Van life security. It’s a really big deal, whether you’re an occasional van lifer, or a full time van lifer.
Keeping you, your van and your possessions safe is a big priority, so with the help of real van lifers, I’ve put together this comprehensive guide to help keep you, your van and your possessions safe and secure whilst you’re travelling, exploring and living your dream lifestyle.
Of course, not all tips and advice here will be suitable for your van – there’s a million different variations on how your van may be set up, but do have a look at all the van life security tips here, discard the ones that are no use or not applicable to you, and take away the handful that may be of use to you.
There’s a really handy table of contents just below. Click on a heading and it will take you directly to that information right on this page. We are Amazon Associates, and earn a commission on qualifying purchases. Any product links will take you to Amazon.
Table of Contents
Van Life Security – Aim Of This Ultimate Guide
The aim of this guide is to:
- Help protect you from coming to any harm.
- Help protect your van from being broken into.
- Help protect your van from being stolen.
As with any security tips, measures, devices products or tactics, none of them come with guarantees.
If somebody really wanted to break into your van or camper, they will.
All you can really do is target harden your van and layer security measures one on top of each other to make sure you are not making it easy for them.
Remember, opportunist thieves and low level ciminals will strike when there’s an easy opportunity.
And opportunist thieves are the main threat when it comes to van life security and van break ins.
Don’t give them an inch of opportunity.
Make it hard for them.
The harder it is, and the harder it looks, the less likely they will even try.
And if they do try, the measures you hopefully implement from this article will prevent them from gaining access, or slow them down to the point where the time it is taking them to break in leads to their discovery and disturbance – and giving up the attempted break in.
Van Life Security – Layers
And it concerns these three basic security principles: Deter, Detect, Deny.
Deter: An opportunist thief walks past your van whilst your out on the beach one day. They know you have possessions in there. So they turn back, and scope the van out again. They see the additional security measures you’ve implemented. They carry on walking, looking for an easier target.
Detect: The same thief is back again, this time they try the door handles, and they notice the detection measures you’ve put in place. They decide to find an easier target.
Deny: The same thief doesn’t care about the above measures you’ve put in, and uses a screwdriver and crowbar to tamper with and force the locks. Even with the locks disabled, a denial measure has been implemented, and they walk off empty handed anyway.
Use a combination of these three principles for your van or camper van, and you are making things harder for your average criminal or opportunist thief to break into your van and either steal your valuables, or steal the van itself.
A Fine Line
Van life security is important, but there’s also a fine line between making your van overly complicated and congested with security features, and becoming a pain in the backside for you to easily enter and exit your vehicle without having to perform twenty actions to secure your van and then re-enter it.
Only you can decide on what to implement and what not to implement, but do try and get that fine line right – too many van security features will become a pain, and too little will put you at risk.
1. Park4Night App
The biggest threat to van life security is of course, where you choose to park – either whilst out exploring or overnight whilst you’re asleep.
Your surroundings will always dictate the level of threat and security, so why not try and get a heads up on where you are, what facilities are available and what other people’s experiences have been?
Park4Night is an mobile app available on Android and iPhone. It’s free.
It’s like Trip Advisor for van dwellers – and also contains info on where you can park for free.
It’s by no means perfect, and the content is user dependent. But it’s free and has 1m+ downloads.
Search for Park4Night in your app store and give it a whirl.
If you’ve got a better suggestion, be sure to leave it in the comments section!
2. Park With Common Sense
As well as using apps like Park4Night above, and without trying to teach you to suck eggs, you need to apply some basic common sense when parking up.
Choosing a parking place and being aware of your surroundings and aware of the area you’re in will reduce the risk of break in and theft. Of course, statistically speaking, towns and cities are the most likely place you’re going to have an increased security risk, but equally at risk are places of interest or beauty, beaches and generally any areas that have an influx of visitors or tourists.
Consider some of the following tips to reduce the risk of opportunist thieves breaking into your van:
- Remove a potential access point by parking strategically – maybe there’s a fence, wall, security railings, or even a tree that you can park up against that will prevent, for instance, your rear doors being opened?
