In this article...
Recently, one of our subscribers emailed us to ask what we do to secure the trailer, particularly around hitch locks, etc. As I thought more about it, I realized this is probably a concern that many people share - how to secure your RV.
Although we try to believe in the best of human nature and that our possessions are safe from theft, the reality may not be so rosy. It only takes one bad actor to steal your stuff. Obviously no security system is perfect - a determined criminal will always find a way if they have enough time and motivation - but we think that removing temptation and deterring the opportunistic thief is prudent.
As in all cases of security, often the best defense is to reduce your exposure as a target (don't advertise things for thieves to steal) and don't be the easiest target!
In this article, I'm not looking to get into the subject of personal security - firearms, etc. Instead, I want to focus on the security of the RV itself, particularly when the vehicle is left unattended. For example, when you go out exploring for the day and leave the RV, how do you make sure everything is still there when you return?
I'll cover what I see as three different areas of RV security:
- Vehicle: prevent someone stealing your RV itself;
- Indoor Possessions: protect your things inside your RV, especially for full-timers;
- Accessories: securing all those other things we have around our RV when camp is set up.
Lastly, we'll take a look at some of the other measures you can take, including cameras and GPS trackers.
Your security needs will likely vary depending on the type of RV you have, where you camp, how long you leave your RV for, and so forth. I'll share what we do, but I'd love to hear from you in the comments below what precautions you take!
Our RV is a travel trailer, so the most obvious risk for vehicle theft is someone hitching it up to their vehicle and towing it away while it's unattended.
When we're camped, our slide is out, our awning may be out (although we tend to keep it retracted unless we're around in case of sudden high winds), and our stabilizers are down. Our stabilizers are manually operated, but the switch for the slide is inside. Before someone could tow our trailer away, they'd need to pull the slide in - either by breaking into the RV or manually retracting it.
But let's assume they've done that, how do you stop someone stealing the entire RV?
Well, the hitch itself is stored inside a locked storage compartment, so anyone who wanted to steal our RV would need to break in and steal our hitch, or bring their own.
OK, not much of a deterrent, but maybe a little. We can do more.
Proven Industries Coupler Lock
The primary defense we have is the Proven Industries 2516 Coupler Lock. This thing is an absolute beast! It's made of 1/4" hardened steel, and fits tightly around the trailer's coupler. It takes me less than 10 seconds from start to finish to put it on the trailer. Even less time to remove it. We put this lock on as part of our setup process as soon as we arrive at a new camping spot. You can also lock the safety chains into it as well (to stop someone hooking up your trailer just by the chains and driving off), but it's a little more awkward so we never bother.
The Proven Industries 2516 Coupler Lock comes with a puck lock, guarded almost all the way around except where you insert the key. This makes it especially resilient to brute force attacks. I'm honestly not sure how someone would pry this lock off by force without damaging the coupler itself.
Puck locks are renowned for being particularly difficult to break into since there is no exposed shackle, but there are two weaknesses with this particular one. First, it's made of aluminum, which means it can be cut or drilled without too much difficulty. Second, the key mechanism it uses isn't very resilient to picking. That being said, it's still a very sturdy lock.
However, swapping out the puck lock to something like the Mul-T-Lock MT5+ TR100 Hockey Puck Padlock would be a major upgrade with its hardened steel body and bolt. It has an MT5+ locking cylinder which boasts millions of possible locking configurations and a mobile "Alpha Spring" making the lock harder to pick.
Be aware that Proven Industries make several different models of this lock designed to fit snuggly around different trailer tongues and couplers, so you'll need to check which one you need before you buy.
Master Lock Receiver & Coupler Latch Lock
In addition to the coupler lock, we also use the Master Lock 2848DAT Receiver & Coupler Lock. These are two separate locks but use the same key which is really convenient.
The receiver lock replaces the standard receiver pin on your tow vehicle and stops someone stealing your hitch. Sometimes it's easy to forget, but a Weight Distribution Hitch can be expensive to replace, as well as obviously very inconvenient. We tend to keep our hitch locked in our storage bay most of the time, but this is some added security when leave it on the vehicle as we might for just an overnight stop.
The coupler latch lock meanwhile goes through the latch on your coupler - stopping someone from lifting the latch. We put this through to lock the latch down when the trailer is parked so that even if someone did manage to remove the Proven Industries Coupler Lock (yes, they both fit on at the same time), they'd have to break this lock too before they could lift the latch and hook it up to their vehicle. That being said, these locks are nowhere near as strong as the puck lock.
