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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 and easier to hide than theft of alarmed vehicles or well guarded personal property.
Luckily, preventing trailer theft generally only takes a few simple steps. By taking a few measures to make sure your trailer is a prime target for trailer theft, you can maximize your odds that if a trailer thief is cruising a parking lot, campground, or show grounds they are less likely to choose your trailer steel and less likely to succeed at the job.
My experience learning how to prevent trailer theft
Unfortunately, most of what I know about how to prevent trailer theft I learned the hard way. I was exhibiting one of our Bashkir Curly horses at a demonstration at the Kentucky horse Park one August, and when the event wound up and I drove to the trailer parking area to hitch my trailer to take my horse home, my horse trailer was nowhere to be found!
I learned a lot through the experience of having my trailer stolen (and I learned a few more lessons in the process of hitch-hiking my horse back home across three states!) In this post I’ve gathered ten of the tips that I learned about preventing trailer theft through that experience and in my research on the topic since.
In this post, I have collected both standard and a few unusual 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:
Hitch Locks are a Simple way to Prevent Trailer Theft
As my dad hauled a cargo trailer across the Midwest 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 learn to drive. My young experience with these simple locks is a testament to just how easy it is to add this trailer theft prevention measure. A good hitch lock is highly effective at preventing theft- and as potential thieves are cruising a parking lot looking for a target, often the presence of a hitch lock alone is enough to dissuade thieves from attempting to steal your trailer.
The trick with hitch locks, of course is that you should have both ball lock (which prevents and unhitched trailer from being able to be hitch to another truck) and a hitch pin lock (which 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 are a huge 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 a solid metal construction, embedded lock, and bright red color that indicates even at a distance your trailer would be very difficult for a thief to steal.
How to prevent trailer theft using wheel locks
Wheel locks are less popular – but surprisingly affordable – 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 is likely to 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) and if the pressure on the device changes an alarm is triggered. In a busy campground, this could scare off potential trailer thieves 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, a horse trailer, chaining up your trailer can be an effective way to prevent theft. In fact, growing up, this was usually my father’s go to method for securing the utility trailer that provided livelihood for our family. Cruising around a parking area until a space that was well lit and near a sturdy pole, we’d carefully back the cargo trailer into a parking space adjacent to the poll, then unhitched the trailer and run a chain through the steel frame of the front of the bumper pull trailer and, using a heavy chain, loop it around the pole. Although thieves with very strong bolt cutters may be able to cut the chain, chains can be a helpful deterrent.
Unusal (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, simply get a little gaudy.
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 way from your trailer.
Using trailer decals as 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 smrt 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, so 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 make an even bigger difference. It’s unlikely any thief will march down a barn aisle carrying your brightly-colored or monogram-covered saddle, and rather than taking the time to uncover it, most thieves would be more likely to pass over a covered saddle 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 wasn’t uncommon to get a SOS from a guest reporting that they were “locked out” on arrival – proof that this decoy lock was, in fact, convincing as the real thing.
With a Masters Degree in Psychology and two decades of experience as a horseback rider, breeder, and tack store owner, Tatum has developed a unique approach to coaching adult riders that integrates the physical and emotional aspects of developing as a confident rider.