Recently, we've heard of a number of car trailer thefts, with several including the theft of the entire rig. The most recent was at a hotel right across from where we were staying, which got us thinking that there were additional security steps we could-and should-be taking. I used to think that the focus of thieves would be the car inside the trailer, but lately it seems some thieves have found it easier to just steal the whole rig.
Statistics from sources such as the Insurance Information Institute, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and National Insurance Crime Bureau show that a vehicle theft occurs in the U.S. every 28 seconds. Of these, 71 percent are passenger cars, 24 percent are light trucks (SUVs and vans) and the remainder are heavy trucks and motorcycles. One study indicated that 35 percent of car thefts took place at or near the residence, 23 percent occurred in a parking lot or garage, and 18 percent were stolen on highways or roads. There was no break-down for car trailers that I could find, but the potential for having your rig stolen is probably higher today, given the current economic situation, than it was previously. But there are several common sense steps you can take, and systems you can install, which can help from making any of us one of the statistics.
Here are a few common sense prevention measures you could take:
• Where you park: Most thefts occur at night. Parking in a well-lit area is a good first step, along with having it visible from your hotel room, if you are staying overnight on the road. Parking in a high-traffic area is also a good idea, as thieves love privacy.
• Locking everything up and out of sight: It's pretty obvious to double-check the locks on the tow rig, trailer hitch, and trailer, but it's also advisable not to leave things which might attract thieves in plain view, such as your GPS
• Alarm systems: Many tow rigs have alarms which sound a siren, and some also have an ignition or fuel shut-off. While a siren might be ignored, the fuel shut-off should prevent the vehicle from going too far. Far fewer trailers have alarm systems, but there are several systems available today. We've outlined below the alarm system we chose, why we selected that unit, and how it was installed.
• Make your rig identifiable: Several sources I found suggest that thieves will often size up their marks based on how easily they can be identified by the police. When thieves are deciding whether it's worth stealing a vehicle, one of their first considerations is its appearance. One theory is that trailers that are easy to identify are less appealing because they're easier to spot on the road, and suggests adding graphics to the trailer for this purpose. A friend of ours told us that a fellow he knew once had his unmarked trailer stolen. After that incident he added graphics on the side of his trailer advertising "Aunt Emma's Knitting Supplies." He's never had a problem since then.
• Another source suggests welding or stamping an identification number (such as the trailer VIN) in a highly-visible location. We did that as we thought stamping the VIN on the trailer tongue was a good idea, since the factory tag could be removed.
• Locks: The use of the right locks for the trailer doors can often be overlooked. Most of us have probably used a keyed lock such as from Master Lock. However, those have an exposed hasp which could be cut with either bolt cutters or a saw, or possibly hammered apart. From what locksmiths tell me, thieves don't usually bother to pick a lock, as it takes too long, but they will cut it apart, which is much quicker. We found a type of lock specifically designed for the trailer rear door from War-Lok (model CTL-10) and available at Trailer-Alarms.com (See Sources Sidebar for contact information). This design has several nice features: Its housing is made of die-cast zinc, and the other components are made of either brass or stainless steel for corrosion protection. It uses a hardened steel pin, which is fully enclosed within the housing, and a recessed push-button lock tumbler. In speaking with Lyle Clark at Trailer-Alarms.com, he said it was the best he has found.
• Another location to secure your trailer is at the hitch. The trailer hitch should have a lock for the receiver, and one on the hitch coupler to discourage someone from trying to separate the trailer from the truck. There are many sources for receiver locks, including combination units which have both the hitch receiver as well as the hitch coupler locks keyed alike. Typical prices for these are $35-$45. If you happen to have a "Bulldog" or Butler-type coupler, there's another device we found useful called "The Collar." One great feature is that it works whether the trailer is hooked up or not. It keeps the collar from being slid backward. It's made of stainless steel and costs $39.95. A link to their website appears in the Sources Sidebar.
• Maintenance: Often overlooked, but of critical importance to security, is maintaining your trailer in top condition. This is particularly true when it comes to something which could leave you stranded alongside the road and vulnerable to theft. Key maintenance areas would include things such as checking the tire pressure and condition of the tires, and maintaining the wheel bearings.
