Equipment Theft Prevention
New Geo-Tracking Technology Empowers and Protects Equipment Owners
by: By Mary Lou Jay

Section: Features-Summer 2023

Even when you take all the right precautions to prevent the theft of your spray foam truck, trailer and equipment, locking it, setting alarms, keeping it in a secure location – determined thieves may find some way of taking them away. Taking advantage of tracking systems like GPS and Bluetooth tags may help minimize your losses.

If you own multiple trucks and trailers, you may already be using GPS systems to increase your fleet efficiency. You can track vehicle locations, improve dispatch services, and keep a close eye on information about vehicle performance.

Most GPS systems can also act as an early warning system when a vehicle is out of its normal, after-hours parking spot. The GPS system can send an alert and then provide real-time information about your truck and/or trailer’s location as the thieves take it down the road. Armed with this knowledge, you may be able to recover your vehicle more quickly, and hopefully before thieves have a chance to remove the valuable equipment inside.


Build a virtual fence

With most GPS systems, you can set up a virtual boundary, known as a geofence, around the area where the vehicle is parked. If the truck or trailer goes out of those boundaries when no one should be using it – nights, weekends and holidays – the system can be program to send out an alert via text or email warning you of the movement.

The GPS will continue to track the vehicle as it is moving, so you can alert police to its location and ask for their assistance in getting it back. With luck, you’ll be able to intercept it before too much of the equipment on board is removed.

Josh Cotner, president of The Contractors Choice Agency, said the chances of recovering a stolen vehicle are much better if a truck or trailer has a working GPS system. But it’s not foolproof.

As thieves become more knowledgeable about GPS, they may try to disconnect the systems from the power source in the truck so they will not operate. "But most devices out there have backup batteries, so you will be alerted if the GPS is disconnected and the system will be able to continue tracking the vehicle from an hour to five hours," said Corey Fongemie, owner of GPS Fleet Consulting in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Even if power is disconnected for a longer time, the GPS will send out a location signal as soon as the truck is powered up again.

Fongemie said one of his company’s customers was concerned about thieves disconnecting or even stealing the GPS systems in his trucks. So, he arranged to have a very visible, dummy GPS systems installed in addition to the hidden, active GPS. The idea was that the thieves would disconnect the fake GPS, not knowing there was another real one that was tracking them.

The knowledge that a truck or trailer can be tracked through GPS may help deter potential thieves from taking a rig. Some GPS providers and manufacturers now supply solar-powered, glow-in-the-dark or solar-powered stickers, which can be placed on the outside of a vehicle to indicate it is GPS-equipped.

There’s one more potential benefit to using GPS for geofencing. Many insurers offer a 10% discount if you have it, according to Cotner.

GPS 101

If you don’t already have GPS for your trucks and trailers, now might be a good time to get it. Cotner says areas around big cities, like Houston, Phoenix and San Diego are continuing to see high rates of service truck thefts.

There’s one more potential benefit to using GPS for geofencing. Many insurers offer a 10% discount if you have it.

If you don’t already have a GPS system, you can get the hardware installed by a service provider or by your own mechanic. "There are a couple of ways to do it," said Fongemie. "The more common way nowadays is to use the trucks ECM (engine control module) and the J bus or the OBD port. The other way is connecting it to three wires, the power ground and the ignition sets to monitor the vehicle’s ignition. That’s a little more difficult." Most trucks built after 2000 have the JBus and OBD port connections, and using them enables the vehicle owner to get engine feedback and diagnostics.

The monthly fee for GPS services can run anywhere from $14 to $24 a month, depending on what options the truck owner chooses. You might be able to get the GPS hardware for free by paying a higher monthly fee, or buy the equipment outright and pay a lower monthly fee.

Bluetooth tracking equipment

Since thieves can move trucks to another location and quickly empty their contents, Cotner recommends that companies tag that their expensive equipment with Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacons. These beacons send out signals that can be detected by other BLE-enabled devices, such as smartphones. As the tagged equipment travels through an area, multiple smart-phones and other devices can detect the signal and pass it along to the location tracking system.

Stolen equipment is often difficult to recover, however. Although Cotner and others have tried to set up websites where people can list serial numbers of stolen equipment, Cotner says no one ever checks them before making a purchase of previously-owned equipment. In most cases, if someone has paid a fair amount for stolen equipment in good faith, there is no way for the original owner to get it back, Cotner said.

That makes it even more important for spray foam professionals to keep accurate records of the equipment they have, including serial numbers and purchase receipts. Without that proof, it may take months to get reimbursement from the insurer.

Keeping your trucks and equipment safe from thieves isn’t an easy task, but using some of the technology that’s now available, like GPS and BLE sensors, may help limit the losses that you suffer if you’re targeted.