The reason we really bought these locks was to prevent malicious activity from opportunistic pranksters when our truck and trailer are parked and hooked up - for example, in a Walmart parking lot. We had heard reports that some people had found their hitch receiver pin or coupler latch pin had been stolen, leaving their trailer precariously still attached. A cursory look would show nothing untoward, and the idea of driving off like that is scary. Although we always do a walk around inspection after leaving the vehicle unattended before we drive off, this is a welcome extra reassurance.
Plus, if you did find those pins stolen, do you carry spares? We do now, but not everyone does! Since they're not expensive, we felt these were an easy security upgrade to prevent opportunistic thieves or pranksters, and they take hardly any more time to put on and remove than the non-locking versions.
Wheel Chock Lock
For a few months before we hit the road full-time, our RV was kept in a storage lot. In theory the lot was secure - it had a big locking gate and cameras - but you can never be too sure. The RV had none of our possessions inside, so our biggest concern was someone stealing our brand new RV in its entirety!
In addition to the locks above, we also decided to fit a Wheel Chock Lock - essentially a wheel clamp. It's a little more fiddly to put on than the other locks (takes a minute or two), so we very rarely use this now we're on the road, but when it is fitted, it's a nice, big, bright yellow message to thieves that the trailer is secured.
The only time we've used it while on the road was when we visited the Channel Islands National Park. We took the ferry over to the Channel Islands to tent camp for a few nights, leaving our RV parked in the ferry company's parking lot. It felt a little exposed there (even parked under a light, and with security patrols in effect), so we took the couple extra minutes to fit the Wheel Chock Lock.
Maybe if you're regularly parked in urban areas, this would be more useful to you, but I think we'll probably drop it off in our storage unit next time we're passing by.
We also use the X-Chock Wheel Stabilizers on our RV. We use these not just as an extra chocking mechanism to prevent the RV moving, but also to reduce the rocking inside. However, it's also possible to put a padlock through these as well, making them harder to steal but also protecting your RV. This isn't something we typically do though.
The last lock we have is a seriously large chain and padlock, the Kryptonite New York Fahgettaboudit Chain 1415 and New York Disc Lock. Usually, this beast of a lock is securing our bikes (more on that later), but if necessary, we can lock the bikes inside our trailer (or truck), and wrap this lock around our trailer wheels and suspension.
The only time we've done this is while parked for our Channel Islands National Park visit, but I'm adding it to the list for anyone who needs a multipurpose lock - maybe to lock up the trailer while in storage, and then lock bikes up when out camping.
With the precautions above, only a truly determined (and well-equipped) thief would likely be able to steal the entire RV, but how do we protect what's inside?
It's worth saying that whenever we leave the RV for any length of time, we pull down the blinds. Not only does it improve the insulation in the RV, but it stops any would-be thief from seeing what we have inside - no need to stoke temptation!
Like many others, our RV came with a locking door handle and deadbolt. We've got into the habit that every time we both leave the RV, we lock both of those - whether we're leaving for 2 minutes or all day. It's become so habitual now that we do it almost without thinking about it.
We've heard from a lot of people with great things to say about the RVLock, a fancy upgraded lock that allows entry by key, combination or remote fob. Personally, this isn't something we've felt the need, but it's something we would consider.
In addition to a heavy-duty steel locking mechanism, the RVLock V4 boasts more than a million locking combinations. Compare that to the standard RV keys where many RVs will share the same key to the front door due to the limited combinations....
Have you heard of the infamous CH751 key? Go and check your RV keys now and see if it says CH751 on it. If it does, you might want to consider changing it!
Allegedly, as many as 60% (!!) of all RVs have storage bays that can be locked and unlocked by this exact key. Think about that for a second. If you're in an RV park with 100 RVs, you could walk around with one of those keys and open up the storage bays on 60 of your neighbors' RVs.
Fortunately, our RV came with storage bays that did not use the CH751 key, and that's enough security for us. However, the standard storage bay keys are still not considered the most secure - upgrading to a Tubular Cam Lock is something worth consider (check the size first).
Remember, ultimately, that the locks on your RV door and storage bays are only as secure as the door and frame they're attached to. Given the lightweight construction of many RVs, a simple pry bay may be enough to bypass any of these locks.
Your RV and the things inside might be safe, but what about everything outside? Both the things that are mounted on the outside of your RV, and the things in and around your camp are also potential targets for thieves.
It's in this category that we've been a victim, and that was while we were staying in an RV park. We've never had any issues while boondocking, and fingers crossed that will stay true!
We have written an entire blog post on how we carry our two bikes on the back of our RV, including how we try and keep them secure.
Put simply though, we start by using the hitch receiver lock that came with our Thule T2 Classic Bike Rack to lock the bike rack to the RV. The hitch tightener adds an extra layer of inconvenience, if not true security, to any would-be thief.
