Van Life Security: Steps You Can Take To Keep You And Your Belongings Safe


Nothing beats the wind’s feel on your face as you cruise down the highway heading to your next adventure destination. You have all the necessary gear for hiking, rock climbing, camping, and surfing all packed in your converted van. The thought of what your next destination will bring puts a smile on your face. You just can’t wait to get there and meet new people, gain new friends, learn new things, and lock your van for a day full of outdoor fun. But then you wonder if your van locks are really enough to deter burglars and thieves. After all, your home on wheels is where your most precious belongings are.

What can you do to step up your van or RV security? The best answer to this is to get additional security systems for your motorhome. It doesn’t matter what kind of home-one-wheels you have. You can purchase different locks, security cameras, and other security system alarms that will beef up your vehicle’s security level.

There are actually two categories under vehicle security systems that you need to understand. They are the anti-burglar system and anti-theft system. Anti-burglary systems will prevent your vehicle from being tampered with and your van contents from being stolen. In contrast, anti-theft prevents anyone from stealing your whole car itself. We’ll be tackling both in this article because we know how important it is to cover your vehicle and the things inside your vehicle.

The Gear: What You Can Buy To Up Your Security Level.

There are a bunch of items you can purchase to level up your vehicle’s security. It is up to you if you want to get one or a combination of any of them for your car.

Get Security Cameras

This will mostly be one of the most popular solutions you will see when you search for RV or converted van security and for a very good reason. Having a surveillance camera that can capture the burglar’s face will surely help the authorities apprehend the responsible person. And if you are lucky enough, you might be able to get back your stolen stuff.

There are basically two types of surveillance cameras you can choose from: the wired system and the wireless system. Both types have indoor and outdoor categories.

Wired Security Camera System

A wired security camera system is basically a series of surveillance cameras connected to a central recording unit. Most indoor types of this camera are domed-shape and can be mounted on ceilings, which provide a wide range of views. One camera is enough to cover your main living area inside your van. You can add an additional unit in your driving area for more thorough coverage. The outdoor cameras have a cylindrical shape to them and, therefore, are called “bullet-style.” They can be mounted on walls and ceilings and are always weather resistant or waterproof. 

These kinds of camera surveillance systems are usually installed by professionals because of all the wiring they need. The cameras themselves are very obvious and can be easily detected by any would-be thieves, so it works as a deterrent.

Wireless Security Camera

A great way to beef up your van security is by installing one of these babies inside and outside your van. The only drawback for wireless cameras is that most need an internet connection or a Wi-Fi connection for you to view the surveillance footage. They also need to be plugged in if they are not battery operated. Some wireless cameras have an SD slot that allows you to store footage locally, even if your camera is not connected to the internet. They are pretty easy to set up, and the indoor ones can be placed discreetly inside your van. 

Outdoor wireless cameras operate the same way as the indoor types. The outdoor cameras are much bulkier in appearance and are designed to be weather resistant. Usually, these cameras come with a mounting plate that you use to attach your camera to your van. Not all wireless cameras record 24/7 footage. They typically only start recording when motion is detected. The best part about wireless cameras is that you can install both indoor and outdoor types on your own.

Security Camera Features Must-Haves

There are a few things that I would like my security camera to have, and I think that these are the basic ones that most vandwellers look for a camera too. Basically, I want my van security camera to be:

  • user friendly and easy to install. I mean, we are talking about a vanhome here, and simplicity and ease of use are very important. 
  • I want the camera to also have motion sensors and night vision capability to make sure that I capture important things even in low light settings. 
  • The ability to monitor using my phone is also a plus for me. As a vandweller, I know that I will be leaving my van parked somewhere when I am off on an adventure.
  • However, I know that there will be times when the internet connection might not be possible. Hence, I also want a security camera with some footage storage that is not cloud-based. 
  • Having an alarm or siren is also nice, but it is not that much of a big deal for me. 
  • I prefer a battery-operated security camera for my indoor surveillance because it is easier to hide inside a vehicle. 

