Costly as natural hazards and burglary-type thefts can be, the most persistent source of loss for a dealership is theft of vehicles by fraudulent individuals posing as legitimate buyers.
Step one for every modern car dealership should be to utilize one of the new electronic key-tracking applications that are rapidly becoming standard features of dealer operations.
Before discussing how these systems can reduce vehicle theft, keep this in mind: keys themselves have become very expensive. Gone are the days of $3 brass blanks that could be cut in the parts department. Nowadays, replacing key sets can cost between $75 and $350, and the vehicle’s computer system often needs to be reprogrammed to accept a new set. What used to take a few minutes to replace a key, now takes hours.
With these applications, a key to a vehicle is secured and cannot be accessed other than by an authorized person entering a code or otherwise recording that the key has been taken.
The systems then report which keys are out at any given time, who is responsible for them, and—most importantly—which ones have not been returned after a reasonable amount of time. In the past, it was not unusual for a week to pass before a large dealership was aware a vehicle was missing. With electronic key control, missing keys and their vehicles are flagged instantly, greatly increasing the possibility for recovering a stolen vehicle.
It won’t take long for readers to figure out what happened here. A dealership allowed a customer to use one of its vehicles to drive to the bank to withdraw the money to buy it. Guess what happened? Or, rather, guess what didn’t happen?
In today’s insurance market, you do not want to tell your underwriter that you have car keys hanging on a peg board and monitored by an honor system. At the very least, eliminate unrestricted access to key sets by installing lockable key boards/cabinets or key machines and establishing formal procedures for checking out keys.
Here are some other tips for reducing loss of keys and related vehicle theft:
Never use contrasting stock tags to mark first and second key sets, making it easy to spot when back-up sets are being used in place of a missing first set.
Require a work order when replacing a lost key. Document the person requesting the replacement key, the reason for replacing it, and the person making the new key.
Require ID and proof of vehicle ownership when a customer requests a spare or replacement key.