A few smart tips to keep your motorhome safe and to prevent break-ins.
By Peter D. Du Pre
The average motorhome is left unattended in a driveway or storage yard most of the time. Even when being actively used, RVs often are left unlocked in the campground as their owners recreate with neighbors, go for walks, or shop nearby. This makes RVs tempting and easy targets for thieves, as there is less chance of the intruders being caught.
Think about all the valuable items and cool technological devices you keep in your motorhome: RVs are full of goodies such as flat-screen TVs, DVD players, stereos, digital cameras, jewelry, GPS units, tools, sporting goods, and generators — items that easily can be pawned or sold.
Then there is the motorhome itself. Damage to the RV caused by a break-in could set you back hundreds to thousands of dollars, depending upon the level of insurance protection you carry. Added to that is the inconvenience and sense of violation that a break-in and theft can produce.
What’s more, the average RV is exceptionally easy to break in to. Getting inside may take only 30 seconds or so, and the thief can be in and out in only a couple of minutes — long before anyone is even aware of the break-in.
So, what can RVers do, short of investing in a junkyard dog and a shotgun to protect their vehicle? Start by thinking about where you park. Unless you are a full-timer, odds are your RV is kept in your driveway or in a storage yard. Either way, most of the time no one is around to watch the unit; so, it is vital to make sure that the vehicle is not an attractive target. That means, if at all possible, park your motorhome in a well-lit area and where it can be seen easily by others.
At home, install a motion-activated spotlight. At the storage facility, don’t park in a dark corner of the yard. Make sure doors and windows are locked and the curtains are closed, so no one can see inside. It is also a good idea to disconnect the starter battery with a hidden cutoff switch, and to make sure the fuel fill has a locking cap, even if it also has a locking fuel door.
Next, change out all the locks for ones of better quality. RV manufacturers mainly use only a couple of different locks (CH751 or ES201 — check your key ring) to secure doors and storage compartments. Someone else’s keys can open your unit. Why lose your possessions because of a $2 lock on a storage compartment? Also, make sure you install a quality deadbolt in the door to augment the standard RV door lock.
While traveling, keep the RV locked anytime you are more than a few feet away from it. This is particularly true at roadside rest areas, food and fuel stops, and even in the RV park when you pop next door for a visit.
At the campground, don’t leave valuables such as golf clubs, barbecue grills, or bicycles in the open and unattended. Secure them with a quality cable lock to discourage grab-and-go thieves. Before leaving the coach to go visiting or shopping at the camp store, turn on the radio or TV, lock the windows, and close the curtains. At night, turning on a lamp makes it look as though someone is home, as does leaving on the exterior door light. If you plan to be away for some time, put the interior lamp on a timer so that it turns on and off at different times to make it seem as though the vehicle is occupied.
Never brag about your gear to strangers. That friendly motorhomer you talked with at the camp store could be prospecting for valuables. So, although you may be proud of the 42-inch flat screen you just installed or the new laptop you purchased, remaining mum will allow you to keep them.
Add visual deterrents such as a flashing LED by the doorway and stickers in the windows indicating that you have an alarm (even if you don’t). Thieves will see these and usually move on to easier pickings. They don’t want an ear-piercing alarm announcing their presence.
FMCA offers an antitheft sticker intended to help discourage break-ins. The sticker indicates that a reward will be paid to anyone who provides information leading to the arrest and conviction of someone burglarizing a member’s motorhome. Contact the FMCA national office if you need one for your motorhome.
Every RV should have some type of alarm system installed to deter break-ins. RV alarm systems can vary from simple eardrum-shattering alerts to sophisticated units that offer GPS tracking or can interface with smoke- and propane detectors and send a text message if a problem exists. Prices range from less than $100 to several thousand dollars; there is a unit for every budget.
No alarm works, however, unless it is activated. Arm the alarm when locking up. I prefer alarms that offer a two-tier security system — that is, a loud audible alarm to scare the burglar and alert neighbors, and electronic notification to a cell phone through a text alert.
Although there are too many alarm systems on the market to list them all here, following are a few options to give you an idea of what is available.
Global RV Guardian
Global RV Guardian from Guardian Systems is a wireless satellite security system that builds a virtual fence around a parked RV, using wireless sensors to detect unauthorized entry, smoke, heat, high water levels, GPS coordinates, loss of power, and low battery voltage.
The system can be installed quickly. Simply connect the Global Guardian to a 12-volt power supply and then peel off the backing tape on the sensors and place them in the designated areas. The unit will call up to four phone number contacts and send a message to four different e-mail addresses. You can log on to the Internet to view a history of events and to receive status and GPS coordinates for your Global RV Guardian. You also can arm or disarm the system via the Internet, just in case you want to allow access to an unexpected guest who arrives when you are not near the RV.
