How to Keep your Overland Vehicle Safe, Low-Budget Style


What if you want to keep your vehicle burglarproof for an overland journey without spending a fortune on car alarms, GPS tracking devices, and other expensive temptations?

After almost 17 years on the road, without a break-in, we’d like to share our car safety tricks with you.

Disclaimer: No set-up is foolproof, no matter how much money you spend or preventive measures you take. If someone comes along with the proper tools and has enough time, any place can be broken into and anything can be stolen. This article is to give you tips on simple security measures that you can take without breaking the bank.

Car parked at night

Car Safety Tip #1 – Keep it Out of Sight

When we park and move away from the Land Cruiser, we cover all windows so people can’t look inside.

A case in point from French-Guiana is telling, where a local pointed out that what for us is only a euro lying in sight can be enough reason for a drug addict to smash in a window because that one euro buys him a shot.

We can do without that euro, but having to repair a window is a (possibly expensive) nuisance that we prefer to prevent.

Read more: 3 Super Convenient Car Window Shades for Your Overland Journey

Car Shades used in Peru (©Coen Wubbels)

What covers which window:

  1. We installed generic roll-up blinds for the front and rear windows.
  2. Karin-Marijke sewed two pieces of fabric that fit on the inside of the door windows. With one side of Velcro sewn on the fabric and the other side glued around the window with a PU glue, they stay nicely put. Magnets work perfectly too and are a simpler solution.
  3. On the side are camping-car windows with integrated mosquito-cum-light-out-screens (see photo below).

Other options windshield sunshades or simply covering the window with a towel or sarong works too, of course.

A nice side effect: these measures keep your windows clean from fingerprints and noseprints from curious people.

car safety - using car shades

Car Safety Tip #2 – To Hide or Not to Hide?

Somebody gave us a camouflage net as a farewell present. We had heard our fair share of fear mongering tales before our departure and thus, on our first night of rough camping near a farmer’s field in Italy, we actually draped the Land Cruiser in it.

It was ridiculous of course, and we never used it again for this purpose, but instead used it as an awning in heat-wave plagued Greece, which worked great (read about our DIY awnings here).

Instead of using a camouflage net, we find better camping spots. What ‘better’ is, depends on where we are.

Read more: Overland Camping

Camping in Greece

In the wild (forest, mountains, countryside) we prefer to be invisible, particularly at night. Therefore we have roll-up blinds that block out light. Years ago we discarded our rear reflectors after they got smashed on the trail, but if you have them you could cover them with a piece of duct-tape for the night.

In urban areas we find safety in numbers (of people). We’d rather park in a busy plaza for the night than in a back alley. For the same reason, we don’t camp in the remotest, darkest corner of a gas station in Brazil, but in front of the well-lit, 24-hour restaurant.

Camping on a plaza
Camping in a parking lot

If there is (potential) trouble, it’s more likely it will be noticed and hopefully we, and/or the police will be warned in time.

Additionally, we believe that a conspicuous-looking vehicle makes for greater safety as people will notice unwanted persons around it more easily (we wrote about it here).

Recommended Books on Preparing your Overland Journey

(click on the images to look inside)

Overlanders’ Handbook

Motorcar Overland Camper Manual

Motorhome Self Build and Optimisation

Products from Amazon

Car Safety Tip #3 – Lock it Up

After traveling in the safety South and Southeast Asia we announced our crossing to South America.

All of a sudden we received numerous messages about security. We should install extra door locks (as our simple door locks are easy to hack) and wired mesh on the windows (like you see on crowd-control police cars). We took notice but no immediate action.

Until, that is, we met a German who showed us how he had installed a very simple lock inside his Unimog door. In a similar style Coen fabricated deadbolts inside the front doors that require a specific, four-blade key. These types of locks are pretty common in house doors.

So now, even if a burglar hacks the original locks or smashes a window and unlocks the door, the door still can’t be opened.

Car Safety Tip #4 – Deter & Decoy

We keep the inside of our Land Cruiser pretty organized. Even if a pilferer has a few seconds at an open door, he most likely won’t find a small backpack (containing all our valuables) lying on the front seat nor a camera in sight.

Our documents and spare bankcards are kept in a hidden spot. The same goes for expensive electronics. The key is to slow down the thieves. If they really want to get your important stuff, make them work for it.

The same goes for stuff on the roof.

Many of our hosts have been worried and asked us to take the boxes down if the Land Cruiser stays in the street overnight. However, I would need a few hours to dismantle it all and I am the one who knows how everything is bolted down; it’s quite tricky.

I’m not worried that important things will be stolen very quickly. This doesn’t work for everything and e.g. the shovel and spare tire are bolted down with nothing but simple padlocks—a minimal measure, yet you can’t just take it and walk off with it.

Read More: What’s in that Green Box on the Roof?

Green box on the roof

A tip from many overlanders, which we have never implemented ourselves (for no clear reason, really): Put expired bank or credit cards with some token money in a tattered wallet and keep it in the glove compartment or otherwise nearby.

If things go wrong, you may be able to bluff your way through and hand over your collection of old cards while you make for an escape.

Car Safety Tip #5 – Sabotage as Much as you Can

When people worry about thieves driving away with our Land Cruiser, we laugh. While nothing is impossible, we’re not worried about it. Even if I left the keys in the ignition, I’m pretty confident nobody can drive off with our Land Cruiser just like that.

Apart from the tricks the car throws at us in the pre-heating department or the three different gear levers, I blocked the starting system.

First of all, there is a kill switch that disconnects the main power from the starter batteries. All other electronics will work fine, but without that red key turned on the engine won’t start. Secondly, you need to flick some switches in order to manually glow the system.

A more advanced hack would be to interrupt the current to the servo-controlled arm that shuts off the fuel line with a simple switch.

Dashboard Land Cruiser

Car Safety Tip #6 – The Final Hurdles

If people really want to break into our battered truck and clean it out they must have ample time on their hands. But, of course, it is possible. For that reason we look for a safe parking area when we leave the Land Cruiser for a longer period of time (e.g. a visit to the Netherlands).

And, the most obvious piece of advice, keep duplicates of your documents, including a copy of the visa of the country you’re visiting and the temporary import document for your car. Store the stuff in the cloud. If things go pear-shaped it will help you immensely to get back on the road quickly again.

Car Park at night

This article was first published on Expedition Portal.

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