Cutting the risk of
ATVs are still easily the
most popular target for
thieves who steal from
farms, but Mike Williams
found that tractor thefts are
also an increasing problem
TRACTOR thefts fall into two different categories and both are on the increase says NFU Mutual Insurance. One category is when the complete tractor is stolen, and the other is equipment, such as the battery, radio, toolbox contents or the flashing beacon, is stolen from the vehicle.
Both types of theft can occur at any time when the tractor is unattended, and this may be at night when the tractor is parked in the yard or in an open fronted shed, and it can also happen in broad daylight.
"A lot of the thefts happen in the daytime," says John Coupe of NFU Mutual Risk Management, a subsidiary of the insurance company. "Unfortunately some farmers are not sufficiently security conscious. Tractors are often left in the open with the cab door unlocked, and that makes it easy for the thieves. Stopping the professional thief may be difficult, but a lot of thefts from farms are opportunist crimes which could be prevented by taking more care and just a few sensible precautions."
The precautions which could keep the amateur thief at bay include locking the cab when the tractor is unattended, keeping it in a locked building at night and having some basic anti-intruder precautions such as security lighting.
There are also other security precautions farmers could take, such as using one of the electronic tracking devices or an invisible marker to label the tractor with the farm postcode.
"It often surprises me that farmers will invest £40,000 in a new tractor but not spend another £100 or so to reduce the risk of it being stolen," says Mr Coupe.
But deterring tractor thieves is not just a job for farmers, he says. Manufacturers could also make life harder for the thieves by using better security equipment on their tractors. While car companies have moved security up the priority list, the anti-theft precautions on most tractors have made little or no progress during the last 20 years or more.
One example is the cab and ignition keys, which are usually a standard design throughout each manufacturers range and are easy to buy from most dealers. Even without an ignition key, starting a tractor is not a big challenge for anyone with even a modest amount of technical skill.
Richard Hollins, tractor specialist at New Holland, agrees that keys are unlikely to be a deterrent to thieves. His company, like other leading manufacturers, uses a standard key design, one for all their European-built tractors and another fits all their Canadian models.
"We occasionally get requests for increased security," says Mr Hollins. "Some contractors prefer to leave the tractor on the farm where it is working instead of driving it home, for example, and in that sort of situation our dealers can carry out a modification which will immobilise the transmission, with a special key to release it. It works with an electronic transmission, but not on an ordinary mechanical gearbox."
John Deere also uses a standard design for tractor keys but Gordon Day, the companys UK tractor specialist, says this policy may be reviewed. We are aware that tractor theft is an increasing problem, and we are looking at the possibility of improving the security of our tractors.
But some farmers prefer interchangeable keys. Management is simplified when anyone can drive a tractor without having to exchange keys, and if keys for one tractor are mislaid a spare key for another tractor of the same make can be used instead.
Valmet tractor keys are not interchangeable, but this brings complaints from some customers, says Valtra Tractors marketing manager John Nicholls.
"The idea is to make our tractors more difficult to steal but there is quite a lot of criticism from some of our customers and I think we may decide to use a standard key throughout the range like most of our competitors."
Theft of vehicles and equipment from construction sites is a serious problem and the need for extra security on machines such as backhoe loaders has prompted JCB to take a similar approach with their Fastrac tractors. The optional extras list for Fastracs includes immobilisers and other anti-theft devices which can be fitted by the local dealer.
Another option for farmers and contractors who want more than basic anti-theft precautions are the companies specialising in vehicle security equipment. The list of devices available from Maple Fleet Services of Stockport, Cheshire, starts at about £100 for a valve to control the fuel supply to the engine. The valve is operated by a special key, and it completely stops the fuel flow when switched to the off position. A more comprehensive defence against tractor theft is provided by an immobiliser which locks out three major electrical circuits to stop the tractor being started or driven. The price is about £500.
Electronic tracking devices are also available, but instead of making the vehicle harder to steal, their main function is to help the police trace stolen vehicles and identify the owners. *
Valmet tractors may be forced to switch from individual keys for each tractor to a less secure standard key.
A transmission immobiliser can be fitted to New Holland tractors when they are operated in high risk situations.