Each Global RV Guardian includes the main unit, one loss-of-power sensor, two intrusion sensors, one key fob, and a satellite antenna. Additional parts such as a smoke sensor, a heat sensor, and an infrared intrusion detector can be added.
The company also offers the RV Guardian, a lower-priced unit that works via a cellular network rather than via satellite.
Prices range from $700 to $1,400.
Guardian Systems LLC, 2817 Basswood Road, Manitowoc, WI 54220; www.guardianwireless.com; (920) 769-0066.
Although primarily designed for home use, the PowerMax+ from Visonic easily adapts to RV use via a 12-volt power hookup. Each unit has a control panel with two-way voice communication, two door and window transmitters, a pet-tolerant passive infrared sensor (PIR), a key fob transmitter, a transformer, and a 24-hour battery backup system. The unit can be programmed for up to 28 wireless supervised zones and two hardwired zones.
The PowerMax+ is available with indoor motion detectors, door/window contacts, carbon monoxide detectors, water/flood detectors, smoke detectors, and outdoor siren/strobes. It arms and disarms via a key fob or user codes (up to eight). Prices vary depending upon the features and options chosen and begin at approximately $210.
Visonic Inc., a Tyco Security Products company, 6 Industrial Park Drive, Westford, MA 01886; www.visonic.com; (800) 223-0020.
Pro-Tec System One
Those who tow an enclosed trailer to transport a vehicle or other items can protect the unit and its contents with the Pro-Tec System One from Tomal Systems. The system monitors all doors and any movement of the trailer by means of an accelerometer and door pin switches. Any movement of the trailer or opening the doors triggers the alarm, causing lights to flash, a siren to sound, and the electric brakes on the trailer to be applied, making moving it impossible. The security system operates with a 12-volt-DC battery installed inside the trailer, so thieves can’t cut the wires. The suggested retail price is $585 for the base unit and $785 for a system that uses either cellular notification or a local pager with a one-mile range (and no service fees).
Tomal Systems LLC, 114 Mariners Court, New Bern, NC 28562; www.protecsystemone.com; (888) 741-1004, (252) 633-4584.
The RV Nanny
The RV Nanny from Sensormetrics is a wireless alarm system that reportedly can be installed in less than 10 minutes. Upon alarm activation, it sends a text message to the owner’s cell phone or sends an e-mail. The unit employs a GSM network and works wherever cell phone coverage is available. A preinstalled Datablaze/T-Mobile SIM card costs less than $10 per month and includes 300 text messages a month, or you can buy your own SIM card from a GSM cellular carrier and use a “pay as you go” plan.
Main features include interior temperature monitoring (high and low temperature); an intruder motion sensor; an AC-DC loss-of-power monitor that automatically switches the unit to internal battery power and notifies you; a smoke detector that monitors the existing smoke/fire alarm and notifies you; and a microphone that allows you to silently call in and listen to activities in the vehicle. The suggested retail price starts at $949.
Sensormetrics Inc., 176 E. Main St. #6, Westborough, MA 01581; www.RVnanny.com; (866) 435-3759.
Selecting A Storage Facility
Choose a storage yard that is surrounded by chain-link fencing at least 7 feet high and with a razor- or barbed-wire deterrent at the top. The yard should be wide open and well lit, and the RVs should be parked far enough apart so that thieves cannot hide easily between the units.
Multiple pass-code security gates should be on the premises, requiring the use of a security code for entry or exit. Other hallmarks of a safety-focused facility include regular security patrols; 24-hour closed-circuit TV; and, ideally, a live-in caretaker. If the yard you are considering also offers storage lockers, ask the management whether RV storage is separately fenced and requires an additional pass code for entry.
RV Security Tips
- Always lock the RV, even if stepping away for just a couple of minutes.
- Keep the curtains closed when the vehicle is in storage.-Turn on a light or the TV/radio when leaving for a while.
- Lock windows when you leave; crack the roof vents if needed for airflow.
- Keep valuables out of sight and locked away.-Replace standard door and storage compartment locks with improved versions.
- Park in well-lit and easily viewed areas.
- Install an alarm system. Be sure to arm the alarm.
- Place warning stickers in windows stating that you have an alarm (even if you don’t).
- Consider installing fuel and battery cutoff switches.
- Don’t leave keys in the RV — keep them on your person.
- Don’t depend solely on the storage yard for security. Do an on-site inspection every week or so.
- If you keep your RV some distance from your residence (out of state, for example), consider hiring someone trustworthy to regularly check on your unit.