Imagine a thief has broken into your building, damaged a company vehicle, and stolen over $10,000 in tools from the vehicle. You have owned some of the tools stolen for decades, while others had been purchased a week before the crime.

Now imagine that your insurance deductible won't even cover the cost of repairing the damage to your building or to the vehicle, and you didn't take out a special rider for tool replacement. Now you know what one New England HVAC/plumbing contractor recently experienced. He shared his experiences with other contractors during a Web chat I participated in recently.

He doubts that he will recover most of the tools, some that he has had since he was a teen. He didn't take pictures of the tools or record the serial numbers of each one. He is now an advocate of taking all necessary precautions to protect tools and property.

As he put it, "Who has time to record the serials numbers off tools? You do!"

A contractor from the Midwest had some advice for the victim and other contractors. "Spread the tools out on the floor of your shop or driveway and take pictures and video of your tools," he said.

"It's hard to remember exactly what you had, and the quality, without pictures. I also bought some small metal stamps to put a code number on all my tools."

But even marking every tool is not a guarantee of getting each one back. However, it does help when insurance claims for losses are filled out and equipment description and documentation is necessary to recover the cost of the losses.

Marking Doesn't Always Help

Another Midwest contractor who did go to the trouble of marking his tools has never recovered any of the missing tools.

This contractor said his truck was stolen from his home last December and he lost $18,000 in tools. The damaged cube van was recovered three hours later minus the tools. He said he took pictures of all of the tools and stamped his personal identification number on each one - but none have been recovered.

Fortunately he had a lot of help from his staff, who loaned him tools to resume his work. He still encourages everyone to mark their tools and take pictures of anything that goes into the service trucks/vans.

And in an unusual sort of way, a crime like this is also an "opportunity" to replace aging tools and instruments with newer technology. As the contractor said, "Do not rush into replacing anything. I now have a chance to look into new and different stuff this way."

Preventive Measures

Here are some ways you can ease the pain of tool theft. DPL America ( has developed a variation of its Titan Anti-Theft System, which automatically disables a vehicle so the thief cannot move it to an area where an unobserved break-in can take place. The system also has a sensor that detects if a toolbox is being jimmied or struck, and an alarm is automatically sent to the driver's cell phone.

Tips on insurance coverage can be found at These tips include:

  • Ask the companies about bundled plans, such as homeowner's and auto insurance together, since these plans often provide a price break on both kinds of coverage.

  • Ask agents about including a replacement-cost endorsement in the policy. This acts as an inflation-guard clause in the policy, making sure coverage keeps up with the cost of replacement.

  • As a rule, don't lower the deductible because it dramatically increases the cost of the policy.

    As the New England contractor put it, "Spend the money on insurance, locks, lights, and alarms. Record the serial numbers and photograph the tools. Make the list; you will find time, now, or after its too late. To a slob or a thief, tools are just tools, to a mechanic or a craftsman, they become an extension of ones self."

    John R. Hall is business management editor. He can be reached at 734-464-1970, 248-786-1390 (fax), or

    Publication date: 09/05/2005