- Strength in depth. Park where others are parked, giving a sense of security and community.
- Park in well lit places where possible. Thieves love the cover of darkness.
- If you’re in a car park, check the ground – if there are fragments of glass around, it indicates the area has a probelm with car or van break ins.
- Park pointed outwards – meaning, if you need to jump in your drivers seat and drive yourself out of danger, you can put it into first gear and drive away quickly and without obstruction.
The very nature of van life and the lifestyle that surrounds it goes against all of the above – we know.
Just try to be sensible, and listen to your gut feeling, always.
3. Audit Your Weak Spots
Similar to doing an audit a homeowner would do, make sure you audit your van for vulnerabilities and weak spots.
And it’s not hard. Windows and doors are the weak spot.
Ask yourself this:
If you were a criminal and wanted to break into your van, what’s the easiest way to do it?
Once you’ve got your answers, work on improving those areas of your van security.
4. Improve Door Security
Factory fitted locks on vans are average at the best of times.
Do consider using additional measures to target harden your windows, add extra layers of security and make it life harder for thieves and criminals.
Driver And Passenger Door Security (Cab)
The cheapest and easiest way of securing your van doors is to try the looped seatbelt trick.
It won’t work on all vans (the bigger the cab, the less likely this will work), but give this a try.
Pull the seatbelt down (as if you are putting it on yourself), but loop it around the door grab handle and then buckle it in. If it reaches, great. Go round and now try and open your door from the outside.
You’ll find the fastened seatbelt will actually prevent the door from being opened (or it will open just a smidge) – a little bit like if you were in a collision, the seatbelt would lock you in place and prevent you from going through the windscreen.
So if someone were to defeat the door lock, they still wouldn’t be able to open the door to enter the vehicle because the seatbelt is preventing the door from being opened.
Of course, smashing the window and then cutting the seatbelt would defeat this measure, but the most important thing here is that you’re making it harder for them to gain access.
You can use this method whilst in the van at night for extra peace of mind, and depending on your van access and egress setup, you may even be able to set this up before you leave your van for the day too.
This again makes use of the door grab handles. For this to work, you’ll need a loop cable or a chain, and a padlock. I recommend a loop cable (see below). A chain is too bulky and noisy.
And all you are doing here is essentially securing one door against another – so one door pulls against the shut door opposite.
(Measure the width of your cab first, door grab handle to door grab handle, and then obviously double this measurement to get the corrent length).
Loop the cable around one door grab handle, loop it around the opposite door grab handle, and secure it in the middle by using a padlock to go around the two loops that meet in the centre.
If it’s too slack, double loop the cable around one of the door grab handles – the idea being that this needs to be tight.
If done correctly, then with unlocked doors, try and open one of the doors normally – the door may open slightly, but the cable with the padlock on it secured against the opposite door prevents it from opening.
I also recommend going for a combination padlock over a keyed padlock – one less key to fumble about for, and you don’t need to worry about lost keys.
Side Sliding Door Security
Factory fitted locks on side slide doors are not the best when it comes to security.
A simple solution to this is to double up – or layer up, as discussed above.
The Millenco locking system gives your doors an extra layer of security, so now any thieves will need to over come two locking systems instead of one.
If you don’t like the reviews that comes with this locking system, consider the Stop Lock – it’s an excellent deterrent.
Rear Door Security
See above for our two recommended products – these will fit rear doors, as well as sliding doors.
5. Improve Window Security
Your windscreen is the largest piece of glass in your van and offers a great view outside.
Unfortunately, it also offers a great view inside too.
Simple advice here, don’t leave valuables on show. Leave them on show, whether that’s a Go Pro on the windscreen, or a mobile phone in the centre console, and an opportunist thief will smash a side window or try and jemmying a door to steal those items.
Equally, try to use curtains or privacy guards when parked up to prevent people seeing through the windscreen straight into your living and sleeping area. At a minimum, use curtains or privacy covers on your driver and passenger side windows.
There’s absolutely no getting away from this – your windows in your van are the absolute weak spot.
If a thief wants to enter your van, all they need to do is to smash the window and climb in.
