Small Device Stops Theft of Vehicles

This tiny anti-theft device literally is a non-starter for would-be thieves.

Small Device Stops Theft of Vehicles

  The owner of Minuteman Plumbing and Drain Services in Garden Grove, California, Gerhard Kiessling, holds the plug from a Ravelco vehicle anti-theft device. He has Ravelco devices installed on all of the company’s 18 service vehicles. (Photo courtesy Minuteman Plumbing and Drain Services)

Even though it happened a decade ago, Gerhard Kiessling still vividly remembers when thieves stole a Ford F-350 extended cargo van owned by the company he co-owns, Minuteman Plumbing and Drain Services, based in Garden Grove, a southern suburb of Los Angeles.

It’s no wonder it sticks in his memory. After all, it’s hard to forget the time your company loses roughly $155,000 in tools, equipment, materials and truck repairs, not to mention a trailer-mounted water jetter, made by U.S. Jetting.

But Kiessling no longer worries much about the security of the company’s 18 service vehicles, mainly Ford F-350 and Chevrolet 3500 pickup trucks, equipped with service bodies made by Knapheide Manufacturing Co.

The reason for his peace of mind? A Ravelco anti-theft device installed on every vehicle. In the past 45 years, no vehicle equipped with a properly installed Ravelco device — more than five million vehicles in all — has ever been reported stolen, according to the company’s website.

“We install a Ravelco device on every truck we purchase,” Kiessling notes. “It’s the closest thing to a completely foolproof anti-theft device.”


Over the years, Minuteman Plumbing has tried various theft-prevention devices, ranging from aftermarket alarm systems to one that relied on steel columns that locked into place on a truck’s steering column, Kiessling reports.

But losing the Ford F-350 van spurred him to search for a better security solution for the company, which employs about 26 people, was established in 1986 and does commercial service and repair work and drain cleaning throughout southern California.

“Pain and suffering brings change,” Kiessling notes. “At least it does for me.”

The thieves stole the truck, which was equipped with an aftermarket alarm system and so-called “hockey-puck” padlocks on storage cabinets while it was parked outside a technician’s home, he says.

The truck was found abandoned about 45 miles away from the technician’s house. The thieves completely stripped it of roughly $75,000 to $80,000 worth of tools, materials and equipment, including copper pipes, drain machines and faucets and other fixtures.

“When the van was recovered, it barely ran,” Kiessling recalls. “Almost everything had been destroyed — windows broken, steering column damaged, hockey-puck locks torched off [removed with acetylene torches]. In all, the damages totaled about $150,000.

“Obviously, we filed a claim with our insurance company, but then you get punished financially when you renew the policy,” he continues. “When it comes right down to it, vehicle insurance is nothing more than a refinancing plan.”


The Ravelco anti-theft device is designed to thwart thieves’ strategies, such as stealing a vehicle and driving it to a safe location where there’s time to assess the contents and remove anything valuable. Thieves typically break a window, disable any alarm wires under the dashboard and start the vehicle by “hot-wiring” it.

But the under-dashboard wires for the Ravelco device are clad with steel to resist cutting. This forces thieves to use a less-preferred technique: Disarm the device by working under the hood — and out in the open.

However, all Ravelco wires inside the engine compartment are disguised to look like factory wiring or placed behind engine components. Figuring out which wires connect to the base unit is too time-consuming and risky to do while standing outside a vehicle with its hood up.

But the real secret sauce is the Ravelco “plug,” a small removable device. Each plug is keyed to a specific vehicle and easily attaches to a provided quick-connect keychain when not in use.

A base unit for the plug is installed in or underneath a vehicle’s dashboard. When the plug is inserted into the base unit’s receptacle, it completes a circuit that allows electricity to flow through key components needed to run an engine.

When the plug is removed, however, electricity can’t flow to those critical components, such as the ignition, the starter, the fuel pump, sensors and so forth.

“After the plug is removed, the vehicle will not start — period. Nothing. The engine remains completely dead,” Kiessling says.


Of course, the device only works if technicians remember to remove the plug every time they leave the vehicle. The company did have one truck stolen several years ago, but only because the technician forgot to remove the plug after parking the vehicle, he notes.

“Through a GPS system, we recovered the truck fairly quickly and things still were pretty much intact,” Kiessling reports. “We were very, very fortunate.”

To ensure as much compliance as possible, the company makes every possible effort to keep plug removal top-of-mind for technicians; creating a Ravelco-minded culture is critical, he says.

“At our weekly training meetings, I always ask the technicians to pull out their keychains and show me their plugs,” he says. “If they can’t produce a plug, guess where it is? I remind everybody all the time about how important it is to remove the plug when they leave their truck.”

The device must be installed by Ravelco and costs $649.95. Kiessling says it’s a great investment compared to the potentially significant financial losses incurred when a vehicle is stolen, not to mention the time-consuming hassles that ensue related to filing police reports, handling insurance claims and so forth. Or the revenue lost when a technician can’t work until another truck is available.

“I absolutely would recommend this product to other plumbers,” he says. “The only thing that can defeat it is human error.”  


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