Small business owners have been feeling the pinch of the theft of valuable tools.

In the year leading up to the end of September, AA Insurance paid out nearly half a million dollars for tool claims, including business tools. The average claim cost about $1400.

According to the company's 2018 security survey, one in five small business owners said they had experienced theft or damage to their tools and equipment.

Eight in 10 cases made a claim.

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The research, carried out by Colmar Brunton and commissioned by AA Insurance, surveyed 1100 New Zealanders.

Thirty-six per cent of respondents used laptops, computer and IPads to earn a living while 35 per cent used power and hand tools.

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Bucklands Beach resident Mark Landon is among the tradies who has been ripped off by thieves.

He woke up last Friday morning to see all the doors on his van were open and some of the heavy tools had been pinched overnight.

"The interesting thing was how they got into it, it looked as though they had burnt the barrel in the door."

It was a quiet way to get into the van, he said.

Whoever did it stole a drop saw and a nail gun, worth about $2000, he said.

Landon said he was sad and annoyed but mostly gutted that he had to cancel on a client at the last minute because he lacked the tools to see the job through.

"I've let a client down."

Tauranga's Bradley Kirk, who works in concreting, had his locked ute broken into on Compton Place, Bayfair, overnight last Wednesday.

A tie gun case, impact drills, a grinder and radio were among the haul stolen, costing between $5000 and $8000, he said.

"We've put in an insurance claim, and a police report, and as far as I know we will be getting it all back.

Kirk said he was shocked by the theft.

"You hear of it happening, but you don't expect it to happen to you."

Kirk said he had heard of cases of tools going missing on work sites but it felt worse when it was nicked from a residential driveway.

It was common practice among his workmates to engrave their tools because they all had the same models, he said.

One customer told AA Insurance he had left $3200 worth of tools at the rental property he was renovating and when he returned days later to finish the job he found thieves had broken in and stolen the lot.

AA Insurance customer relations manager Amelia Macandrew said having equipment pinched could literally mean it was tools down until they could be replaced, which could be expensive and frustrating.

"Small business owners, and tradespeople who own their own tools, should take all security precautions as they would for their personal property, by utilising secure locks and activating alarms, and making sure they have the right insurance in place to cover their business should the worst happen."

A quarter of survey respondents did not have insurance for their business and nearly half relied on the cover of their personal contents insurance.

In most cases, business tools and equipment were covered by contents insurance – up to a limit.

AA Insurance covers customers up to $3000 under their contents policy unless told otherwise, according to the company.

"Relying on contents insurance is fine if your business is a hobby or isn't your sole source of income, but full-time or larger operation owners should consider cover specifically for small businesses," Macandrew said.

"AA Small Business Insurance customers can customise the level of cover to suit their circumstances, like cover for portable tools and equipment from $2500 or more, if they've told us they're worth more. It can be expensive and time-consuming to replace stolen tools and equipment, so it pays to have the right insurance in place that's tailored for your individual circumstances."

AA Insurance tips for preventing tool theft

• Ensure houses, garages and sheds are always locked when not in use, and tools and other valuables are out of sight. If possible use an alarm and deadlocks on doors and windows.

• Engrave tools for easy identification and take note of serial numbers.

• Take tools home or lock them away. Depending on the size of the job, fences, lighting, cameras, alarms and security monitoring all play a part in protecting the area from thieves.

• Any tools kept in a vehicle need to be in the boot or out of sight. The vehicle should be locked, even when parking at home, and its keys kept in a safe place.

• Where possible park in a garage, carport or off the street, or at least under a street light or in a well-lit area.

• Install visible vehicle security such as an alarm light, immobiliser or steering lock.