Thankfully, this will create a lot of noise, and it’s not a preferred entry point – smashed windows are usually part of a smash and grab act – so again, valuables should not be left on display.
The only real viable option is removable window bars. We’ll let Nate Murphy explain those below (Go to 38 seconds on the timeline for a look at window security).
Again, something important to note here is your approach to layered security. It’s not just about windows in isolation.
It’s about the whole package of security measures you implement within your van, and hopefully you have enough visual detterents to make somebody walk away from your van.
If you take on this approach fully, and adopt some of the measures on this page, then the likelihood and risk of someone smashing a window to gain entry decreases.
6. Van Safe
Do buy a safe.
Install it under seating or within cupboard areas, and make sure it’s bolted or welded to the frame of your van.
This then becomes a really secure storage space for cash, documents, laptops, tablets, cameras, drones and all your other valuable possessions and equipment.
A small safe will not cost you much. You really don’t need to buy the very best either – the idea here is to simply slow down any criminal who is in your van looking for valuables.
Any safe is better than no safe at all.
The safe below will improve your general van life security and give you some peace of mind when you’re away from your van.
It comes in all different sizes (to find that perfect fit in your van), comes from a known and trusted brand and most importantly has a keypad entry system – no need to carry additional keys around with you.
The only problem you’ll have here is the obvious – finding space for it, or finding a suitable spot for it. And of course, you’ll want the safe out of view, and ideally, hidden within a storage space.
7. Sticker Up Your Van – Psy Ops
Conduct your own psychological operations by using warning signs of what will happen if someone attempts to break into your van.
Warnings of trackers, CCTV or even dogs in prominent places will at least make a criminal think twice, and will let them know that you are security conscious.
They are cheap and easy to implement. Here’s a selection of example stickers and signs:
WINDOW STICKER RECOMMENDATIONS
8. Simple Steering Wheel Lock
Converted vans and camper vans are worth a lot of money, and hold their value very well.
For that very reason, thieves like to steal them.
They can’t steal them however, if they can’t move the steering wheel.
Invest in a steering wheel lock, and use it whenever the van is stationary – it’s a great deterrent too.
9. Simple Wheel Lock
Use a wheel lock in conjunction with a steering wheel lock (above), and you’ve got yourself a van that’s now almost impossible to steal.
These will take up some storage in your van when not in use, but using this in addition to a steering wheel lock, especially when parked up for a period of time, will deter anyone from trying to steal your van.
10. Ladders? Do this…
If you have ladders on the side or on the back of your van to give acess to things like solar panels and roof boxes, then try and secure it.
Yes, it’s fixed to your van, so how exactly do you secure ladders so nobody can simply climb up and try and break into your roofbox or attempt to steal your solar panels?
It’s not easy, but some manufacturers make ladder guards which basically close off the rungs with a sheet of metal, essentially removing any way of anyone climbing up the ladders.
Don’t know what I mean? Here’s an example:
We appreciate this maybe a step too far (pun intended), and it probably won’t be easy to find something like this for your factory fitted ladders, but if you are concerned about your solar panels or roof box, then it’s worth checking to see if the manufacturer of your vehicle and ladders have such an option available to purchase.
11. Light Them Up
If anybody watches Chrome and VanCityVanlife on Youtube, they’ll know that he has lightbars and perimeter lights going all around his vehicle.
This will totally depend on your budget and type of van you have, but it’s a great idea if you can get these installed.
The idea is this: if he feels spooked whilst in the van at night, he can light up the entire perimeter of his van with a single flip of a switch, potentially shocking and dettering any criminals that were up to no good.
The added benefit is that these can be used for general purposes as well.
Oh, and here’s Chrome, and his lighting solution:
Motion Sensing Solar LED Lights
A cheaper and easier way to do the above is to have indivdual motion sensor lights installed around your van.
They are also powered by solar, with a small solar panel fitted to the top of your van.
You can also switch them off and on with a press of the button, and change modes, for when you don’t want them in use.
You will need to find a way to mount the light and the solar panel – these come with mounting brackets, but they come with screws and rawl plugs for masonary.
12. Remote Alarm – Scare Tactics
This is a bit of a wildcard, but here goes.
