New York City is famous for horror stories about crime in general and theft in particular. Here's one we just heard: A tradesman had all his expensive power tools stolen from his locked van by someone who was destructively determined.
The Master Locking System from Knapheide Manufacturing includes a bar that runs the interior of each side of the body. (Photo by Knapheide)
The Master Locking System from Knapheide Manufacturing includes a bar that runs the interior of each side of the body. (Photo by Knapheide)
The thief broke a window in one of the van's doors to get in, but wasn't content to reach in and unlock it. He also punched a hole in the sheet metal, wrapped a cable through the two ragged openings, then tied the cable to another vehicle and yanked the door right off.

Locking the van was not the complete answer here. Would an alarm have made a difference?

A high-tech option

Tattletale Portable Alarm Systems thinks so. It suggests rigging a truck, bulldozer, building or anything that needs protecting with a motion detector that's wirelessly connected to a base station. The station, about the size of a slide projector, knows the instant somebody moves near the protected equipment and sets off a loud, flashing alarm. Meanwhile it alerts the equipment's owner by calling or texting him on his cell phone. The owner knows within a minute or two that his stuff's in jeopardy.

The station can also alert Tattletale's watch center, where people continuously on duty can call local police for quick response. Police love to catch burglars red-handed, so the base station can be muted to let the perpetrators continue their nefarious work until officers creep up on them. Tony Ziebel, who sells Tattletale products, has a letter from Dayton, Ohio, police, who recently caught three thieves who had been swiping copper wire and other valuable materials from a vacant school building. Police could not guard the building, but the alarm system did, warning of an intrusion just 12 hours after it had been installed. Three nabbed thieves became canaries who confessed to breaking into the place 24 times over several months.

Ziebel says he has customers who park work trucks in fenced lots and guard them all with one, two or a few motion detectors networked to a base station inside a nearby office or garage. With a range of up to half a mile, the station can monitor detectors throughout a lot. It's also possible to place a station inside a valuables-laden truck and let it sense any attempted break-in by itself - the station has a built-in motion detector - or with the help of one or more detectors elsewhere on the truck.

Tattletale makes several types of motion and acoustic detectors, one of them called The Loop, with a strong, electronically sensitive and weather-proof cable that can wrap around a tool, piece of equipment or door, and likewise sends an alarm to the base station. Acoustic detectors sense concussions caused by smashed glass and door materials. Each sensor costs $200 to $400, so a single outdoor optical/heat sensor might be the most economical way to protect a truck.

The base station costs about $800, and a modest monthly subscription charge links it to the Tattletale's watch center.

Lock it up anyway

A good quality locking system can discourage less violent thieves, which describes most of them, and send them looking for easier pickings. That's why manufacturers have come up with stout and convenient methods of locking a truck or truck body.

For instance, Ford Motor Co. has an optional double-locking system for its popular E-series cargo vans. Introduced on the 2008 updates to the vans, the E-Guard Cargo Protection System secures side and rear doors manually or at the touch of a button on a key fob. Ford also offers a Cable Lock from Milwaukee-based Master Lock Co. that can secure all a worker's power tools as they lay in a van or even a pickup bed.

Body locks

There's another Master Lock out there. It's a gang-locking device offered by Knapheide Manufacturing, the Quincy, Ill.-based maker of utility service bodies. The Master Locking System secures all cabinet doors with a handle-operated bar on each side of a body. The bar is spring-loaded in the released (out) position; a driver rams it forward and padlocks it to secure the doors, then removes the padlock and releases the bar to unlock them.

This "double-locks" the doors, which retain their individual key-cylinder latches, explains Haily Meyer, the company's marketing manager. With the locking bar in place, it's very difficult to break into the compartments and swipe something from the cabinets. It's standard on two body product lines body models and available for about $400 to $500 on many others.

Knapheide also has a remotely operated Power Lock system, which locks and unlocks all doors in the body with the touch of a button in a key fob. It uses a small, wafer-shaped rotary motor on each key cylinder, powered from the truck's 12-volt electrical system. If the truck's battery runs down, each door can be manually unlocked with a key. Remote Power Locks are a $700 to $800 option on several body types. The original version had to be factory installed, Meyer says, but the latest version can be retrofitted onto existing bodies.

This has been a brief look at some of the security systems to give you an idea of some of the options available to keep tools safe on the job site and off. Other suppliers offer other products, and all are worth a look if you really want to lock up those tools.

From the March 2010 issue of Heavy Duty Trucking.