How many trailers are stolen each year? That’s a question worth pondering, because if you put a lot of sweat and love into building a great trailer . . . . if it disappears, it’s heartbreaking. We don’t like to think about such things, but it puts trailer security on the list of important things to do. Trailer theft is nothing to gamble on.
According to the Daily Sentinel, “over 1,800 trailers nationwide are being stolen weekly”. That’s a lot. About 100,000 trailers each year. (I found that stat in a few places.) That’s a lot of trailers! I’m a little surprised, but then again, not really. Turns out most trailers are pretty difficult to flag if they are stolen, which makes them an attractive target.
So, there are 2 things I take from this: 1) The importance of some good Trailer Security; 2) Make sure the trailer is identifiable, and not just by you.
First, Trailer Security
Yeah, this is a very broad subject, yet for most people it brings just a couple things to mind. Maybe bright yellow metal pieces (of one type or another). Or big chains, or bolt cutters. But, the subject is a little broader than that. Some more common thoughts are in the featured image above – from SAS Products in the UK. (No relation, only that I asked if I could use their image.)
The broader “Trailer Security” discussion really covers 3 categories or ways of thinking. Let’s look at each of them separately.
Security When Storing A Trailer
The first in mind for many of us is security for the trailer when stored. Most trailers spend a lot of time stored, parked and unattended. That may be at the side of the house, or in the backyard, at a storage lot, or even on the driveway. Certainly, trailers park in a lot of odd spots.
If you look around, there are a ton of security devices you can get for a trailer. From anti-theft things for your hitch, to tire binders, to alarms, and more. All of them have ways to make it more difficult for thieves. And, if you surf YouTube, you’ll find they all have weaknesses to exploit.
I don’t have a particular favorite, and I’m not going to give a sales pitch. There are a bunch of that already on YouTube. The best advice I can give is don’t rely on just one.
Are any fool-proof? No. The real goal is to discourage a thief so your trailer is more effort than they think it’s worth. Thieves know ways for cutting steel and other materials. They know how to break things too.
Using multiple methods for securing your trailer is a great way make a theft more difficult. Choose multiple methods that require different ways or tools to defeat.
In general, items with bits that stick out, or have corners, or easy sections to cut are easier to disable than beefy rounded things. Just think about smashing things with a large hammer, or cutting things with an angle grinder. Things that take more work to defeat, are usually better for trailer security.
Typical Security Methods
The usual methods for trailer security fall in these generalized groups.
- Items to purchase (as mentioned above).
- Ways to keep the trailer from view (behind a fence, in a garage, . . . ).
- Ways to Anchor a trailer to the ground (like this yellow T bar).
- Methods of surprise or extra inconvenience.
- A storage lot, or guarded facility.
I think all of these have their place. I really like the security of a guarded storage lot, but it is also the most expensive. And, it is generally quite inconvenient. Keeping the trailer out of view is a recommendation I always give. It can be as simple as keeping the trailer in a garage where it is not visible. If thieves don’t know it’s there, it won’t become a target.
Things you can purchase to put on your trailer run the gamut. From simple things that are easy to defeat, to much more complex or big things. Do some research to figure out what works — and decide what you are willing to spend.
Things of surprise, like a defining alarm, also have their place. An alarm with a GPS offers potential for recovery later – though GPS will smash with the alarm if they are together like this one. Separate devices might be better.
A Motion Sensor light can be both good and bad. In some places it’s like offering them the light to do their dirty work. Yet, lights with cameras can help with recovery later.
While it’s nice to think about, often the choices for trailer security are limited. If you can’t get the trailer to the backyard, because there is not enough space on the side of the house, then it’s not a choice. So, we deal with what we can. Anyway, it’s best to have multiple methods in place all the time. Even if you put a trailer in a guarded storage lot, add some other security also.
Security By Obscurity
This is one of my favorites, and not so obvious because no one sells it. Yet, it’s just so practical, so I’ll spend a little time on it. Let’s illustrate with a cyber security example.
– To keep hackers off your computer, disconnect it from the internet. When not connected, it can’t be hacked.
– Seems obvious, but, I need the internet.
– Yes, then, connect only when you need it. Then, it’s not a target when you are sleeping or watching TV.
– Well, that is not very convenient.
– You’re right. All security requires some inconvenience. Just remember, it’s more convenient for you than for the thief, hacker, bad-guy.
– The security comes in being obscure. If it’s not there, it’s really hard to hack.
That’s the concept. So, how do we apply it to trailer security? Great question. However, if I tell you, then it’s not obscure. Security by Obscurity is, by definition, obscure. In other words, only you know how it is secure.
One easy example I started doing as a teenager. I wired the car with a “Halloween Switch” hidden under the dash. When off, the car has no power. Convenient when going places of less renown. Also convenient when your sister wants to take the car. Anyway, the obscurity is the hidden switch, AND the sly movements of my knee and toe (two motions) to turn in on and off.
Applying It To A Trailer
I won’t elaborate, but I will say all of my trailers have some sort of obscure security. Things to stump a thief. Things that require a special tool or special knowledge, or special other thing to access.
One method is to think about obscurity by removing something.