Consider Additional Locks

For RVers, keyless door locks and coded door locks are good options if you want to go fully automated. You can also go for the traditional padlock or latches both inside and outside of the RV. As for vans, you can go the cheap way or the pricier way. Either will provide you with some semblance of security while you sleep or leave your van.

I do have to mention your locks’ placement because this can really matter a lot when you’re a van dweller. External locks may provide you a way to secure your house on wheels. I call them the Mr. Bean Lock style because of their look. These exterior locks may deter thieves and burglars, but they may also attract them. Having external locks that are obvious will suggest that you have valuables inside the vehicle. And if your exterior locks are flimsy and easy to tamper with, then you better look for a better one.

Internal locks, on the other hand, are very discreet and can be hard to tamper with. Most internal locks that are specifically designed for vans are constructed to be inconspicuous. You can go for slam lock or deadlocks to help you feel more secure without really giving away that you have an extra heavy lock in place. If you are keeping with the stealth camping lifestyle, then locks that are not showing outside will help make sure that your van maintains that low-key look.

There are heavy-duty external surface locks available, depending on the make and model of your van. It does not look as ugly as the Mr. Bean locks, but they still are pretty noticeable. Most vanlifers suggest that you use a combination of internal and external/surface locks to give you a better security level. But if you really are short on budget, you can install some slide latches inside your van for the meantime and then upgrade into better, more secure locks in the future. 

There are three main areas you want to make sure that is secured. The first is your driver and passenger doors, then there is your cabin sliding door and, of course, your cargo door/ backdoor. The locks mentioned above can be installed in all three areas, but it would still depend on your van’s make and model.

Have A Safety Lock Box And Hidden Compartments

Image Source: stashvault.com

If you are converting your van from the ground up, it would be good to find and build an accessible hidden compartment for your pricier belongings. But if you don’t have the luxury, time, or patience to customize your own hidden cubby somewhere, then you can just opt for a safety lock box that you can bolt in an inconspicuous area in your van. Some vanlifers combine the two options to ensure that their laptops, cameras, and other expensive equipment are safe and hidden from burglars.

Go For A Detachable Roof Ladder

Image Source: “Rooftop campervan road trip” by Spaceships Rentals is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0 

If you can, then choose a detachable roof ladder rather than having a built-in one because I cannot imagine myself waking up in the middle of the night because someone has climbed on top of my van to peep into my roof ventilation to see what items I have inside my van. A detachable ladder can also double as a weapon in case things go south.

Have A Vehicle Alarm System

I included this because there are vanlifers who have converted older vehicles into their vanhome. The older models may or may not have working alarm systems already installed. Having a vehicle alarm system will help keep your belongings safe when you leave your home on wheels. Furthermore, outdated and faulty alarms should be replaced as soon as possible because you’ll never know what kind of neighborhood you’ll end up next.

Buy An Aftersales Alarm System Too

Vans that already have an existing car alarm can upgrade their factory-installed alarms by installing sensors and motion detectors to work with their current van alarm system. Some opt to have alarms that will work with the existing key fob, while others prefer a different fob for the added alarm system. It really depends on your preference. 

Install A Hidden GPS Tracker

Most of the stuff written above only works for burglars, but what about if the thief wants your whole vehicle? This is where hidden GPS Trackers can help you out. It is recommended that you install this nifty gadget on your van, in a place that is hard to reach and is hidden from plain sight. This will allow you to pinpoint where your vehicle exactly is and make it that much easier for authorities to trace and apprehend the person who stole your home.  

Motion Activated Security Lights

I’d prefer solar-powered ones here and also one that can be turned on and off manually. There are cheap kinds, and there are not so cheap kinds. Any of the two options will do, as long as it works properly. I prefer the option of manually turning it on or off, but it is not that of a big deal. The cheap kinds that operate under solar power don’t have on and off buttons. All you have to do is stick it on your outside van surface, and it will light up when it detects movement.

A Steering Wheel Lock And Wheel Clamps

Image Source: “Prague” by ecastro is licensed under CC BY 2.0 

Another car theft deterrent is the steering wheel clamps. In my opinion, all vehicles should have one of these because they are easy to put on and can double as a weapon if worse comes to worst. Most car thieves will stir away from cars with this anti-theft device because, again, this makes it harder for them to get in and drive away fast.

