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Upfitting

Maximizing Truck Security

September 2017, Work Truck - Feature

by Shelley Ernst - Also by this author

Full truck caps can secure equipment and keep it hidden, as well as offer several ways to access materials. (Photo courtesy of A.R.E.)
Full truck caps can secure equipment and keep it hidden, as well as offer several ways to access materials. (Photo courtesy of A.R.E.)

The difference between a secure truck and an insecure truck can be thousands — or even tens of thousands — of dollars. That’s because fleet trucks carry valuable tools and equipment, which makes taking the time to lock down vehicles and a truck’s contents well worth the effort.

Upfitting can help fleets make trucks and their contents more secure, as can an increased level of awareness on the parts of drivers.

Bryan Mutchler, marketing manager for A.R.E. Accessories, said break-ins and equipment theft are the most common security threats trucks face, so security should be top of mind even before purchasing the vehicle. “Upfitting is your chance to add security-minded products to your truck,” he said. “If security is at all a concern, this should be at the forefront of how you equip your truck.”

Locks: The First Place to Start

Locks are an obvious first place to start when it comes to preventing theft.

Ashley MacLeod, marketing manager for Masterack, said the majority of security concerns she sees are related to the vehicle’s contents, and specifically ladders, tools, and machinery.

“There are several upfit options that can help combat theft, including locking storage doors and cabinets and locking ladder racks,” she said.

Truck caps can help keep cargo or tools out of sight and locked up safe. (Photo courtesy of A.R.E.)
Truck caps can help keep cargo or tools out of sight and locked up safe. (Photo courtesy of A.R.E.)

Jason Vertin, assistant product manager and inside sales for Stellar Industries, recommended installing drawer systems with individual locking tool drawers, then installing a master lock system that will simultaneously lock all compartments on a service body at once.

“It is a second level of security in addition to locking each individual drawer and compartment door,” he said.
For trucks with beds, an in-bed storage system offers locking compartments while also keeping tools and equipment hidden from the eyes of would-be thieves.

Todd Goldmeyer, marketing manager for Adrian Steel Company, said lockable floor drawers are an ideal place to stow expensive or delicate tools, and latch door units work well for smaller tools or parts. To secure ladders, he suggested adding a padlock to the ladder rack.

“Exterior locks are also a popular option we see many fleets use to add security to their cargo vans,” he said.

Truck Caps: Creating a Rolling Vault

Adding a truck cap can also help fleets secure items in truck beds. Fitted on top of the bed of a truck, caps can include hinged side and rear doors that can be locked for security but unlock and open for ease of access.

Some truck cap options include locking double rear doors that replace the gate, offering improved access to tools and equipment inside.

“Truck caps make your truck bed as close to a rolling vault as you can get,” Mutchler said. “When it comes to security, the combination of truck caps and an in-bed storage system is unbeatable.”

Partitions and Window Screens: Keeping Equipment Out of Sight

Finding ways to lock thieves out of storage areas is one strategy. Preventing them from being interested in a truck’s contents in the first place is another. Keeping tools and equipment out of sight is a major theft deterrent, as it removes easy targets.

To do so, Goldmeyer said some fleets order their cargo vans without side or rear glass windows.

“The strategy is that if the potential thief can’t see what’s inside, it will deter them from breaking in,” he said. “To support that, we offer a cargo partition in a solid model that does not allow viewing into the cargo area of the van from the cab.”

Safety partitions inside a van can help keep cargo secure in the back of the vehicle, and prevent it from coming into the driver compartment during an incident. (Photo courtesy of Ranger Design)
Safety partitions inside a van can help keep cargo secure in the back of the vehicle, and prevent it from coming into the driver compartment during an incident. (Photo courtesy of Ranger Design)

Requiring a key to enter the cargo area from the cab is helpful, too.

“We have locking steel partition doors that prevent access between the cab and the cargo area without a key,” MacLeod said. So if thieves break a window and access the cab, they still won’t be able to enter the cargo area.

If side and rear glass are needed, Goldmeyer said fleets can install window screens, which may deter the potential thief from smashing the glass and stealing the contents of the cargo van.

Window screens can prevent thieves from doing a typical “smash and grab,” as they do not allow access into a vehicle should a window be broken. (Photo courtesy of Leggett & Platt)
Window screens can prevent thieves from doing a typical “smash and grab,” as they do not allow access into a vehicle should a window be broken. (Photo courtesy of Leggett & Platt)

MacLeod said a grab-and-go approach is common, where thieves steal only the most basic and recognizable items they can get to easily.

