Tracking trailer thieves…

31 January 1997

Tracking trailer thieves…

Life is getting tougher for farm trailer thieves, and a leading UK manufacturer plans to make it even more uncomfortable, writes

Robert Davies

LIKE other makers, Ifor Williams Trailers is campaigning for the creation of a national registration scheme, with documents that stay with trailers throughout their working lives.

"This already happens in other countries, where trailers are treated like motor vehicles and theft is rare," says Peter Leslie, the companys technical marketing manager. "A government scheme would increase our administrative burden, but it would be an effective extra deterrent against the 1000s of thefts that now occur each year."

Other precautions have already been introduced by the Corwen, Denbigh-based firm, which manufactures around 18,000 units annually. About 50% of these are sold to farmers and horse owners.

All carry visible aluminium identification plates, and an increasing number of models have a unique code number cut right through the steel of the A-frame of the chassis before galvanising.

"Since 1990 we have also been marking all trailers with hidden numbers," Mr Leslie says. "Very few employees know the locations of these, which are periodically changed to stay one step ahead of thieves."

As livestock trailers are often stolen with central divisions or sheep decks missing, the company has also tightened up the sale of such replacement parts which rarely wear out. Approved dealers are also instructed to check the ownership of second-hand trailers offered for sale.

In the past this, and checks done for the police, were carried out by the company itself. The work took up an enormous amount of time, especially when staff had to appear in court as expert witnesses. Now responsibility has been transferred to The Equipment Register (TER), Bristol, which offers the police a 24-hour service, and employs special investigators.

The system depends on customers returning their guarantee cards, or in the case of second-hand machines a card in the back of the users handbook, for the information to be placed on computer. Dealers are encouraged to persuade all buyers to supply the information.

Chris Sale, TERs sales director, claims that the link-up with Ifor Williams is working well, and leading to the recovery of a significant number of trailers. Farmers whose trailers are stolen can log the fact without cost, and anyone thinking of buying a trailer can, also free of charge, check whether the serial number is flagged up as stolen on the computer.

Further searches are charged for according to the amount of work involved. Where TER is involved in tracing a stolen trailer the cost is recovered through the owners insurance company.

"No figure is available for the number of trailers stolen each year, but the volume of calls we receive suggests it is a very big problem," Mr Sale claims.

Mr Leslie believes that measures already taken by Ifor Williams, and special initiatives by several police forces, have cut thefts and increased the number of convictions. But he admits that too many trailers are still stolen.

"If just 1% of our annual production of trailers was stolen the loss would be worth at least £400,000. We are still working on even better ways of marking the equipment before it leaves the factory, but this needs to be done without the need to charge customers more."

He believes that owners can do more to protect their property. They should register ownership with TER, and keep a record of the manufacturers identification numbers. However, they should also use personal markings, possibly using a metal punch to indent a farms post code on an aluminium panel, or stencilling it in paint on the trailer roof.

"One trailer was recovered because the farmer remembered doodling a picture of a swan on an inside panel. Little things can make all the difference and get a stolen trailer returned to its rightful owner. Without some sort of special mark it is often impossible to prosecute someone with an obviously stolen trailer.

"When buying second-hand a farmer should ask for proof of ownership, and check the manufacturers vehicle identification number (VIN) with TER. If the plate carrying the identification is missing, or appears to have been tampered with, be very suspicious. The VIN number must correspond to the number stamped on the right-hand drawbar member.

"Do not buy a trailer from which internal fittings are missing without checking very carefully. Any trailer subsequently found to be stolen will be returned to the rightful owner."

Peter Leslie points out the manufacturers vehicle identification plate and TERregistration sticker.

Engraved for all time. Agrowing practice is to burn on an exclusive code number.

Vehicle identification number stamped on top of the drawbar should match the one on the manufacturers plate below.

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