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Tips on Keeping your Overland Vehicle safe, low-budget style

What if you want to keep your vehicle burglarproof for an overland journey without spending a fortune on car alarms, GPS tracking devices, and other expensive temptations? After 15 years on the road without a break-in, we’d like to share our tricks with you.

Disclaimer: No setup is foolproof, no matter how much money you spend or the preventive measures you take. If someone comes along with the proper tools and has enough time, any vehicle can be broken into and anything can be stolen. This article is to give you tips on simple security measures that you can take without breaking the bank.

Keep it Out of Sight

When we park and move away from the Land Cruiser, we cover all windows so people can’t look inside. A case in point from French Guiana is telling, where a local pointed out that what for us is only a euro lying in sight can be enough reason for a drug addict to smash in a window because that one euro buys him a shot. We can do without that euro, but having to repair a window is a (possibly expensive) nuisance that we prefer to prevent.

What covers which window:

1. We installed generic roll-up blinds for the front and rear windows.

2. Karin-Marijke sewed two pieces of fabric that fit on the inside of the door windows. With one side of Velcro sewn on the fabric and the other side glued around the window with a PU glue, they stay nicely put. Magnets work perfectly too and are a simpler solution.

3. On the side are camping-car windows with integrated mosquito-cum-light-out-screens.

Other options are the screens that people put in front of their front window to keep the sun out, or simply covering the window with a towel or sarong works too, of course.

A nice side effect are that these measures keep your windows clean from fingerprints and noseprints from curious people.

To Hide or Not to Hide?

Somebody gave us a camouflage net as a farewell present. We had heard our fair share of fear mongering tales before our departure and thus, on our first night of rough camping near a farmer’s field in Italy, we actually draped the Land Cruiser in it. It was ridiculous, of course, and we never used it again for this purpose, but instead used it as an awning in heatwave-plagued Greece, which worked great.

Instead of using a camouflage net, we find better camping spots. What “better” is depends on where we are.

In the wild (forest, mountains, countryside) we prefer to be invisible, particularly at night. Therefore we have roll-up blinds that block out the light. Years ago, we discarded our rear reflectors after they got smashed on the trail, but if you have them you could cover them with a piece of duct tape for the night.

In urban areas, we find safety in numbers (of people). We’d rather park in a busy plaza for the night than in a back alley. For the same reason, we don’t camp in the remotest, darkest corner of a gas station in Brazil, but in front of the well-lit, 24-hour restaurant. If there is (potential) trouble, it’s more likely it will be noticed and hopefully we, and/or the police will be warned in time.

Additionally, we believe that a conspicuous-looking vehicle makes for greater safety as people will notice unwanted persons around it more easily.

Lock it Up

After traveling in the safety of South and Southeast Asia we announced our crossing to South America. All of a sudden, we received numerous messages about security. We should install extra door locks (as our simple door locks are easy to hack) and wire mesh on the windows (like you see on crowd-control police cars). We took notice but no immediate action.

Until that is, we met a German who showed us how he had installed a very simple lock inside his Unimog door. In a similar style, Coen fabricated deadbolts inside the front doors that require a specific, four-blade key. These types of locks are pretty common on house doors. So now, even if a burglar hacks the original locks or smashes a window and unlocks the door, the door still can’t be opened.

Deter and Decoy

We keep the inside of our car pretty organized. Even if a pilferer has a few seconds at an open door, he most likely won’t find a small backpack (containing all our valuables) lying on the front seat nor a camera in sight. Our documents and spare bankcards are kept in a hidden spot. The same goes for expensive electronics. The key is to slow down the thieves. If they really want to get your important stuff, make them work for it.

The same goes for stuff on the roof. Many of our hosts have been worried and asked us to take the boxes down if the Land Cruiser stays in the street overnight. However, I would need a few hours to dismantle it all and I am the one who knows how everything is bolted down; it’s quite tricky. I’m not worried that important things will be stolen very quickly. This doesn’t work for everything. The shovel and spare are bolted down with nothing but simple padlocks—a minimal measure, yet you can’t just take it and walk off with it.

A tip from many overlanders which we have never implemented ourselves (for no clear reason, really): put expired bank or credit cards with some token money in a tattered wallet and keep it in the glove compartment or otherwise nearby. If things go wrong, you may be able to bluff your way through and hand over your collection of old cards while you make for an escape.

Sabotage as Much as You Can

When people worry about thieves driving away with our car, we laugh. While nothing is impossible, we’re not worried about it. Even if I left the keys in the ignition, I’m pretty confident nobody can drive off with our Land Cruiser just like that. Apart from the tricks the car throws at us in the pre-heating department or the three different gear levers, I blocked the starting system.

First of all, there is a kill switch that disconnects the main power from the starter batteries. All other electronics will work fine, but without that red key turned on the engine won’t start. Secondly, you need to flick some switches in order to manually glow the system.

A more advanced hack would be to interrupt the current to the servo-controlled arm that shuts off the fuel line with a simple switch.

The Final Hurdles

If people really want to break into our battered truck and clean it out they must have ample time on their hands. But, of course, it is possible. For that reason, we look for a safe parking area when we leave the Land Cruiser for a longer period of time (e.g., a visit to the Netherlands).

And, the most obvious piece of advice, keep duplicates of your documents, including a copy of the visa of the country you’re visiting and the temporary import document for your car. Store the stuff in the cloud. If things go pear-shaped it will help you immensely to get back on the road quickly again.

We hope this is helpful. How do you keep your vehicle secure?

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With a bachelor degree in Hotel Management & Tourism, Karin-Marijke Vis worked in managerial jobs in the in-house catering business, a world she left ten years later to travel the globe and become a freelance writer. With her partner Coen Wubbels (photographer) she bought a vintage Land Cruiser and they have been overlanding in Asia and South America since 2003. Their stories have been published in magazines around the world. Follow their journey on landcruisingadventure.com