A cable lock secured with a Kryptonite New York Bicycle Disc Lock is used to further secure the bike rack to the RV's steel bumper, and we use the Kryptonite New York Fahgettaboudit Chain 1415 and New York Disc Lock to lock both bikes together.
I mentioned this chain earlier, as we have used it on occasion to wrap around our RV's wheels and suspension. It's a beast; seriously! The 5ft chain weighs in at an enormous 15lbs! Nothing is impossible to remove, but it would take some effort to get through this!
When we remove the bikes from the bike rack at camp, we then use this same chain lock to lock the bikes to the frame of the RV.
At some point we also plan to have someone weld a steel shackle onto our bumper that we can use to attach this chain to as well, which will add another layer of defense.
Lastly, removing temptation is always a good approach, so we cover the bikes with an XXL Pro Bike Cover, that also has the added benefit of protecting the bikes from the elements.
One of the reasons we chose to install our Battle Born Lithium batteries under the bed inside our RV was to protect them from theft. Lithium batteries are expensive, and would be a tempting target for a thief who knew what to look for.
If however, your RV does have batteries mounted on the tongue, you may wish to consider securing these. A couple of good options may be a battery shackle that fits over your existing battery storage area and locks them to the frame, or a dedicated battery lock box.
Propane cylinders are also valuable, and we have heard of people having them stolen.
But, if you're thinking about locking your propane tanks, be very careful. It's essential that in the event of a fire, emergency service personnel are able to access your propane tanks and, at the very least, turn them off. We personally prefer to keep ours unlocked so they're completely accessible (and removable) by fire crews in an emergency situation.
What about all the other things you have lying around camp? Camping tables and chairs, generators, portable solar panels, etc?
I feel somewhat qualified to comment here, as we had our portable solar panel stolen. And yes, it was locked up.
It was locked to our RV with the ToyLok that came fitted on our trailer. This is a retractable cable lock with a padlock. In the middle of the night, thieves cut through the power cable and the cable lock and stole the panel. They didn't even bother unplugging it; just cut and run. I never heard a thing.
My advice is that, especially in populated areas, consider putting valuable possessions (particularly solar panels, generators and bikes) inside your truck bed or another locking area, or ensure they are locked securely in place. Cable locks should not be considered a useful deterrent nowadays - use a sturdy chain lock if that's the route you want to go down.
Other Security Measures
Everything discussed thus far is about physical locks and security measures to prevent theft. But there are a couple things you can do if you want even more peace of mind.
If you're camped in a location with WiFi, or you have an always-on cellular internet connection in your RV, you may want to consider installing security cameras - inside, outside, or both. These are typically cloud-connected so you can monitor them remotely, and can be configured to upload footage to the cloud if something does happen.
Although we haven't used these ourselves, we've heard good things about the Redlink Argus 2 cameras.
These aren't just for security - a common use case for these is to check on pets left in an RV. A good tip here is to place a thermometer or digital weather station in view of the camera so you can make sure it's not too hot or cold inside your rig too.
This is what's used on high-end cars to track them if they're stolen. Surely, this is overkill for an RV?
Well, maybe - but what if I said you may already have it?
As it turns, it's possible to plug a USB GPS receiver into the Victron CCGX. Then, assuming that your CCGX has internet access (either via a WiFi dongle or plugged into a router via ethernet), then it will upload its current location to the Victron Remote Monitoring (VRM) portal. We routinely use this portal when we're away from the RV - it allows you to remotely check on your solar input, battery charge, and since we have the GPS receiver, the location of the trailer.
Furthermore, VRM also supports geo-fencing, so you can draw a circle around your RV's current location and you will get an email if your trailer leaves this area. We've used this before when we've left the RV in storage for the weekend.
It's not foolproof, and it's certainly not as advanced and secure as a true LoJack system, but since it was so easy for us to set up, we did!
Oftentimes, security is a compromise between risk tolerance and convenience - adding more security typically reduces conveniences.
Locking our hitch receiver, coupler and coupler latch takes just seconds each time we move, and it's a no brainer for us to lock our RV doors and storage bays when we leave. We tend not to have lots of stuff littered around our camp, but locking away valuables overnight removes temptation from thieves.
I recommend putting yourself in the mindset of a would-be thief and asking yourself: what opportunities do I see? If you have valuables unsecured, or door locks opened by common keys, maybe look at what you can do to improve security.
As boondockers, our biggest security asset is the wheels on our RV - if we don't feel safe somewhere, we keep driving and find somewhere new. A lot of people worry about security while boondocking, but after boondocking for the past year, we've learned what basic precautions we need to take to give us peace of mind.
Let us know in the comments below if there's anything we've missed, or things you do to secure your RV when you're not around!