Example 1: For a small utility trailer, remove the hitch and take it with you. A few bolts, and the hitch is off. Take the safety chains too. Yes, it’s a hassle, but it will cause a thief think twice about how to take it. Most thieves don’t carry an extra hitch. Combine this with more ideas, and the trailer becomes quite inconvenient to steal.
Example 2: I had one trailer with a removable tongue. Slip the tongue out, then put it somewhere else. Wires were a hassle, and it was awkward, but it worked.
Example 3: Look again at the photo above with the yellow T-Bar. What’s missing?
Being obnoxious works too.
Example 4: At one point I had a 2″-ish diameter steel rod I’d put through the trailer wheels — from one side to the other — through big loops under the trailer frame. It was big and obnoxious with nuts jammed on each end. Unless the thief carried two 2.25″ wrenches with him, or was willing to grind for an hour, it was not coming off. In this case, obscurity is the massive wrenches, or the need to carry several batteries and a grinder large enough to get through the bar (because you can only access it from one side, and only under the trailer).
Oh, and back to what’s missing. A heavy trailer without a tongue jack is very inconvenient to take.
Anyway, use your own ideas, and keep them to yourself. That’s Security by Obscurity.
Security When Out And About
The second category is for the times when the trailer is hitched to the tow vehicle. It is not as likely for thieves to steal a trailer when it’s hitched up, but it still happens.
For trailer security when hitched, look at all the bits that connect. The worst is a thief that steals the tow vehicle with the trailer. That’s beyond this article, but barring theft of the whole rig, look at the rest of the pieces. Remember, it’s best to have several layers, but nothing is foolproof.
- First, secure the hitch. Make it difficult to disconnect. One example is a typical hitch lock, but add washers on the shaft so is difficult to cut.
- Next, Can the thief pull the drawbar from the tow vehicle? Buy something to secure it, or use security by obscurity.
- How about the tow ball? Install the ball, then damage the threads below so the nut won’t come off.
- Are there other things in the systems of if trailer a thief can take advantage of?
- Are there things to make it more time consuming or awkward to steal? Example: Threaded chain links on safety chains to the vehicle take time to undo. Many opportunistic thieves get nervous fast, so slowing them down improves trailer security.
- Make it look difficult. Things, like wheel locks, are not that difficult to actually defeat (with the right tools), but they look intimidating.
- When parking your rig, leave the trailer hitched, and if possible, back it up to a wall, or other obstacle.
Finally, when parking for a while — like at a hotel — consider extra trailer security methods. But, Please be careful. If you forget to remove security measures before driving off, it can end up badly, so make a reminder. Something you can’t ignore. For example, clip a big carabiner onto your steering wheel. Or, put a band around your key so you can’t put it in the ignition.
Finally, Security of Things In/On The Trailer
The above discussion is about security of the whole trailer. Yet, for some thieves, they are looking for smaller prizes — like the contents of your trailer. This is a little harder to give advice about because there are so many possibilities. Just recognize that the whole trailer is not the only potential target.
It’s worth it to take measures to secure the things in or on the trailer also. Use the same thought processes as above. Consider the options, and use, if you can, more than one. Again, more than one that requires more than one set of tools or ways to defeat. That’s harder when securing the contents, but it’s worth thinking about anyway.
Stolen Trailer Recovery
If the unfortunate happens and your trailer security fails, there are some important things you’ll wish you had done. In truth, not many trailers are recovered, and one reasons is they are hard to identify as stolen.
Most places require a serial number on the trailer. Many places provide a little tag to do that, but it’s so easy to remove, then suddenly it is no marks So, make the trailer recoverable.
If a serial number or tag is required, place one where the law requires it, and put a second one up under and hidden (maybe stamped into the frame) so the trailer is permanently marked with your ID. Stolen trailers are easily re-tagged and hard to trace. However, if you have a permanent mark (where only you know), then if they find the trailer is much easier to identify as yours.
Photos are also important when reporting stolen trailers. Good photos of the trailer, that can help identify it. Also photos of where it was, the security measures you did, etc.. Security video of the event is awesome for helping to identify the thief, and the vehicle they tow it with.
In the end, the most likely way to recover a trailer is with active security. A GPS tracker, for instance. Brakes that suddenly lock when it starts moving. Something like that. These are only possible with active security, which can be expensive, but may make the difference in seeing your trailer again, or not.
For me, the whole concept of theft is just a little frustrating. Dishonesty in general. There is no reasonable way to absolutely prevent theft or vandalism. It’s the world we have, but the whole of society is not dishonest. I believe most people are good at heart, so let’s all help each other thwart those who are not.
Here are some generalize questions to ask yourself as you consider security for your trailer.
- How can I make it difficult for a thief to take the trailer?
- What things will make it less attractive as a target?
- In what ways can the trailer hide from view? Or made very visible and obvious that someone is trying to take it?
- What kind of surprises can you add to the trailer? Alarms? Or other things?
- What sorts of obscurity can you implement to thwart or frustrate a thief?
- Do you have things in place to recover the trailer if it is stolen?
Unfortunately, we have to give up a little of our own convenience to make it more difficult for thieves. What are you willing to accept? And what are you NOT willing to do? Security is a process of trade-offs, and it’s unique to everyone. The first, best step is thinking.