When it comes to trailer tires, it's unlikely that most of us will wear out a tire's tread before the tire's age results in a potential weak point. Many tire manufacturers suggest replacing tires when they reach five to six years old. I wasn't sure if that was more of a sales strategy to sell more tires but, ironically, a friend of ours had two blowouts on his trailer, which had seven-year-old tires on it. Check for dry rot or cracking often, and replace the tires based on their condition and age, versus only the tread depth. One other thing you can do to help prevent dry rot and exposure to UV rays is to use tire covers when the trailer is stored. Camping supply stores and mail-order catalogs such as Camping World have them.
When searching for new tires, check for the brands which are specifically designed for trailers and of the right load range. We found some interesting feedback on this subject from racing and camping trailer forums. One brand which had very positive feedback was one we had never heard of in Ohio called Denman Tire, who specializes in heavy-equipment tires. It goes without saying that you should carry a properly inflated spare tire. Some folks even carry two spares on the theory that, should they need to use one spare, they would be left without another if they have a second tire problem. Finding a replacement tire of the right type, size, and load rating while on the road can be difficult. Frequent checks and maintaining the correct tire pressure is critical, since an underinflated tire is as likely a cause for tire failure as its age. If you don't remember to regularly manually check your tire pressures, there are wireless sensors and monitors to give you the readings right inside your vehicle. Even if you now manually check your pressures often, one advantage to these systems is that they can alert you to a sudden drop in tire pressure as you are driving. There are several manufacturers of these systems. Just do a search under "tire pressure monitoring," and you'll find several makes.
Trailer wheel bearings are another often overlooked maintenance area. Some of the newer trailer axles have sealed bearings which do not need periodic maintenance, but the majority are likely to have tapered bearings which should be cleaned, regreased, and adjusted periodically. The time interval depends on the type of use and your mileage, but we perform this service every other year, just to be on the safe side. We found one source for trailer parts called Etrailer.com which had the parts we needed, and provided good service. We carry two extra sets of wheel bearings, races, and seals along with axle grease just in case we do have a problem. Finding these while traveling could be difficult and they aren't very expensive to have on hand.
Picking a Trailer Alarm System
Once you've exhausted the common sense prevention measures, the next logical step is to determine just how well your truck and trailer are secured and what additional steps you can take. We initially decided to focus on an alarm system for the trailer. In searching for trailer alarm systems, we came across several of interest but settled on a system from Advanced Wireless Technology (www.tommyjohnsonjr.com), based in Moorseville, North Carolina. It's owned by Tommy Johnson Sr. whose son (Tommy Jr.) and daughter-in-law (Melanie Troxel-Johnson) are both drag racers. Their electronic systems have been installed by a number of the NASCAR and NHRA racing teams such as Earnhardt, Yates, John Force, Warren Johnson and Mr. Gasket, and Richard Petty uses one in his show-car trailer.
Our main considerations in which system to use were focused on finding a system which had the features we wanted, was reasonably easy to install, and would be reliable and reasonably priced. The AWT system has key features such as the alarm siren, wireless door transmitters, and a shock sensor, and will also light the exterior trailer lights and lock the trailer brakes if an attempt to steal the trailer is made. Other features, such as a GPS locator, can be added as an option or installed later. Their system uses wireless transmitters for the doors, which eliminates the need for hard wiring to those units. That's of particular interest for those whose trailers have finished walls. The primary wiring necessary is for the positive and negative battery connections and, if connecting to the trailer lights and brakes, two relays also require wiring. The main system components ("brain-box," shock sensor, and siren) are prewired and fused. Tommy told us he's sold over 3,000 units without a failure, which speaks well of the design and quality of the components he uses. We priced several other units, many of which were more expensive, but decided to go with AWT because it best met our needs. The Advanced Wireless Technology system is priced at $299 for the basic components, and each door transmitter is an additional $59.95. A typical trailer unit with two doors would cost $420.
Here are the step-by-step procedures we used to install our alarm:
• Read the directions. I know it's tempting to dive right in, but reviewing the directions first will likely save time and rework later.
• Familiarize yourself with all the components.
