Is caravan theft on the rise?
What are the odds your van will fall prey to a thief?
Year after year, the popularity of caravans continues to grow. According to the Caravan Industry of Australia, caravan registrations are up to almost 600,000 nationally, showing around five per cent growth since 2014. That’s despite a minor slowing in production recently, which, according to the association’s RV production statistics for March 2016, showed a 2.5 per cent decrease in production of caravans, and campers for the same period last year.
Nonetheless, it’s fair to say that with registration numbers on the rise, the risk of caravan theft is growing also. Caravan industry statistics show that the biggest group of caravan buyers and, therefore, those that are most likely to find themselves hit by caravan theft, are families, but all owners are at risk to some degree. The difficulty is that it’s hard to determine if thieves are actually increasingly targeting caravans, because caravan theft is lumped under total ‘vehicle theft’ in crime figures and caravans are not specifically identified. However, insurance claim data provides a more useful insight.
HOW OFTEN DOES IT HAPPEN?
Data from caravan and RV insurance companies CIL, Apia, AAMI, GIO and Suncorp over the past three years shows the theft of caravans and motorhomes has accounted for about two per cent of total caravan-related claims lodged each year. That includes the full gamut of caravan-related claims including those for storm damage, hail damage, road accidents, damage caused by other vehicles and more. But, sadly, insurance figures say nothing about the number of vans that are recovered after being stolen, as the data includes both recovered and unrecovered vans.
CIL specialist claims operations manager Nicole Hutton said anecdotal evidence suggested only about 10 per cent of stolen caravans, campers and motorhomes are ever recovered.
While the idea of someone stealing the caravan you’ve worked hard to buy is concerning, the statistics show the risk is actually quite low. In the 2013/14 financial year, those five companies mentioned above reported 263 caravan theft claims between them, with an average claim value of $19,450. That number reduced to 250 theft claims in 14/15, and currently sits at 211 to the end of May 2016.
In that time, there was a simultaneous reduction in the average value of those claims, dropping to $16,644 from 13/14.
Also noteworthy is the fact that the total number of claims involving caravan theft, as well as theft from caravans, reduced over the same three year period from 312 claims in the 2013/14 financial year to 273 for the 2015/16 financial year up to May 2016.
Ms Hutton said there are three things that may explain the decrease in the number of thefts and the average cost of those claims.
Firstly, the reduction is likely to be due to a greater awareness among caravanners of the need to secure caravans with security devices, such as hitch locks or similar. Ms Hutton said that improved awareness likely stemmed from word-of-mouth between vanners and social media stories which have raised awareness of caravan theft among travellers.
Secondly, she said the increased prevalence of GPS trackers (such as Al-Ko’s ATS system) in new vans, and older vans fitted with after-market tracking technology, are a possible cause of the reduced caravan theft claims.
Finally, she believes that the new Written off Vehicle Register (WOVR) has made it more difficult for thieves to rebirth vans. A national program, the WOVR is designed to help combat the problem of so-called rebirthed vehicles. Rebirthing is the term used when identities of damaged vehicles are bought at auctions or elsewhere and put on to stolen vehicles to give them new vehicle identification numbers. The WOVR insists insurers, auctioneers and dismantlers access each state’s transport database to make sure details of written-off vehicles, including caravans, are up-to-date, which makes rebirthing difficult.
WHO IS AT RISK?
Ms Hutton said the decreasing cost of each caravan theft claim was likely due to thieves targeting lower value vans "as customers are less likely to secure these vans". While there are no figures to support this idea, it is an argument that, if correct, suggests that owners of cheaper vans and lower-cost imported vans should be more wary of the potential for caravan theft and theft from caravans.
Beyond that, it’s reasonable to assume that the caravans that attract the attention of thieves are also vans that are popular among owners.
Insurance figures from CIL, Apia, AAMI, GIO and Suncorp over the past three years show Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland are the hot spots for caravan theft. In terms of theft claims, Victoria accounted for 37 per cent, NSW for 30 per cent and Queensland for 18 per cent, with the rest of the country accounting for the remaining 15 per cent of theft claims.
IS THEFT ON THE RISE?
But not all insurers agree that caravan theft is falling. RACV Insurance figures released in January 2016 highlight the need for caravanners to remain alert. The latest RACV data shows that thieves continue to prey on caravans in Victoria, with an increase of 25 per cent in the number of stolen caravans in 2015 on 2014 figures.
RACV figures also show that in 2014/15, nine per cent of total caravan insurance claims were for caravan theft, costing $635,771.
The data also shows RACV received 1397 caravan-related insurance claims in 2014/15, with an average cost of $4960 per claim. However, the most expensive claim paid by RACV was not due to caravan theft but was $72,400 for fire damage caused by a fat-laden frying pan being left unattended on an active stove after the owner had returned from a trip. However, caravanners are becoming more mindful of their security when on the road because RACV figures show that theft of items from caravans decreased over the same period.
Victoria’s Crime Statistics Agency data supports the RACV findings. The agency data shows a statistically significant trend over the past five years with an average increase in total vehicle theft of almost six per cent per year. The Victorian vehicle theft hotspots are Port Phillip, Yarra, Melbourne, Maribyrnong and Ballarat. So it’s concerning, considering about a quarter of the Australian caravan fleet is registered in Victoria.
ADVICE FOR CARAVANNERS
Australia has one of the highest rates of vehicle theft in the western world, with almost 100,000 vehicles stolen each year and an estimated 500 caravans stolen last year, according to the Caravan Industry Association of Australia.
A report in 2011 by the West Australian Office of Crime Prevention stated that ‘motivated offenders had detailed knowledge of various makes of caravans, were aware that locks on vans and canvas annexes are easily accessible and knew how to enter a van where people are asleep without making the van rock’.
"Thieves are opportunistic," RACV general manager insurance Paul Northey said. "It is important that caravan owners be careful to lock up and secure their caravan and contents, whether they are at home or on the road.
"Caravanning is a wonderful pastime and leisure activity but owners must follow simple rules when towing, choosing a place to park and even when storing their caravan at home.
"It is also important that drivers prepare their car and caravan before any long trip. Preparation should include ensuring appropriate insurance cover to help provide peace of mind."
Caravan Industry Association of Australia chief executive Stuart Lamont said travellers needed to be just as security conscious on the road as they would be in their own home.
"So regardless of where you camp, take additional measures to avoid becoming the target of an opportunistic thief," he said. "You can immobilise your van or trailer with a hitch lock, ramp up your caravan’s locks and security screens, secure any valuables around your campsite, and take out appropriate insurance for your RV and belongings."
Mr Lamont said industry research showed most offences involving theft from caravans were petty theft and opportunistic crimes, and that campsites outside of caravan parks experienced more crime than caravan parks themselves.
"This owe to the fact that most caravan park managers have security procedures in place that can include clear property boundaries, good lighting, security cameras and secured storage areas for guests," he said.
The association recommends caravanners employ a range of strategies to prevent their vans being stolen; this includes wheel clamps, hitch locks, GPS alarms, immobilisers and tracking as well as rewriting or etching VIN numbers in various places inside your van, such as the underside of drawers, in cupboards or behind wood panelling.
The full feature appeared in Caravan World #549 March 2016. Subscribe today for the latest caravan reviews and news every month!