with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

Protecting Your Ideal Photographic Vehicle

When was the last time you heard a car alarm going off and raced to the phone to call 911? Has anyone??? EVER? NEVER! After 20 minutes, if you do call it’s to have the police tow the thing away. Based on research in the industry, security systems on vehicles are most effective at making you FEEL safer. They don’t do much to actually prevent theft or break-ins.

The keys to protecting your vehicle from theft and break-in are visibility and time delays. The less visible your vehicle is, the less likely it will be a target. If it does become a target, the longer the thieves take to break-in, the less likely they are to hang around to complete the task or the more likely they will be seen and caught.

Many people consider sterring wheel locking devices good for delaying a car thief. The truth is that serious thieves can saw through the steering wheel in seconds and slide these devices right off. For many car thieves, it’s an art form to beat the latest security system. They are like computer hackers, challenged by the latest gimmick.

If someone is serious about breaking into your vehicle,
there is little you can do to stop them.
What you can do is make it harder
for them to complete their task.

What can you do?

Plain Brown Wrapper
Choose a vehicle that looks anonymous. Pick a common color like white or tan or choose a best-selling vehicle. Don’t make it a walking billboard that screams “money.” Avoid signs advertising your photo business, or a personalized license plate that reads FOTOSRUS. If you must have a sign promoting your photography business, get magnetic signs and remove them when parking in high-risk areas.
Wash Me
Our big truck makes a great blind to hide behind, photo by Lorelle VanFossenA dirty vehicle gets ignored. Consider only washing your car when you have a special occasion. Really dusty vehicles tend to look old and abandoned, making thieves lose interest fairly quickly.
Plain Brown Wrapper Camera Case
If the camera case sits in plain view in the back seat and says I’m full of expensive equipment”, you are inviting the break-and-grab. If it sits in a old duffel bag, the odds are less likely anyone will pay any attention. Don’t be fooled into thinking that a towel or blanket covering a huge mound in the back seat will convince any determined thief that what you are hiding isn’t valuable. It’s an invitation to them.
Get a good insurance plan that will replace your items at the current market value and cover damage and theft of your vehicle. Itemize a full list of EVERYTHING in your camera bag, every filter, film retriever, battery, everything you carry with you. Don’t forget to keep a list of all the things you usually carry in your vehicle. It should all be covered by the insurance policy, not just the big ticket items. Those little pieces add up to some serious money.
Double Locks
It is possible, with some creative mechanical techniques and a locksmith, to create a double or unique locking system for your vehicle. Each automobile’s system is different, so research this thoroughly before attempting yourself. It’s hard for theives to steal a vehicle if they can’t get the doors open.
Warning stickers can actually make a thief think twice before testing your alarm system. Skip spending the money on an alarm system no one pays any attention to and just buy the warning stickers for the windows.
Storage Boxes
If you do have to leave your equipment in the car, put it in a nondescript storage box, preferably in the trunk out of site. A metal box locked and then bolted to the frame of the car makes it even harder to break into.
Out of Sight – Out of Mind
We put our equipment in the trunk BEFORE arriving at the destination where we’ll park the car. That way no one gets to watch us hiding or covering our valuables.
Other Delays
Check with a good auto parts store or a mail order company on the Internet. There are lots of ways to delay a thief. Add a switch under the seat or dashboard. When off, the engine won’t start. Remove the easy-to-lift door locks. Use your imagination, there are a lot of options available.

A Serious Photo Vehicle

The all purpose photo vehicle in a plain white wrapperA friend and fellow photographer has probably the most sophisticated theft prevention setup I’ve ever seen. He drives a white “brown paper wrapper” van, one of millions out and about. Inside is a heavy strong box to store all of his expensive camera gear. The box was designed for cable TV repair crews as their equipment is frequently stolen. It features a recessed lid, making it harder to use a crowbar to pry open as there is no “lip” to wedge under. The locks are inset and catch automatically when the lid closes, so a key must be used at all times. The entire thing is attached to the van’s frame with bolts inside of the bottom of the box. He has stickers on the windows warning of an alarm system. The windows on his van look normal from the outside, but each one is backed with clear unbreakable Lexan Plexiglass. Even if they break through the glass, they run into the Lexan and it stops them. He relocated the locking mechanism on the inside of the door to near the floor, instead of by the window, as is traditional.

The only downside to this incredible vehicle is that if he locks himself out, he’s in trouble. Locksmiths can’t get in without dismantling the door, so he carries lots of extra keys. It is an ideal vehicle for him, as he’s added a small refridgerator and there is room in the back to sleep. He can photograph from the roof, accessable via a ladder on the back, or from the side doors. By creating this amazing setup, he has time on his side. Thieves will fuss with this van a very long time before they come close to breaking in.

Food and the Car

A vehicle out in nature can often be mistaken for a nesting or hiding place. It can also represent dinner to some animals. Raccoons, marmots, squirrels, chipmunks, many curious animals investigate the warm undersides of our vehicles. They like to nibble on water hoses and sleep on warm engine parts. Check your Big horn sheep show up in force to the smell of Cheezits in the car. Jasper, Alberta, Canada. Photo by Brent VanFossenvehicle thoroughly and make a lot of noise before starting the engine to scare out the wildlife. If you spend a lot of time in the wilderness, consider a special removable “under jacket” to your vehicle to help make it animal proof. We’ve come out of the Olympic Mountains many times to find the marmots’ nibbling had drained the radiators at the trail head.

Be aware that food inside the vehicle can also attract wildlife. Our old Thunderbird carries the scars of many such adventures. Bighorn sheep hoof marks decorate the doors. Cat, bird, and squirrel scratches are on the roof and hood. We’ve chased deer and raccoons out of the car because of a forgotten open door. Take care when out in the wilderness. It’s safer to teach the animals that vehicles do NOT mean food and that they are not safe havens.


One Comment

  • Jason
    Posted March 10, 2006 at 21:41 | Permalink

    My van was broken into one night and all my camera gear was inside. The sheriff was the one to inform me because the car next to mine had a laptop stolen. My camera gear was in a food cooler and even though the door to my van was wide open the cooler was untouched.

    I used the cooler to keep my camera gear from cooking in my car durning the summer but it seems to have other benifits.

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