Preventing Iron Thievery No Easy Task

Tue October 15, 2013 - National Edition
Giles Lambertson

The problem with today’s construction machines is that they work perfectly, are terrifically efficient and are ruggedly handsome to boot. So what is the “problem?”

These genuinely wonderful machines are coveted. Eventually, too many are stolen. More than 10,000 pieces of equipment were swiped in 2012 from U.S. construction sites and equipment yards (and farms), according to an annual joint report from two insurance industry agencies, the National Equipment Register and National Insurance Crime Bureau.

The report is mostly statistical and we know how statistics can mislead. If you are a landscaper in Houston, Texas, for example, with a fleet of new John Deere riding mowers or garden tractors, your chances of surviving July without a theft are pretty slim, statistically speaking. That obviously is not every Houston landscaper’s experience.

Still, the report contains disturbing information, such as this: Just 20 percent of stolen equipment is recovered. If your excavator is stolen, it’s worse: Recovery dips to 4 percent. Wheeled or tracked tractors? Only 16 percent are recovered. On the other hand, 6 in 10 stolen skid steers are rounded up.

There is no obvious solution to the thefts. Clever and determined thieves always will be among us. Manufacturers can only build in so many anti-theft systems. And the more appealing the machines become—everyone wants one of those cute skid steers—the broader the demographic of potential thieves.

So contractors—especially small businesses particularly hurt by a theft—simply must be more cautious about where they leave their equipment overnight. Lighter machines cannot be left unprotected…ever. Transponders must become de rigueur. Disabling lock-down mechanisms have to evolve to foil hackers.

All of this is a hassle and a sad cost of doing business. A contractor’s only alternative is to run old, inefficient, ugly equipment that no one wants any part of—including, unfortunately, potential customers. Run new machinery and attract thieves. Run old machinery and lose contracts. No one said this work would be easy.