Wheel clamps are another anti-car theft device that works similarly to the steering wheel. The only difference is that you fit this baby on your actual wheel and not the steering wheel. Yes, it is possible to bypass this tool using a screwdriver, but then again, that few seconds or minutes might be all that it takes for you to call the authorities or activate the vehicle alarm system scaring away the bad guys.

Smaller Windows, Window Alarms And Security Window Film

Many vandwellers like to change how large their rear windows are. Most prefer smaller windows because it is more secure than a large glass window that can be easily broken and used as an entrance by burglars. Those precious seconds count when you are in the exact moment because it might be all the time you need to grab a weapon or activate your alarm and chase the thieves away.

There are many window alarms that you can check out. Still, for a home-on-wheels, any motion-detecting window alarms are not advisable. What most vanlifers use are magnetic window alarms. They are battery operated and are manually turned on and off via a switch on the device itself. This type of window alarm is straightforward to install. All you have to do is put the batteries in, peel the adhesive film, and then stick it on your windows. This works very efficiently, and you can power it on even if you are sleeping inside your vehicle.

Since we are already in the “window” matters, I’d like to suggest that you have your windows heavily tinted. The darker the tint, the better. This helps your home on wheels stay safe by not allowing any passerby to spy what is inside your van. The tint film or the window film doubles as another layer of protection if someone tries to break in your vehicle by smashing a window. That thin film will provide you a few extra precious seconds (around 2 or 3) to grab your keys and hop into the driver seat to drive away. The few extra seconds may also be enough to grab your taser, stun gun, or any hidden weapon.

Acquire Content Insurance

The fact that your home is your van means that you own and store valuables inside your vehicle. And if you are one of the many digital nomads who travel and work simultaneously, then all your tools of trade and equipment will be stored in your van also. Having insurance for your belongings will ensure that you are covered in the off chance that you get burglarized. Don’t just stop with insuring your car and the passengers on it, go ahead and look into getting some content insurance too. It is best to be prepared and ready than sorry.

Should You Turn Your Van Into A SmartVan Home

This is actually not a new concept. Many artists and other vandwellers with deep pockets were able to convert a van into a smartvan. Mercedes Benz even has a conceptualized Sprinter smartvan that integrates all its ambient lighting, sound system, refrigerator temp control, awning control, and cabin temp control into one module. 

Basically, a smartvan is a van with smart devices built or installed into it, which can be controlled via a control screen in the vehicle or via a phone app. These smart devices can also be voice-controlled via either Alexa, Google Assistant Siri, Cortana, or a built-in voice-command module in the car.

Van Life Security Best Practices

Knowing the latest locks, alarms, and other security equipment for vans is only half the work. Yeah, you have all the latest techs and gadgets installed and working correctly, but they won’t be of much help if someone really wants to break in or steal your home on wheels. So, I’ve compiled the most common practices that vanlifers swear to ensure that they are safe and sound for the night or their van is secure when they leave.

Don’t Become Complacent

Never let your guard down even if you are parked in a place that is already recommended or frequented by other vandwellers. Always be ready to hightail your way out of your current location because it is better to run away than face bad people who want to do bad things. You gotta keep in mind that life will not always be fair, and that sh*t happens. That’s just how it is.

Know The Place

Observation is key. Walk around your spot and look for signs of unfavorable disruptions like discarded beer bottles. This is a sure sign that the place is not a place for you to spend the night. Case the place out and see if your van will blend in with the area or stand out like a sore thumb amidst the surrounding. Remember that you have valuables in your van and therefore need to be extra careful where you park and camp.

Back Up When You Park

This is a must if you ask me. It will be easier to drive your way out of your current location when you back-up park. In addition to this, you need to make sure that your van keys are within arms reach if you will be spending the night in it. Never leave your keys in the ignition though, this can be a potential reason why someone is trying to break in your home on wheels.