• Determine the best mounting locations for the components. The main components you will be mounting are the "brain-box," the door transmitters, the shock sensor, the siren, and the LED alarm light. In our trailer, we decided to hide the main components in the front closet, which would make it harder for a thief to locate. It's also where our battery is located, which simplified the wiring. The closet also has a standard lock plus a dead-bolt lock, which will make it more difficult for a potential thief to get at the system
• Mount the brain-box and the shock sensor. The brain-box can be mounted most anywhere convenient. It has an antenna which needs to receive a good signal from the door transmitters. If you are mounting the brain-box inside a cabinet or closet, you should test to make sure you're getting a good signal. If it's behind a metal door, you might have to drill a hole large enough to run the antenna to the outside of the cabinet. On our installation, we received a good signal mounting the antenna inside of the closet. The shock sensor needs to be solidly mounted in a horizontal position, and as near to the center of the trailer as possible. It comes pre-set for sensitivity, but instructions are provided should you need to make an adjustment. The siren can be mounted most anywhere you want, even outside the trailer. We chose to mount ours outside the closet and directed towards a side vent, to make sure it could be clearly heard outside.
• Determine where and what you need to mount the door transmitters. They consist of two components: the pre-programmed transmitter, which is mounted on the inside of the trailer; and the magnet, which is weather-proof and mounted on the door. These may need spacers or mounting brackets to make sure the arrows on each line up with one another. We made our spacers and brackets from aluminum stock and screwed them in place. It's easiest to locate and temporarily mount the transmitter by first using the double-sided tape that's provided. Then you can determine what you need to mount the magnet, and to align the arrows on each unit. The ideal spacing between the units is 1/8-inch. Once these are in position, you can screw them in place.
• Connect the power source to the battery. The main electrical connections are the positive and negative leads, which connect to your trailer battery. Note that the positive lead is fused, and the 15 amp fuse should be left out until all the wiring is completed. We chose to add a safety switch to disengage the system, should the remote key fob fail for some reason. We installed a 50-amp toggle switch (Echlin #TG6039) in a hidden location between the battery and the positive lead.
• Install the red LED alarm light. In selecting a position, we thought it would be best located near the side entry door. After deciding where to mount yours, a 3/8-inch hole is drilled. You can carefully unplug the line to the brain-box and feed it through the hole you've drilled, and reconnect to the brain-box. We found inserting the LED light housing into the hole was easier if the "wings" on each side were pressed in a bit to clear the hole. You can add a dab of silicone if you want, to make sure it's water-proof.
• Wire the relays. Should you want to engage the trailer exterior lights and/or the trailer brakes should a break-in occur, a relay for each is necessary, but is not part of the kit. We used 40-amp Pro-Link relays (#SPDT40P), which are available from most auto parts stores. The two yellow wires in the alarm wiring harness are used for the trailer exterior lights and brakes. These are connected to terminal #86 on each relay. There are three other connections for each relay. Terminal #87 is connected to a constant 12-volt power source; terminal #85 is connected to a trailer chassis ground; and terminal #30 is connected to the trailer running light line from one relay and, on the second relay, to the trailer brake line. Most typical trailer wiring setups use the green wire for the running lights and the blue wire for the trailer brakes. A diagram is provided as part of the installation instructions. It sounds more complicated than it actually is. Once all the wiring had been run and connected, we covered the wire bundle with convoluted wire covering.
• Once everything is mounted and wired, it's time for a test of the system. Install the 15-amp fuse in the fuseholder, close all the doors, and press the right button on the remote transmitter fob. The red LED light should come on solidly at first. After 30 seconds it will start to blink, letting you know that the system is armed. Now, with the remote in hand, open one door to see if the alarm engages. You have to press the disarm button (button on the left) to disarm the system. Next, test any other doors one at a time after resetting the alarm, to make sure that all transmitters are receiving a good signal.
• The last step is to affix your alarm Warning Label. We wanted it in a highly visible location, and decided to place it just beneath the LED alarm light to draw attention to the light.
Vehicle Anti-Theft Protection
Now that the trailer is more secure, we thought about how to best add protection for the truck itself. While the truck is alarmed and has a fuel shutoff, we thought an additional layer of security would be a good idea, since it seems there have been a number of instances where the entire rig has been stolen. Layering theft devices can make it take longer for a thief to be successful, and may make them try an easier mark. We were looking for an easy-to-use and effective means to prevent the truck from being stolen, as well as one that's reasonably priced. After researching the devices available, we narrowed our choices to four types:
The first was a wheel immobilizer, or tire boot. Several types are available to fit various wheel sizes and hub types, but the best we found were those which secured access to the lug nuts so that the wheel couldn't be removed. Some wheel clamps only go around the wheel, but don't cover the lugs. Thieves can easily defeat those by simply removing the wheel and installing your own spare tire. The best units were pretty expensive at $600-plus, as well as being a bit cumbersome to use. As a result, we felt we wouldn't likely take the trouble to install it as often as we should, making it less effective.
