Heavy Equipment Theft A Growing Problem

The Contractors Association of West Virginia is holding a seminar today as part of the 28th Annual West Virginia Equipment, Technology, and Design Exposition. Big deal, right? This happens every year. However, this year’s exposition will be holding a seminar on a topic previously not discussed: heavy equipment theft.

The CAWV became aware of this problem as Mike Zirkle, director of member services, heard stories and discussions on the matter at a contractors’ meeting. Although the article focuses on West Virginia specifically, it also exposes heavy equipment theft as a national concern. In other words, such stories and discussions take place across the country.

The crime bureau reports that heavy equipment theft is a $1 billion-a-year problem nationally. Reported instances of equipment theft have increased 10-20% a year since 1996! Interestingly, these statistics still may not tell the full story. Prior to 2001, pieces of heavy equipment did not have uniform vehicle identification numbers, making more difficult to keep track of equipment before that year. Fortunately now the situation has improved, as each piece of heavy equipment has a VIN number that identifies make, model, and more characteristics.

A main factor of the problem is lack of security. About 90% of heavy equipment thefts supposedly happen between 5 p.m. Friday-8 a.m. Monday, when many workers are off for the weekend. Also, it is not too difficult to steal a piece of equipment in broad daylight either, since bystanders usually do not know a thief from a worker.

Another compounding factor is that heavy equipment is not titled by state Division of Motor Vehicles, which means that equipment can be transferred with a bill of sale only, easily falling through the cracks. Some thieves are bright enough to dispose of the original identification plate and say it just got knocked off, while it never gets replaced. Also, in multiple instances one key can fit more than one piece of equipment, making it all the more easier to steal multiple pieces, let alone one.

I have personal experience in the matter. I used to operate equipment for a construction company. I recall that on a Case backhoe and Sky Trak forklift, we would use a bent nail as a key at times, because the keys ended up missing somehow. All we had to do was hammer a nail flat, stick it in the ignition, and turn it. We had hundreds of keys! If I wanted to, I could have gone to the site at night and simply driven away with one of the machines. It is pretty ridiculous when you think about how easy it can be!

Aside from this, construction companies in general are making it too easy for thieves to steal the equipment. How many times have you driven past a road or building under construction and seen empty backhoes, skid steers, dozers, etc…In Las Vegas this is a daily occurrence! There is a lot more the heavy equipment industries can be doing to resolve these issues. The article states a few, such as keeping pictures on file, setting up cameras, filing all papers, and even global positioning tracking devices. However, these ideas and others will do nothing unless put into action.

Simply put, this problem will continue to grow exponentially as thieves find ways to beat the system at hand. It will not be enough to simply have the VIN number. Something more needs to happen before this $1 billion problem becomes $1.5 or $2 billion problem, and further depreciates the heavy equipment and construction industries.

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