Keep A Flashlight Handy

Image Source: amazon.com

I think one that has a built-in stun would be a good fit for van lifers. It will provide you with both a light source and a handy weapon. You’ll never know when you might need a stun gun to defend yourself. Even if there is more than one burglar or thief outside, having one stunned down can be a big difference. And if you are a lady who is living in your van alone, then this should be part of your must-haves.

Buy Some Pepper Spray

There is a debate going on about the effectiveness of using pepper spray in an enclosed space. It seems that if you spray someone while inside your vehicle, you run the risk of blinding yourself too. Having said that, getting away or driving away will become very difficult in this situation. So, many suggest that you only use pepper spray outside, and if you are debating using it inside, then it is a “use at your own risk” condition. It is still a good idea to have this on hand. I personally don’t like the idea of not driving away, but I can always use the spray when I am outside.

Have A Lockable And Reinforced Cable Straps

It is important to make sure that any storage you have outside your vehicle is adequately secured. This is where the lockable reinforced cable straps come in handy. Depending on your van’s design, your roof rack is a valuable storage space you cannot take for granted. The reinforced lockable cable straps are perfect for any vanhome owner who wants to ensure that their overhead carriage is secured and not easily detached and accessible by thieves.

Have A Spare Car Key Hidden

Having a spare key has saved me a lot of trouble when I lock myself out of the house, the room, and, yes, my car. Since your vehicle is your home, it is much more important to make sure that you have a spare key hidden somewhere. Buy a magnetic lockable key case and place it under your hood or anywhere that only you will know.

The magnetic key case can also double as your car key storage when you go surfing and have nowhere or nobody to leave your key for safekeeping. Just make sure that you place this key case somewhere hidden from plain sight. Also, make sure that you switch your key case location from time to time to throw off any burglars and thieves.

Separate Your Driving Area From Your Living Space

Opinions for this idea differ a lot because from the perspective of the person inside the vanhome, trying to get away from a burglar or thief is a bit harder if there is a wall or door that separates your living space from the front of your van. Others would argue that most break-ins will happen through the passenger or driver doors and not the cargo bay doors or the slide doors. Having that wall separating your living space from the front will add a security level for the dwellers. Both are valid points, in my opinion, the wall divider can be both a hindrance and a security measure. It will boil down to what you are comfortable with.

Cut Power To The Fuel Pump

This is actually pretty smart, I’ve read a car owner who suggested this to vandwellers on Reddit. It will stop anyone from taking your van and your belongings because the car won’t start unless you flick a hidden switch (which only you would know where). 

Plan Your Exit Strategy

Scout the surrounding roads and look for the best route you can take if you need to bail out asap. You don’t want to accidentally turn a corner to find out that it’s a dead end. Map out the place and have a main exit route and a secondary exit route. Being prepared to drive away as soon as you can, will be part of your daily routine now that you live in your van.

The Budget: How High Is Too High

 When it comes to your security, it is a little hard to pinpoint when enough is enough. I mean, you can never have enough security, especially since you are living in your van. So for the sake of having an idea and a baseline for how much you should spend on your van security, let’s break down the things you must have and put an estimated cost to each. We’ll tally it at the end to see how much it all costs.

Item NameEstimated Cost
1.Van Basic Alarm System$150
2.Security Cameras (1 indoor and outdoor)$350
3.Additional Locks (all doors)$400
4.GPS Tracker$60
5.Steering Wheel Lock$40
6.Security Window Film$30
7.Security Lights$40
Total$1,070

There you have it. A budget of about $1,000 can be your baseline; that is, if you want all that I listed to be included in your overall security system. Security is a bit tricky to talk about because frankly speaking, I’d rather err on the safe side than be sorry later.

Conclusion

As vandwellers, you already know that there are so many aspects of the lifestyle that really makes it all worth the sacrifice and hardship. Living in a limited space and having to move parking and sleeping spots frequently really is a hassle. However, your and your vehicle’s security should be among the things you need to be on top of. You’ll never know when sh*t hits the fan.

Ash

Hi! this is a filling profile to remind me to make a better one AND figure out how to get my pic on gravatar ;)

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