Perhaps you've heard of "MS-13," labeled "the most dangerous gang in America" by Newsweek magazine and chronicled in recent months by newspapers and broadcast media.
Mara Salvatrucha, Spanish for "Salvadorian pride," originated in Central America and got established on the U.S. East Coast, and now numbers 20,000 to 100,000 members here. Authorities say they have committed heinous crimes, from multiple murders to robberies to drug dealings.

Now MS gangsters have turned to thefts of cargo from trucks, because they're easy to do, are highly profitable, and any penalties are relatively light, according to one source in the security business. Rob a bank or sell drugs and you can go to prison for many years. Swipe a load of clothes or computers from a parked semitrailer and - in the unlikely event you're caught and police can pin it on you - you might get a few months or a year. The meaning of the number 13 is not clear, but if you're confronted by a dark-featured, heavily tattooed gangbanger - the mark of an MSer - it would mean you're very unlucky.

Robbery by hijacking is one thing and it's best to not argue with the thugs, whatever their affiliation. Let 'em take what they want and get out of the area as soon as you can. Thefts are another thing, and should be combated. Moreover, since the start of the War on Terror, we're warned that terrorists here at home can stash bombs or plague-inducing devices in trucks, trailers and containers, to be unwittingly delivered by unsuspecting transport workers.

The threats would be less serious if truck operators would take the simple step of locking their doors. Almost all doors, whether rollup or swing, have built-in holes on their latching handles for securement with a padlock or cable lock. Drivers may not want to use them, and in some places they and their stoic bosses are content with filing theft reports and letting insurance cover any losses.

Not so at companies like Federal Express and United Parcel Service. Doors on their delivery trucks have integral locks in handles that are easily closed and opened. Later versions are remote-controlled door locks actuated by transponders carried by drivers; the lock is a shot-pin that engages the track of the overhead door. If these outfits can get their drivers to use these devices every time they close the doors, why not everybody? Because not everybody's FedEx or UPS.

If drivers can be talked into locking their doors, they can start with a simple padlock, though that of course is not what they should use. A $5 or $10 consumer-grade padlock might keep bratty little kids from getting into the truck body or trailer, but any halfway serious thief can pop open a cheap lock with a hammer or crowbar in a few seconds, or cut through its shank with a small hobby type grinding tool in as little time. Then they can begin swiping.

A good padlock costs $25 to $35, a lot less than increased insurance premiums that presumably follow reported thefts, according to Master Lock Co. (, perhaps better known as a maker of locks for your front door of your home (and if you can lock it, why not the those on the trailer?). An industrial-type padlock will have a hardened-steel body and shackle, and the shackle will have a diameter of 5/16 to 7/16 inch.

A variety of good cable locks use similarly stout materials, and will cost somewhat more. Master Lock also makes a shackleless lock surrounded by a special hasp; the lock has a deadbolt to connect two swinging doors or a door to a sill. With no shackle, it can't be cut apart. Operators of trucks delivering high-value products and contractors wanting to protect their tools and supplies are among the product's users.

Transport Security Inc. (, maker of Enforcer brand products, offers a line of Abloy padlocks in varying dimensions. They are constructed of alloy steel with hardened-steel shanks 3/8, 5/16 or 1/2 inch in diameter. A shank can withstand 21,000 pounds of pull pressure. Inside, rotating detainer discs function as tumblers, like those in a safe, the company says. A "funny-looking key" opens an Abloy lock and can be removed only when the lock is closed; the key is difficult to duplicate because it has 360,000 possible combinations. But the lock's cylinder can be removed to change its disc combination.

An Enforcer Adjustable Door Lock connects the vertical bars of a pair of swing doors' racking mechanism, holding the doors together. Made of 10-gauge spring steel, it includes an Abloy padlock, and resists prying and will send a thief in search of easier prey. A Door Hasp Lock directly connects the two doors and is also secured by an Abloy padlock; the lock's shackle is protected from prying and cutting by a collar that's part of the hasp. For Todco and Whiting roll-up doors, there's an Enforcer CargoGuard protective shield that covers the latch handle, latching mechanism and padlock; it, too, is made of 10-gauge steel. Transport Security also makes keyed and combination locks for trailer king pins and landing-gear crank handles.

The Equipment Lock Co. ( makes devices to protect backhoes, excavators, skidsteers and yes, swing-type doors for trucks, trailers and containers. Its door lock is made of plate steel formed into a two-piece square tube that clamps onto swing doors' vertical bars; the two pieces slide together and are padlocked into place. The doors' handles, if not locked, can be partly unlatched, but the Cargo Door Lock holds the bars and doors together so they can't swing open. The regular version's tube is made of 1/8-inch steel, while a Heavy Duty version uses 3/16-inch steel. They weigh 6 and 9 pounds, respectively, so you know they're hefty.

High Security Gravity Keeper is the formidable name given to a triangular box-shaped device that protects the shackle of a standard 2-inch padlock from bolt cutters, saws and pry bars, but its simplicity encourages drivers to use it, according to the Patriot Security division of ITTI Corp. It's an option from Great Dane, Trailmobile and Utility, among others. Products from the other makers of security locks might also be available from manufacturers of trailers and truck bodies, and their dealers, who'd probably be happy to install any reasonable product.

In general, keyed mechanical locks are quicker than combination types. But the keys, and who has them, can themselves constitute a security problem. Managing locks and keys should include a limit on who gets a key, and a record of the names of those who have them. For instance, a driver should be required to sign for the lock and its key, and be instructed to not have any duplicate keys made. Adherence to such a rule depends on the person's honesty, and that depends a good deal on the worth of a company's hiring procedures.

If an employee loses a key or lock, a record should be made of it, and he might be made to pay for the replacement. The driver should turn in the key when he is reassigned or quits, and should get a receipt for it. If a lock has been opened by an unauthorized person, it should be rekeyed or replaced. Similar managerial safeguards should be in place for combination locks and the numerical or alpha codes to open them.

Electromechanical locks triggered from afar, using cellular or satellite communications links, add another dimension to door security. So do trailer tracking devices. We'll look at them in a future issue.

From the October 2008 issue of Heavy Duty Trucking.