Dawn – It’s Still Dark….
It’s 5:00 a.m. I emerge from my front door into a drizzly and overcast street-scene. Bleary-eyed, packed lunch under one arm and a flask of strong black coffee under the other.
I quietly close and lock the front door safely behind me, not wanting to disturb the household. I then survey the scene in front of me…….
…… There’s something wrong with this picture…..
…… But what?……
…… My tired mind struggles to comprehend the situation in front of me….
….. Think…… Think!…..
….. I am a freelance parcel delivery courier…… Yes!…..
….. I am about to set off to work (a regular, multi-drop route that I have been doing for a few years now)….. Yes!…..
….. Great! I know what I need to do. Just get into my van and drive to the depot to load-up for the day…..
….. That’s what’s wrong with this picture…..
….. My van (a long-wheel-base Mercedes Sprinter), which is not an insignificant lump of metal and rubber, which was parked outside my home only the previous evening is AWOL!
I am confronted by a gap. A space, nada, zip! Certainly not with the most significant tool of my trade: MY VAN!
This is where the adrenaline kicked-in and my mind started to play tricks with me.
“I must have parked it somewhere else and I have just forgotten where.” I tell myself and start frantically looking up and down the road half expecting it to pop out from behind a parked mini shouting “GOTCHA”!
Slowly-but-surely the true facts of the situation start to sink into my tired and confused brain.
“Some good-for-nothing, no-mark, toe-rag, not-worth-sharing-oxygen-with, bar-steward has nicked my van!”
Now, all efforts to avoid waking the rest of the household have melted into oblivion, as I storm back inside the house, slam my flask down on the nearest surface, chuck my sandwiches across the room and shout “fucking bastards” to anyone within earshot!
As you might already have guessed, this post is about how to deal with the theft of your van, or courier vehicle and (as ever) we will be drawing upon my own experiences, many of which have been great, but some (as we can see) have been pretty awful!
In this particular situation, it is fair to assume that (once I’d got my head around the situation) I was not a happy camper, but I gritted my teeth and got on with what needed to be done:
- Firstly – The Police. I contacted the local police and informed them of the theft, providing details as necessary. As the hour was early, I was provided with a reference number and assured of a call-back after 8:00 a.m.
- Work came next. Obviously, the company were expecting me to complete a multi-drop route on their behalf and they needed to know as soon as possible that I wouldn’t be able to complete my route at least for that day and possibly more, so that they could arrange suitable cover. (This didn’t quite go as smoothly as I imagined, which I will discuss in more detail below, in the section titled ‘Remember, You’re Your Own Boss’!)
- It was pointless contacting my insurance company until after 8:00 a.m. by which time I would have more information from the Police (including a crime reference number) and there would be a better chance that there would be someone semi-competent available to take my call.
Essentially, I used my own common sense, which always serves me well. However, believe-it-or-not, the UK Government provide official guidance on what to do if your vehicle is stolen, which can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/what-to-do-if-your-vehicle-has-been-stolen
Common sense works, but if you want to adopt a decent ‘belt-&-braces’ approach, this webpage provides some very good information to guide you through a situation that we hope never happens, but unfortunately, as tens-of-thousands of vehicles get stolen in the UK each year, there is that chance that it could happen to you.
Remember, You’re Your Own Boss
As stated above, I had contacted the company that I was working for at the time, to let them know the situation and I had assumed that I would be left to get on with doing whatever was necessary regarding the theft.
I was wrong! Within an hour, I had the depot manager on the phone to me explaining that as they were exceptionally busy that day and due to the fact that I had a contract with them, I would have to sort out a hire-van and get myself to the depot as soon as possible to complete my scheduled route. He didn’t seem to be particularly sympathetic to my plight.
Against my better judgement, I acquiesced to his demands and promptly set about trying to organise a hire van, which at 06:30 in the morning is pretty damned difficult.
At the time, I had a strong sense of obligation and didn’t like to disappoint people. Especially those who were paying my wages.
However, in hindsight, I can see that this was unscrupulous manipulation by the company concerned and reflected the uglier side of the so-called gig economy.
As soon as I left the house that morning and I realised that my van had been stolen, I knew that it was going to be a bad day. That decision to get a hire van and go to work, actually made it one of the worst days of my working life.
As a true freelance courier, the only people you are responsible for keeping happy are your family and yourself. Don’t ever do as I did and feel as though you don’t have any other choice but to bow to your employers demands.
It would not have been unreasonable for me to have refused to go in to work that day. I clearly had other pressing priorities. The worst thing that could have happened is that they could have severed my contract and I would have to seek work elsewhere, but that’s not the end of the world and I had successfully done it before, many times. (See the Finding Worksection of our website for more information).