You are sleeping in your van and you hear the handles being tried.
Someone is trying to gain access to your van.
What do you do? Well, one of the things I once saw was a personal alarm system not to dissimilar to the one below.
The idea is, if you feel spooked or threatened, you can press a button on the wireless remote and it would initiate an alarm and a flashing light. The one I saw was installed near the roof air vent, so pressing the alarm would sound an alarm to the outside, which would potentially scare off any theives that don’t want attention drawn to them.
Like I say, it’s a wildcard. But it might just give you that extra peace of mind.
13. Quality Roof Box
If you have fixed ladders on the side or rear of your van, and you don’t want to use a ladder cover as in tip number 9, then do make sure that your roof box is a good one.
Typically you’ll have tools and general bits and pieces stored in here, and although it’s not the need of the world if these items are stolen, it’s the fallout from it that usually causes most pain – you now have a roofbox that maybe won’t secure because someone has broken the lock on it.
So do make sure your roof box is strong and sturdy as a roof box can be, and go for quality if possible.
14. Security Bollards
If you keep your van, camper or motorhome on your drive when not in use, consider installing some security bollards for driveways.
These are simply security bollards that you see in every city these days, but made for homeowners at an affordable price and reasonably easy to install yourself (depending on which one you buy).
Combine a security bollard at the end of your driveway, with a steering wheel lock, and you’ve got yourself an extremely secure van that isn’t going to be nicked nytime soon.
15. Other Security Measures
There’s a few more that we should mention, but the number one is insurance.
Do make sure you are fully insured, as well as insuring all of the contents of your van against theft, damage or fire.
The other one is CCTV.
CCTV in a van is an excellent detterent, but it comes with lots of niggling problems. We recommend a cheap solution if you just want a basic setup, but if you want your CCTV to be more robust, then you will need to think about all manner of things from wiring, to power source to WIFI needs.
Van Life Safety
It would be remiss of us not to cover a little bit of safety here, and this is just a reminder more than anything as we know a lot of van lifers are extremely safety conscious when it comes to things like carbon monoxide detectors, smoke detectors and fire extinguishers in their vans.
If you have all of these items, now is a good time to remind yourself to check them all – hit that test button on any alarms you have, replace any batteries and check the expiry dates on any fire extinguishers you have.
And just in case you don’t yet have any of these items, here’s our recommendations.
Smoke Detector & Carbon Monoxide Detector All In One
Space is a premium when it comes to van life.
That’s why we recommend this very well reviewed and very popular all in one smoke and carbon monoxide detector.
Carbon monoxide kills. If you have any appliances in your van that burns fossil fuels, then you need one of these (hint – your engine burns fossil fuels).
Wheteher you’ve got a small heater, a gas stove or a portable stove, you run the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
And in a small enclosed space, if a fire does break out, you want to be alerted as soon as possible, especially if you’re asleep.
Why have two seperate devices, when you can have one?
Don’t want this one? No problem – check out the best carbon monoxide detector for UK homes (Top 3).
A fire blanket is an excellent safety addition for van life.
It’s small, compact, and is great when you experience a small fire whilst cooking for example.
This is an absolute necessity. If you don’t have a fire extinguisher in your van, or you’ve put off buying one, now is the time to seriously consider buying one – it could save your life, and save your entire van from burning to the ground.
Of course, early indication of fire is essential – make sure you have a working smoke detector installed too.
The one recommended below is a small form fire extinguisher. It’s made specifically for small spaces like vans, motor homes and boats. And it’s going to cost you the equivalent of three takeaway coffees from Starbucks.
We recommend having at least two of these. And one must be installed near to your sleeping space and in easy reach for maximum safety.
That being said, your safety and your life comes first – the safest thing to do is always to get out, stay out and dial 999 – your van can be replaced, you can’t.
Nate Murphy has a great collection of security hacks for vanlife security in this video here:
Your Tips, Comments & Questions
Are you a van lifer or van dweller? Occasional or full time? Have you had any problems with security? What products do you use? What’s your best tips for van life security that you can share?
Please do share them in the comments section below!
Stay Safe. Stay Secure.