  6. It can alert you to other things such as temperature and battery condition.
  7. They can be inexpensive.

There are so many trackers on the market that many seem to freeze in indecision and never actually make the investment, I hope to help you make that decision with some common sense guidance.

Ideally a tracker should be of an approved standard, self-powered, self-contained and difficult to find. Thieves don’t want to spend time entering a van and searching for a tiny box that may not actually exist, they want to hook up and make off as quickly as possible. Thieves are however aware of tracker technologies and know that towing a van fitted with one is high risk. For that reason, they tend not to travel very far immediately after a theft, instead they find somewhere to park up and leave it for a day or so just to see if it’s tracked down or not. Once they deem it safe to do so, they return and spend a bit more time searching for and removing any security devices or identifying fixtures before shipping it off the wherever.

Due to political correctness I must be a little coy in what I say, but certain communities allegedly very active in van thefts will hide a stolen van within their own environment where they can make checks difficult. Even if it is spotted, they can deny all knowledge and are guaranteed to have iron-clad alibies. That said, a caravan parked up on the street or in a car park for a couple of days can also go largely unnoticed.

Getting your caravan back quickly is important, there is less likely to be damage, your personal belongings may still be inside, and critical to many, it will not have been used by other people.

Approval Standards:

The industry standard for tracking devices is Thatcham Category 6. An approved device is generally the better choice as it conforms to certain quality, endurance and functionality standards. It may also qualify you for a discount on your van insurance premium, do check with your insurer though as not every company approves every device.

Self-powered vs Caravan powered:

Many older, factory fitted trackers only draw their power from the caravan leisure battery. Newer models may have an internal backup battery that takes over when van power is interrupted. In the case of older models, a thief simply needs to disconnect the leisure battery to kill the tracker.  Those with a backup battery should continue to function for a while but the unit itself becomes vulnerable as it’s possible to follow the wiring from the battery back to the tracker. It is however possible to spur the tracker off another power line making it rather more difficult to trace.

There are many completely self-powered, self-contained trackers to choose from but you should give consideration to the battery capacity, how long will it last between charges? Some will last only a week or so whilst some sealed units claim several years under ‘typical use’. If you use or check your van fairly regularly recharging may not be a problem. Most charge via USB so you can charge from your car of there’s no mains hookup available to you.

Self-contained trackers are usually no larger than a pack of playing cards making them very easy to hide in the van. Be careful though not to place it in a metal screened area or too close to other electronics as they may interfere with the signal.

You often hear comments that a tracking device is not worth the cost it as thieves use inexpensive devices to locate and block them. Lets discuss detection first:

Detection:

Most trackers are in constant communication with the GSM or mobile network they use to sent alerts. The transmitted signal from the tracker can indeed be detected, giving a pretty accurate location of the tracker itself. If the tracker is fitted externally or easily accessed, then it may be disabled by jamming or destruction. If however the tracker is within the van and away from walls, lockers etc, a thief would need to enter the van to disable it which would in itself trigger the alarm and the tracker before they could disable it.

I should say however that many thieves are well aware the alarm and tracker will be activated and accept the risk in the hope they can enter the van, disable both devices quickly and immediately make off without fear of being tracked. Clearly a rugged and well concealed tracker will take them longer to find and deal with increasing the likelihood of them being disturbed and in many cases, forcing them to abandon the theft. This is one reason why self fitted devices are often more effective than factory fitted devices who’s locations are known.

Jamming:

There are inexpensive jamming devices available on the internet capable of blocking both GPS and GSM signals. These have an extremely short range and literally need to be on top of the tracker to work reliably. This is yet another reason to position your tracker internally and discreetly.

Blocking the GPS signal at this stage is rather pointless as the tracker already knows where it is, Jamming the GPS once mobile is not necessary either as they aim to destroy the device.

Blocking the GSM signal can prevent the tracker from actually sending the alert. Transmission only takes a few seconds so once again, a rugged and well-hidden device will ensure the alert is sent before they can stop it.

Passive Vs Active:

A passive tracker is typically the cheaper option but will not send you alerts. Instead you will need to dial the tracker number and request it’s location. Clearly this has some serious shortcomings. Even if the tracker remains functional, you’ll only know it’s been stolen when you dial in and find it’s somewhere else.

Active or pro-active devices instantly alert you to certain things happening at your van such as movement or impact, Depending on the device you choose it may also alert you to an alarm activation, power disconnection, low battery and so on. The device automatically alerts you (or a monitoring company) when necessary allowing you to respond quickly.

Agency or Self-monitored:

 In my humble opinion this is very much a personal choice, but I’ll give you some of the advantages/disadvantages of both.

An agency will be listening for an alert 24/7. They will contact you immediately one is received to confirm whether it’s a legitimate activity such as you or your storage people moving the van, or a potential theft. If it’s the latter, they will report it to the police and work with them to trace and recover the van. There is obviously a monthly or annual charge for this service on top of the SIM costs.

Monitoring your tracker yourself is obviously cheaper as you won’t be paying an agency, you will of course still have the SIM to pay for. You will need to make sure you keep your phone switched on and with you at all times as no one else will be watching. Any delay in responding to an alert increases the chance of the tracker being disabled and your van being taken.

The recovery rate for pro active tracking devices is very good and generally very quick, Phantom are quoting their record recovery being within 13 minutes with an average recovery time of 70 minutes. As mentioned, I do take the point that other make about not wanting a caravan back that somebody else has stayed in. There is also one point that is not very often mentioned is that fitting a tracking device is certainly helping in the fight against crime and the conviction rate of thieves.

Ultimately the decision is yours with tracking device. You are very unlikely to recover the cost of fitting and installation from insurance discounts, but I believe it’s not all about the financial cost there is the personal cost as well.

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