Having said all this, I also had a good reputation with the company and with the customers that I delivered to regularly, so it was highly unlikely that they would have actually ditched me!
Learning the Pitfalls of the Insurance Industry
One other downside of this whole escapade above was that, as I now already had a hire van, I just carried on working, using the hire van every day, for the entire period of time that I was without a van, which turned out to be a long, long time.
While it seemed like I was keeping the money rolling-in and that it was the right thing to do in order to keep my customers happy, it was a false economy as most of that money was going on hire vans.
Some years earlier, I had had an accident, which involved my van being off the road for a week, while repairs were being carried out. During this period of time, I used a hire van, which my insurance company helped me to organise. They also paid for the lot: the hire van, the repairs to my van etc. etc. Aren’t motor insurance companies great?
Due to this prior incident, I made another awful assumption. It seemed reasonable to me at the time that my insurance company would not only pay-out on my stolen van, but that they would also pay for all the hire vans and for all the equipment, which was stored in my van at the time it was stolen.
- Van value = £6,000
- Stored equipment value = £1000
- Hire vehicle costs = £3,500
I had arrived at these valuations by firstly trying to see how much it would cost me to buy a replacement van of a similar age and mileage to mine.
Next, I actually totted-up how much it would cost me to replace all the equipment that I kept stored in my van, from my sack-truck and chemical spill kit to ratchet-straps and bungees etc.
Finally, the hire van costs were borne-out by receipts kept over the period of time it took to finally get a replacement vehicle.
I was therefore expecting (hoping) to receive in excess of £10k, which I felt would be sufficient sum of money, with which to get a decent replacement vehicle.
I was ‘enlightened’ on this score when the insurance assessor eventually turned up to discuss the situation with me.
By the time this meeting took place, my old van had already been missing for in excess of 6 weeks and the Police had determined that it was highly unlikely that it would ever be recovered.
It transpired at this meeting that the insurance company would notreimburse me for the hire van costs. The assessor’s explanation actually did make some sense, although it was definitely not of any help to me at the time. His explanation went like this:
- When I had had my accident a few years earlier, the reason that they had paid for my hire van (and everything else) on this occasion was that they had somebody to reclaim that money from. i.e. the third party, who had caused the accident.
- In the case of a stolen vehicle, with no apprehended felons, there is no-one to reclaim these costs from and my insurance premium simply covered me for the vehicle costs alone.
So, instead of the £10k+ I was expecting, I would get approximately £6k, which is what I had estimated to be the value of the van. Bummer!
As it transpired, it was a very poor approximation because when I eventually received my cheque from the insurance company it was for £4,900, which barely covered my van hire costs! Bummer!!!
Prevention is Better Than Cure
As the famous Benjamin Franklin quote goes: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
More than 80% of vehicle thefts, in the UK, occur between the hours of 6pm and 6am, so make sure that during these times in particular, you adopt the following practices:
- Don’t leave valuables, or items that you need for your job in your vehicle.
- If possible, park in a secure, well-lit and preferably monitored location, which is away from visibility.
- Don’t leave it in one spot for a prolonged period. (Days +).
- Install a security system.
- Help the authorities by getting your vehicle identification number (VIN) etched on windows and the engine block.
- Use technology by installing GPS and immobilisation devices like smart keys and kill switches.
Clearly, not all thefts take place overnight. In a previous blog-post, I tell an amazing story of a van theft that I personally witnessed in broad daylight, in a busy area.
On this occasion, the guy had left his keys in the ignition, while he was unloading. How to prevent this kind of theft from happening is too obvious to mention.
The Morale of This Story
If you ever find yourself in the unfortunate position of losing your courier vehicle, please learn the lessons of this tale:
- Remember that you are your own boss. You run a business and essentially all businesses operate to make profit. In my situation, I would probably have been better off financially, if I had stayed at home for 3 months, rather than trying to keep my employers happy. Don’t ‘cut your nose off to spite your face’! Trust your instinct and work profitably, or not at all.
- Do notwait for the insurance company to pay-out before you sort out a long-term replacement vehicle. Bite the bullet immediately, get a loan if you have to and get a permanent replacement as soon as possible. You can always repay a chunk of any loan from your insurance pay-out when you doeventually receive it.
- Prevention is way, way better than cure!
In good-old Crimewatch fashion, please “don’t have nightmares”, or let my tales of woe put you off. There are millions of vehicles on Britain’s Road and last year approximately 90,000 of them got stolen, which makes the chances of this happening to you very unlikely, but there is no harm in being prepared and understand what to do should you fall victim to the ‘toe-rags’!