“I have heard of vehicle break-ins where the thieves leave behind high-dollar items simply because they don’t know what they are and take familiar, less expensive tools instead,” she said.

As a rule of thumb, Vertin said to keep equipment out of sight and always keep cabinets locked when not in use. He also recommended installing GPS or telematics devices so vehicles can be tracked. If a vehicle is stolen, vehicle tracking can help fleets quickly find and recover both the vehicle and its contents.

Think Before You Upfit

While loading down trucks with the most heavy-duty security accessories available may deter thieves, it may also deter the work drivers need to perform. So before you upfit, it’s important to contemplate how security measures will serve your needs, budget, and drivers.

“Consider how the truck is being utilized on a daily basis and what type of cargo you are securing,” Mutchler suggested. “You may need a balance between security and ease of access. This can dictate a lot of the upfit accessories you invest in.” 

For instance, some technicians access a truck cap dozens, if not a hundred, times a day. If drivers are required to use a key to lock and unlock the cap every time, it wastes both time and money — and it may not be the right security strategy.

A keyless entry system, on the other hand, allows the user to quickly and easily unlock the truck cap, grab their equipment, and re-lock the truck cap in a matter of seconds — while also keeping equipment safe.  

“Designing an upfit that allows access from outside of the vehicle will encourage use of secure spaces in the vehicle,” MacLeod said. “We often work with individual fleets to design secure storage options unique to their needs.”

In terms of budget, Mutchler said fleets should focus on matching the level of security to the value of tools and equipment. “You have to look at the cost-to-benefit ratio of protecting your equipment,” he said. “You could spend a large amount of money on an upfit to protect product or equipment that might not have much of a problem with theft and might not be that expensive. In that scenario, your security-minded upfit may never pay for itself. Most companies, however, have a lot of money wrapped up in product and equipment, so they spend the money up front to secure that investment for the next three to five years.”

 Locking storage doors inside a service body or van can keep materials organized, but also adds a layer of security should a thief get into the vehicle or body. (Photo courtesy of Leggett & Platt)
 Locking storage doors inside a service body or van can keep materials organized, but also adds a layer of security should a thief get into the vehicle or body. (Photo courtesy of Leggett & Platt)

“You have to look at the cost-to-benefit ratio of protecting your equipment,” he said. “You could spend a large amount of money on an upfit to protect product or equipment that might not have much of a problem with theft and might not be that expensive. In that scenario, your security-minded upfit may never pay for itself. Most companies, however, have a lot of money wrapped up in product and equipment, so they spend the money up front to secure that investment for the next three to five years.”

Mutchler said security needs can vary greatly by industry, so each fleet will want to consider its specific situation. For example, a surveying company uses a lot of high-cost equipment, so a high-security truck cap and vault combination may be a wise investment.

While a surveying fleet’s priority is security, a pest control fleet’s priority might be ease of access, since drivers are in and out of the vehicle throughout the day. Plus, the chemicals they use aren’t likely to be big targets for theft, so access takes precedence over security.

For a construction fleet, access might not be a huge concern, but organization and durability might be, leaving security as the third-ranking priority.

Fleets should listen to their drivers to understand their needs, while also considering the risk at hand, to design a solution that balances the need with the right level of security.

Drivers Play a Key Role

Speaking of drivers, they play an important role in security, too.

“The employee driving the truck has to have a mindset and awareness of the need for security,” Mutchler said. “Once that is in place, it is all about the proper equipment to secure the truck, and that comes with considering all the pros and cons along with the budget for the upfit.”

Lashing points can be used for added safety measures, keeping items secured to the floor of a van, trailer, or truck bed. (Photo courtesy of Ranger Design)
Lashing points can be used for added safety measures, keeping items secured to the floor of a van, trailer, or truck bed. (Photo courtesy of Ranger Design)

MacLeod said drivers must take the time to stow items properly in secure areas. “It can be easy at the end of a long day in the field to just leave items in the back of the van or truck and walk away,” she said. “But small equipment and hand tools are perfect targets for theft.” This makes it all the more important to ensure it is easy for field technicians to store and retrieve items from vehicles — the easier it is, the more likely they’ll do so properly and keep tools and equipment safe.

MacLeod suggested reminding drivers to stay alert. “Everyone should always be aware of their surroundings, but they should definitely remember theft happens everywhere and anytime,” she said. 

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