Thwarting thugs
From low-tech to high-tech, truckers have more tools in their arsenal for battling equipment theft than ever before

By Paul Abelson, senior technical editor

As a driver, one of your most important tasks is protecting the security of your cargo, especially high-value loads. Some of that is common sense: Park under bright lights and back your trailer against a wall or secure fence.

During World War II, they said “Loose lips sink ships.” The same applies to transportation. Never talk about any high-value loads or destinations in a public area, even with your dispatcher on your cell phone. And if someone seems too inquisitive, use discretion when you answer.

Your income often depends on your ability to deliver all your loads safely and on time. Your record may mean the difference between hauling back-haul freight for back-haul rates and getting big bucks for high-value cargo.

Preventing theft is as important as securing your loads against physical damage. While no security system is

100 percent perfect all the time, you can do a number of things to help prevent theft. If your trailer stays married to your tractor, install a locking air brake valve in your cab. There are several types available. Some use a recessed lock incorporated in a diamond-shaped metal replacement for the familiar yellow diamond-shaped plastic knob. When engaged, it prevents the knob from being pushed to release the parking brake.

Another type of air brake lock was developed by truckers David and Barbara Cormier. Their Air Cuff is now sold by Transport Security Inc., makers of The Enforcer product line. It encloses the red and yellow knobs in a hardened metal box that’s held in place by an Abloy lock.

The Abloy lock line uses rotating discs instead of the more typical spring-loaded pins. Shackles are held in place with stainless steel ball bearings. The key can be removed only when the mechanism is locked. You can have the most sophisticated anti-theft device, but if the lock is a weak link, the device could be defeated. For high-value loads, don’t use cheap locks.

Immobilizers interrupt the flow of either fuel or electricity, preventing the truck from starting or running. The problem with a fuel shutoff installed in a remote location is that it may increase back pressure on the pump or drain the filters, resulting in the injectors running dry. They can also present a fire hazard if not properly installed. There have been reports of drivers being observed setting them, only to find their trucks gone because the thieves knew where to look.

Electrical interrupters can be routed inside the cab, out of sight of prying eyes. If not done right, altering wiring can affect computer settings, and can damage an engine control module. The Ravelco Anti-Theft device has 16 matching pins and sockets that, when unplugged, “scramble” the ignition lead. With more than 10,000 possible wiring combinations, the company claims not one vehicle theft in more than 30 years of production.

Sometimes a trailer must be left unattached and unguarded. Devices can immobilize the trailer. Kingpin locks and collars that prevent a tractor from hooking up to your trailer have proven effective. Some are cast iron and some are fabricated steel, but all are only as effective as the device that locks them.

The best have internal cylinder locks that have no exposed shackles. They lock onto the kingpin using a tongue that extends over the collar that keeps jaws of the fifth wheel in place. Tapered or cone-shaped collars force the trailer to ride up over the fifth wheel without attaching and limit kingpin damage. Those that clamp around have exposed, vulnerable padlocks. Cylindrical collars can be jarred and can damage the kingpin and upper coupler.

To prevent trailer motion, The Enforcer makes a landing gear lock of high carbon steel. It covers the handle to prevent the gear from being raised. It uses a case hardened Abloy model 341/25 pick-proof padlock, although the shackle is exposed. Abloy’s model 342, Master Lock’s 187 KA and others have shrouded shackles that block bolt cutters.

For added trailer security, locks are available that clamp over the vertical bars that keep swing doors closed. Some are little more than metal hasps that require a padlock to hold them shut. The Enforcer chrome-plated spring steel lock plate has a guard that prevents tools from attacking its pick-resistant Abloy lock. The shackle is secured behind the device, against the trailer doors.

The Cargo Door Lock from the Equipment Lock Co. is available in regular and heavy-duty models. The heavy-duty model is built with 3/16-inch thick walls and 2-inch and 2.5-inch square tube steel. That’s 1/16-inch more wall and 1-inch larger tube than the standard model. Locks with cylinder keys are buried inside the mechanism. Combination locks are optional.

For roll-up doors, Equipment Lock Co. also makes the Rolling Door Lock that secures the handle in the down position. The In-Lock from Mi-Jack Systems and Technology uses dead bolts to secure swing-out or roll-up doors to trailer walls or floor from inside the trailer. It can be activated by a key lock or a remote control. The In-Lock mechanism is located remotely from the shielded dead bolt, connected by a flexible cable. Even if the mechanism is located and drilled out, it will not affect the lock’s integrity.

Many larger fleets are adopting GPS-based trailer tracking devices for security. While these are helpful in locating and managing large numbers of trailers, they are also very expensive. They use geo-fencing as a way to immobilize a vehicle if it is taken outside a preconfigured route. They are not needed to manage just a few rigs.

However, owner-operators who want to have the ability to track their truck and/or trailer in the event it is stolen can use consumer-level GPS units. There are many on the market, ranging from $100 to several thousand. Obviously, the more options the devices offer, the more the price goes up.

Other security features, many not yet dreamed of, will become available, often accompanied by discounts on insurance to help justify costs. But that is in the future. Now we will have to rely mostly on mechanical barriers to help keep loads secure from theft. LL