Stop thieves! Ways to protect your heavy equipment from getting stolen

Ryan Whisner Headshot
Updated Sep 2, 2022
Cat wheel loader hauling load of gravel
Memorial Day weekend and other holidays can serve as a buffet for equipment thieves looking to hit construction jobsites.

That new wheel loader that you dropped off at the jobsite will improve efficiency for your crews. It’s also going to make it a potential target of heavy equipment thieves during holidays, like Labor Day weekend.

Construction sites are like the Bacchanal Buffet at Caesar’s Palace for equipment thieves. Most are poorly lit and unmanned during the night, and they contain a plethora of materials, tools and heavy equipment just waiting to be taken.

According to the National Equipment Register, which maintains a database on equipment ownership and theft, heavy equipment theft rates tend to mirror the overall economy. With the current increase in Covid vaccinations and eased restrictions in most areas, Memorial Day weekend is expected to be a busy one for home improvement and DIY businesses. Equipment crimes are expected to follow the same pattern, and all areas should consider theft a real threat.

NER’s data show that jobsite and dealer yard burglaries are rising. 2020 and 2021 saw an increase of machine thefts from jobsites, dealerships and storage locations, including contractors' shop yards and agricultural outbuildings.

Also, the surge of equipment rental fraud and conversion thefts that have plagued the industry since 2018 is expected to continue. NER says outright thefts from rental yards add another dimension to the problem. The rental fraud and “smash and grab” style thieves are expected to be active this spring, particularly leading into and over the holiday weekend.

Over the past five years, Texas, Florida and California have ranked as the top three targeted states, with a total value loss of $7.7 million, according to the NER. Mowers, skid steers and utility vehicles are at the top of the list of stolen items, but any type of equipment is vulnerable to these thieves. 

Part of the challenge with equipment thieves is they strike quickly, day or night. The daylight scams involve false repair orders shown as an individual coming in, loading a piece of equipment and just driving it off the lot. They use their own truck and lowboys, and it takes them only minutes to get a dozer, excavator or backhoe and head down the road. 

See below for a checklist of some precautions you can take to protect your equipment:

Use technology

  • Install security cameras and alarms. There are hundreds of these available today, so your best bet is to hire a security consultant to help you choose a quality, tamper-proof camera system. Security cameras can distinguish between a raccoon and a person, so you won’t be alerted every time local wildlife comes searching for a meal. The price of an expert consultation on these systems is well worth the money. 
  • Regularly test alarms and cameras in daylight and after dark to confirm capture of usable images of license plates, faces and vehicles. If you are getting a high number of false alarms, potential thieves may be testing your responsiveness; watch for vehicles “casing” the property. Contact the local police.
  • Telematics have made a huge difference in equipment security. Alerts can be set when machines exit a geofence designated by the software. Many OEMs offer their own telematics, and there are multiple aftermarket vendors. 
  • GPS tracking devices can be attached to non-mobile equipment, such as generators, compressors, welders and light towers, to give you alerts and position information.

Harden your perimeter

  • Make sure fences and gates provide a complete 8-foot-tall barrier to adjoining businesses and vacant land. Walk the fence line to be sure nothing has been tampered with. Thieves can partially cut fence posts or stack materials near a wall in preparation.
  • Install tamper-proof bollards at the gates to prevent thieves from exiting with large pieces of equipment.
  • Fully illuminate your shop building and equipment yard at night to eliminate any shadows where thieves might hide. New LED bulbs cast a lot of light and use less electricity than traditional lights. Schedule regular checks on the lighting systems at jobsites.

Store equipment properly

  • Move light or highly targeted equipment into service bays or more secure areas of the yard or jobsite.
  • Do not stage machines and trucks in a way that they provide cover to thieves.
  • Don’t leave anything on a trailer. Secure any trailers, whether loaded or not, so thieves cannot use them to steal your equipment.

Maintain accurate inventory

  • Keep records on year, manufacturer, serial number and PIN of every piece of equipment.
  • Take photos of each machine and maintain a digital inventory that is up to date based on use. Photos should include one of the whole machine, the serial number/PIN, your logo, inventory control number, attachments and any known damage.
  • When selecting new equipment, consider machines that have keypad-only access rather than physical keys. With these, the operator must enter a personal ID or pin number to start it. Attempts to tamper or circumvent the system on many will create an alert. A bonus feature on some systems is that they will store operator preferences tied to the individual ID or pin number.

Use all your resources

  • Register with the NER.
  • Communicate with neighboring businesses, especially those which will be open during the holiday; raise their awareness so that thefts in progress are recognized and reported. Be sure they have your emergency contact information and are willing to contact the police.
  • Designate someone to check up on the facility at different times during the holiday. Random activity at your location could spoil a thief’s planning.

Watch for warning signs

  • Trucks parked at jobsites, rental yards and dealerships that do not belong to the company; especially box vans, U-hauls and enclosed race-car hauler type trailers.
  • Vehicles parked in vacant lots and parking lots adjoining closed industry businesses, especially with occupants loitering in the area.
  • Gates left open at industry facilities when it’s clear the facility is shut down.
  • Late-night or early morning activity inside a yard, construction site, farm or store throughout the holiday.
  • Overloaded trucks and improperly secured equipment transported throughout the holiday.

Getty Images1321109317 61ef0233e8d05Maintaining accurate inventory records on all your machines is a key method in preventing theft and recognizing when something has been stolen.Getty Images

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