The second device considered was a more sophisticated alarm system, even though our truck is already equipped with the factory alarm and fuel shut-off system. Unfortunately, professional thieves have found ways around some of these systems, and people seem to ignore the sound of an alarm. Consequently, we dismissed that as a choice.
The third device was a tracking system. We felt those would be effective in discovering a stolen vehicle but they seem to be more of an "after the fact" security device, and our purpose was to prevent the vehicle from being stolen in the first place.
Our Choice: That led us to search further, and we found one particular device of interest called the Ravelco Anti-Theft System. It's been in use for 33 years and, according to their web site, has never been defeated. After reviewing all the features of the system, and speaking with the company, we decided that the Ravelco was the system which best met our objectives. Some of the principle features we found attractive were that it does not use battery power, so a battery failure won't cause a systems failure, it comes with a lifetime guarantee, and systems failures aren't possible. Also, each unit is uniquely coded (there are over 100,000 combinations), it cannot be hotwired, and all the connections are hidden in the engine compartment. All connections are made through the factory wiring harness (with soldered and sealed connectors), and it's virtually impossible to detect. They even go so far as to install additional nonfunctional wiring, to further confuse anyone who would try to bypass the system. Without the plug installed, the vehicle is literally impossible to start, as the system interrupts the electronic fuel pump, ignition circuit, starter circuit, and ECU. Within the engine compartment, there is nothing visible to let you know that it's there.
Sometimes we have a tendency to over-complicate things unnecessarily, when a simpler and more straight-forward approach would work best. The most effective systems are often the simplest. Ravelco's approach just made sense to us.
Installing the Ravelco System
Here's the link to Ravelco's main web site with additional details: www.ravelco.com. The system is reasonably priced with the unit, including installation, for most vehicles running about $400. The system isn't a do-it-yourself installation, as another unique aspect to this product is that the installer will come to your home or workplace to install it. We thought that was a unique approach and found their closest location to us was in Somerville, Massachusetts. Most of Ravelco's distributors have a mobile unit for installation, and their web site has a list of their dealers for your area. Here is the link to Northeast Ravelco's web site: www.neverstolen.com.
We scheduled the installation and, right on schedule, Dave arrived with the system and all the tools necessary. A typical installation takes 3-4 hours, so there's quite a bit involved. The process itself is unique and proprietary, so I obviously won't go into how the system is installed. I can't say enough about how impressed we were with Dave's knowledge, professionalism, and level of detail in installing the unit. The unit can be installed either with a bracket mounted beneath the dash or, in many vehicles, in the dash. We thought it would look more like a factory installation and a bit easier to use if we mounted the plug in the dash. A simple and uniquely coded plug is all that is used to activate or disengage the system. Of all the systems we found, we feel comfortable that we've made a good choice with Ravelco. You may even be eligible for a discount on your comprehensive insurance coverage, which can be an added benefit.
If all else fails: It's been said, and certainly it's a bit depressing to know, that a professional thief may have the means to steal most any vehicle. That said, it doesn't mean that steps can't be taken to reduce the likelihood of their being successful or at least inducing them to move on to an easier target. In the event that all else fails and theft occurs, here are some steps to take:
Contact the police immediately. The more quickly a theft is reported the better the chance of recovery. Provide a complete description of the vehicle including any unique identifying features.
Be prepared with the VIN numbers of your truck and trailer and your plate numbers. Some sources suggest carrying your registration and insurance card with you.
Contact your insurance agent or insurance carrier. Keep their phone numbers handy. Your insurance often provides you with coverage for alternative transportation and temporary living expenses.
None of these security systems are inexpensive, so it boils down to a matter of how secure you feel your current measures are and to weigh any systems cost versus the value you have to protect. No doubt, most everyone with a classic car has insurance coverage with Agreed Value theft coverage. But insurance won't stop a thief, and if the car can't be recovered, you can't replace your unique classic. At least we now have the peace of mind that we've done all we can reasonably do to protect ourselves. We hope you can benefit from our research and the approaches we've taken to better secure our trailer and truck. We'd be happy to answer any questions you might have. Just contact us through our web site at: richsclassiccorvettes.com.
In the two previous articles on the subject of car trailers and towing, we've addressed considerations in buying a car trailer for your Corvette (June 2006) and setting up your tow vehicle and trailer (July 2006). These are available at the Corvettefever.com web site and the direct links are: