Trailer theft – whether it’s a horse trailer, cargo trailer, stock trailer, or live-in camper- is one of the most common types of theft. These high-value items are usually easier to steal than trucks with alarms or well-guarded personal property.
Luckily, a few simple steps go a long way toward preventing trailer theft.
By taking a few measures, you can maximize your odds that if a trailer thief is cruising a parking lot or campground, they are less likely to choose your trailer to steal- and less likely to succeed at the job!
My experience learning how to prevent trailer theft
Unfortunately, most of what I know about preventing trailer theft I learned the hard way. I was exhibiting one of our horses at the Kentucky Horse Park one August. When the event ended and I went to the trailer parking area to hitch my trailer, it was gone!
I learned a lot through the experience of having my trailer stolen (plus a few more lessons in hitch-hiking my horse back home!) In this post, I’ve gathered ten tips that I learned about preventing trailer theft.
In this post, I have collected some tips for preventing trailer theft that you may not have heard before. Let’s start with the basics- tips for utilizing some of the commercial theft prevention options available:
Standard Methods for Preventing Trailer Theft:
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Hitch Locks are a Simple way to Prevent Trailer Theft
As I was growing up on the craft show circuit, I learned to lock, unlock, and remove a hitch lock years before I ever even learned to drive. My young experience with these simple locks is a testament to how easy they are to use. A good hitch lock works well to prevent theft. If potential thieves are looking for a target, often the presence of a hitch lock alone is enough to prevent theft.
The trick with hitch locks, of course, is that you should have both a ball lock and a hitch pin lock.
- A ball lock prevents an unhitched trailer from being able to be hitched to another truck.
- A hitch pin lock prevents thieves from being able to pull the pin on a hitch trailer, release the ball from the truck, and separate the trailer to be stolen.
There is a vast assortment of hitch locks, but most are easily outsmarted or outmuscled by thieves with the right tools. I like Masterlock’s Universal Hitch Lock for its solid metal construction, embedded lock, and bright red color that advertises your trailer as difficult to steal.
How to prevent trailer theft using wheel locks
Wheel locks are a less popular method for how to prevent trailer theft. A wheel lock (like this top rated one on amazon) is a solid metal device that clips onto tires of your horse trailer, cargo trailer, or camper and prevents the wheel from being able to turn.
With a locked wheel, thieves will be unable to drive away with – or even roll – your trailer. Again, while this device can be outsmarted or even cut through by thieves with the right tools, the extra work and potential for getting caught will dissuade many thieves from attempting to steal your trailer with a wheel lock installed.
Repurpose a Doorstop Alarm
Trailer theft prevention doesn’t have to require expensive digital security systems. One way to add an extra layer of security in populated places like campgrounds and show grounds is by placing a doorstop alarm (like this one from Amazon) under your tires. Designed to be used by travelers and hotel rooms, a doorstop alarm is wedged under a gap (in this case, under a tire). If the pressure on the device changes, an alarm is triggered. This could scare off potential trailer thieves in a busy campground as soon as the alarm senses vibration and begins to sound.
Trailer anti-theft devices are only as good as your commitment to use them consistently, mount them properly on your trailer hitch, and tow using your weight distribution hitch or standard hitch with appropriate theft prevention measures in place. Although my experience is with preventing theft of horse trailers, these instructions are equally effective for preventing boat trailer theft, utility trailer theft, and U-Haul trailer theft. Preventing gooseneck trailer theft may require different locks, but the general practices remain the same.
Our article on What to do if Your Horse Trailer or Tack Are Stolen is the best resource for responding after your trailer or saddle is missing, but this article addresses some ways to prevent theft from ever happening. These tips include specific ways of storing, using, and protecting your trailer from theft.
Chain it Up
You don’t need to have an expensive set of hitch locks and wheel locks to prevent theft of your trailer. Whether it’s a boat, cargo, or horse trailer, chaining up your trailer can effectively prevent theft. Growing up, this was usually my father’s go-to method for securing the utility trailer that provided the livelihood for our family.
Back then, we’d cruising around a parking area until we found a space that was well lit and near a sturdy pole. Then, we’d carefully back the cargo trailer into a parking space adjacent to the pole. After that, we’d unhitch the trailer and run a chain through the trailer’s steel frame and loop it around the pole.
