They've pretty much taken over the vehicle lighting business, and they don't cost nearly as much as when they first appeared about 20 years ago. So LEDs - lamps made with light-emitting diodes - aren't stolen like they once were.

Anti-theft devices can get in the way of repairs and replacement work, so in some cases are dispensed with. But there are places where LEDs still are targets for thieves, say two major makers of the products.

Risky places include border crossings into Mexico, still a Third World country where many things aren't safe. Mark Blackford, Grote's national fleet accounts manager, points to Laredo, Texas, as one such place. Brad Van Riper, Truck-Lite's chief technology officer, says intermodal operations can constitute another black hole where objects enter but don't return. Fleets that send trailers and container chassis into such places often buy LEDs with hard-to-remove mountings, or stick with incandescent-bulb fixtures.

"As a product becomes more theft-resistant, it adds cost to the device, it reduces the serviceability, and may even reduce the visibility of the lighting solution," says Van Riper. "So the best solution is to integrate only enough anti-theft features to a given design that limit most of the thieves from stealing the parts.

"No anti-theft solution will prevent everyone from stealing the parts. Thieves generally are lazy, though, and if it takes a great deal of effort or if there is a high likelihood of damaging the parts, then it may not be worth the effort to steal the products. There are solutions to this issue that could be very expensive but may have other downsides, but you can have virtually zero theft."

Because LEDs have become common and cost less than half of their original $40 to $45 per-lamp price, Darry Stuart, a contract maintenance manager and former general chairman of the ATA's Technology & Maintenance Council, says he's about to go back to spec'ing rubber grommets as the mounting method.

"There was a time when people were stealing them right and left," he says. "Not anymore. But whether you protect them depends entirely on how you operate." If trailers sit a lot in dark yards, theft can still be a problem. But if they're moving a lot at highway speeds, maybe not. Look at the operations and for recent theft history, or lack of it, and decide accordingly.


Several types of anti-theft mountings are available, including:

- Rings secured by bolts, which take more time to remove than simple pop-in/-out mounts, or rivets, which must be drilled out. Rivets of stainless steel, a hard material, are especially difficult to drill into, and of course they don't rust.

- Adhesives used for installation hang on tightly and are difficult to break loose.

- One-way mounts can be pushed in quickly during installation and are difficult to pull out. Sometimes the fixture has to be broken to be removed. Thieves will usually stop when they see this kind of thing.

"Stealth" is another anti-theft method, says Grote's Blackford. "Many new LED lamps employ only one LED to achieve the photometric requirements, and it's now sometimes hard to tell what is an LED and what is not. We had to remove the lens in our lit point-of-purchase displays of the Grote Select stop/tail/turn lamp, because folks literally thought it was an incandescent lamp with the lens on." And who'd want to steal an old-fashioned light bulb?

Read more on trailers each week from Senior Editor Tom Berg in his Trailer Talk blog.

From the December 2011 issue of HDT.

About the author
Tom Berg

Tom Berg

Former Senior Contributing Editor

Journalist since 1965, truck writer and editor since 1978.

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