By Tony Barthel
Is an RV self-storage place a safe place to keep your RV when you’re not using it? According to some respondents it isn’t. Despite the barbed wire, security cameras and coded entry systems your RV may not be as secure as you think in these places.
We spoke with a few RVers in a number of places who reported that their RVs had been broken into even though the lots told the right security story.
For example, Lynn in Ohio had her trailer broken into with the propane tanks, batteries and even the TV taken from it while it sat in a lot with full security. We also talked with Joe & Jacie in California, whose RV was severely damaged in a break-in, again in a “secure” place. And several others told very similar stories of their RVs getting broken into while they were in self-storage, including a police chief who had things stolen from his RV.
The one thing that all of these RVers have in common is that the best they got from local law enforcement was that they took a report. The best they got from the RV self-storage facilities was an apology, if even that. And the only thing that saved them was their own RV insurance policy, whose rates often went up in the following year.
IT WOULD SEEM THAT having an insurance policy specifically on the RV was the one bright spot in each of these cases. While some will make do with their vehicle covering the RV when it’s being towed, if it’s a towable, this kind of coverage seldom includes theft, vandalism or other things that don’t happen while in transit.
We’ve also known of RVers whose insurance stepped up when things like tree limbs fell on the RV or someone backed into them while they were at an RV park. Based on the reports from owners about the break-ins, along with a few others about damage at RV parks, it would seem like any RV of any value should be insured all the time.
In the case of Lynn, her RV was not damaged itself in the break-in. Instead, she suspected that the thief or thieves had keys to her RV and used those to get into the rig. In fact, having worked in the RV industry, it’s a little-known fact that almost all travel trailer baggage doors share the same 751 key and almost all RVers have a copy of this. Your baggage compartments are not likely to be all that safe.
There are also common RV keys that will open the latch on many, many RV doors. As a sales person I had one of these universal keys, and while the dealership I worked for was very diligent in making sure these keys stayed safe, not all dealerships have the same concern for safety.
But Lynn was lucky as the damage was limited to things the thief was able to easily remove.
Joe and Jacie had a much different experience with the thief trying to break in by literally prying the slide room off, causing almost $16,000 in damage to the trailer. Once they were inside, their haul wasn’t worth much. The result was months without their RV for maybe $100 worth of stolen goods.
RVs are an easy target for thieves. They know that the RV is just sitting there with propane tanks and batteries that do well on the black market. Inside there are flat-screen televisions, and many RVs have some pretty valuable tools as well. All these highly portable items can be swiped in a matter of minutes – in fact, they can be stolen while a co-conspirator who may be a legitimate customer of the storage facility visits their storage locker for all the right reasons.
Even if you change the locks on your RV, the baggage and entry doors are an inch thick, if even that. The most unimpressive tools can easily gain access to the RV, so even the best locks can’t stop a determined thief.
But if your locks are better than those of the RV sitting next to yours, you may win this battle.
When Joe and Jacie had their break-in experience, the thief or thieves were clearly on a mission and damaged several RVs – again, in a “secure” storage facility.
I spoke with several police officials and, apparently, there are no national statistics on RV break-ins on a national level.
What about the security?
I talked with a few self-storage facilities for this review and specifically asked them about the security. Initially they all sung the same song about how secure their facilities were and how they monitored who came and went.
But as I pushed them further, the layers of the onion peeled away and they admitted, to a person, that they couldn’t control everybody who came and went. Sure, someone who’s a customer may have the key code to the gate but what about the passengers in their vehicle when they come and go?
So while the illusion of security is certainly there with the key code at the gates and all that barbed wire, the fact that anybody with the code can just come and go means that security is just an illusion. In fact, I have gone into several self-storage units in my area to retrieve things from friends’ lockers and the people at the front desk have never ever said a single word about my comings and goings, and I wasn’t their customer.
Usually the security cameras are just in a few places including the entry gate, but it’s difficult to pinpoint when a thief came and went with all the legitimate traffic at the gate of an RV storage facility. If your RV is sitting for weeks it would be almost impossible to pinpoint when it was broken into. Or by whom.
What can you do?
If you’re not able to store your RV at your home, there are some steps you can take to make sure your RV is safer.
One of those is to install a security system with cameras. I talked to home security company SimpliSafe, who offer monitored systems for $14.99 per month. They indicated that, if someone simply had a source of 110vac power most of the time they could monitor that RV.
This could be in the form of a smaller solar panel, battery and inverter, as the SimpliSafe monitoring system draws very little power. In the event that power is lost the system does have a battery backup and it uses cellular calling to stay in touch with monitoring rather than requiring a landline.
If I were to install an alarm system on my RV I would make sure that this is indicated where thieves could see it. Again, you don’t have to be thief-proof, you just have to be better protected than the next person’s RV, sadly.
Another thing to do is replace all those commonly keyed baggage door locks with something else. I replaced the entry door latch of my RV with an RVLock keyless entry system and replaced my baggage door locks with combination locks. In addition to being slightly more secure, this also means I don’t have to carry around keys when I’m out camping, so I can go out for the day and come back and not worry that I can’t get into my own RV.
Unfortunately, self-storage facility security seems to be about as effective as political promises. As with hiking in the woods, you don’t have to be faster than the bears – you just have to be faster than the slowest person in your group. So having the most relatively secure RV in the facility could be to your advantage.
Editor: SimpliSafe is available on Amazon.com.