Although thieves with powerful bolt cutters may be able to cut the chain, chains can be a helpful deterrent.
Unusual (and Kind of Weird) Ways to Prevent Trailer Theft that Really Work
Add Trailer Decals to your Trailer
Before investing in expensive and time-consuming locks, get a little tacky.
Are you dreaming of a pink lighting streak down the side of your cargo trailer, flame airbrushing on your boat trailer, or a mural of Mt Rushmore on your travel trailer? Do it!
Those little details that draw big attention are the very things that will keep thieves away from your trailer.
Using trailer decals as a theft deterrent actually came from a conversation I had with a Kentucky Horse Park police officer following the theft of my horse trailer. There, at a venue that sees trailer theft several times a month, the officer told me that trailers with decals are virtually never stolen. The thieves that continue to steal without getting caught are thieves smart enough to steal generic items that witnesses won’t recall seeing- because they never noticed it in the first place!
Cover your Equipment
What you are hauling is probably very valuable- covering it up can help prevent drawing the attention of thieves.
Horse Tack Theft:
For horseback riders this means saddle covers and bridle bags. Locked tack rooms are best, but aren’t always practical in a busy barn. Instead, try a simple saddle cover! Saddle covers are typically used to protect saddles from getting dusty and from gathering scratches and dings as they are hauled from tack room to horse to trailer and back again. Saddle covers can also reduce the likelihood of theft.
Tack theft is often perpetrated in large tack rooms, where thieves tend to move quickly, grabbing only saddles that appear expensive or name-brand. Most thieves want to be in and out in seconds. If your saddle is covered, the chances go up that they won’t take the time to lift the cover to check the brand.
Most saddles look- to average witnesses- very similar. In the event of daytime tack theft, (such as emboldened thieves walking off with saddles at a show) saddle covers can deter theft. It’s unlikely any thief will march down a barn aisle carrying your brightly-colored saddle. Rather than taking the time to uncover it, most thieves will instead just reach for a valuable exposed one.
Park in Crowded Areas
Our horse trailer was stolen with a hitch lock attached. While hitch locks are always a good idea, and a reasonable deterrent, they aren’t 100% effective.
To help prevent trailer theft, park in an area where the process of forcibly removing anti-theft equipment like hitch locks would be noticed and interrupted.
For me, that meant getting used to backing my trailer into tight spots in crowded lots instead of in sparsely occupied, (and usually poorer-lit), parking areas that I’d previously preferred.
Keep up-to-date photos of your trailer and any equipment you store inside. While this practice won’t deter theft, it will make the process of filing a police report, a claim against your insurance policy, and/or recovering stolen goods much easier.
Implement Simple Security
Locking your tack room and vigilantly monitoring your trailer with a high-end security system might be the best ways to protect your property- but complex solutions often get abandoned when they make your day to day functioning harder or more complex. Instead, I encourage lower or medium level theft deterrents that take just tiny moments of your day to make your equipment and trailer LOOK more secure, which in the end will deter theft.
Cheap, Creative Security:
1. Use a Simple Gun Lock to Secure your equipment. The loop of a cable-style gun lock is perfect for hooking a saddle to saddle rack via D-ring or camping equipment to a trailer rack. Save time searching for keys by simply hanging the key nearby but out of sight.
2. At our Joplin location, we loved the security of a lock and gated entrance but hated actually locking it. Solution?
We added a fake lock: Simply pairing a plain, steel grey carabiner with a length of sturdy chain in a similar steel-grey color makes an easy way to make something (a gate, a hitch, etc) look locked – add extra security with a “dummy” padlock secured to a random link- it will make the casual observer assume the padlock is securing the chain in place, rather than just serving as decoy for an easy to open carabiner clasp.
Both methods are ideal for deterring theft in areas where people need to move freely and sometimes unlock your property, while still leaving casual thieves deterred from swiping what appear to be well-protected horse tack and trailer items.
When our property was briefly listed on Airbnb for guests, it was common to get a SOS from a guest reporting that they were “locked out” on arrival – proof that this decoy lock was convincing!