Loss Prevention: Tips To Reduce Auto Theft From Your Lot

Did you know that the car thieves I chase on my beat as an auto theft detective are actively watching your dealership? Believe me. They’ve told me all about it. They know you’ve got a board back by the restrooms with keys hanging on pegs. They know you’ve got spare keys in the glove box, and where your metal lockbox is. They also know that if you let them test-drive cars unsupervised, they are likely to take off unimpeded. The sobering fact is that some of these thieves look like great buyers: in slacks, polo shirts, and Doc Martens.

On my beat in Spokane, Washington, I’ve seen thieves knock a hole in a cinderblock wall, crawl into a dealership, take keys from a pegboard, and steal two vehicles. In another case, blocking trucks were rammed out of the way. On a different occasion, determined thieves broke into two vehicles blocking the entrance to the dealership. They started and moved the blockers in order to get to the targeted vehicles. In a different case, thieves test drove a car without a salesperson present, and drove straight to a locksmith to have a duplicate key cut. They then returned to the dealership that night, cut the lot chain and stole the car. Recently, thieves took a plastic passkey from a glove box while looking at a car. The thieves returned that night and unlocked the car with the key. When the car didn’t start, they pushed it across the street and parked it behind a gas station where they stripped it! Returning pieces of your cars to you is a bittersweet event for me. While I m happy to give something back to you, I d rather that you not become a victim in the first place.

You have the power to reduce the threat of auto theft from your dealership. All you need to do is make a few simple changes:

  • Control your keys! Secure them in a locking device. Keep its location out of the public eye. Maintain an inventory of who has access to the keys and for how long. There are many ways to control your keys, but the best solution I’ve seen so far is a secured key inventory system



    • Lock your yard at night by adding a lock and chain. Blocking cars in is simply not enough. If a thief cuts the chain, damaging a fence or gate during the course of the crime, they not only face theft charges, but burglary charges as well!* By making this small adjustment to your dealership’s security procedures, you can double the penalties the thief will face by breaking into your dealership
    • Send a salesperson on every test drive
    • Don’t leave any keys in your vehicles, not even a passkey
    • Photocopy a test driver’s license, and keep it on file until the car is sold, in case the vehicle is stolen

    These simple suggestions will make your dealership less attractive for thieves. Securing your keys and fencing your lot, even with just a chain, will make your dealership a less likely target for auto theft.

    *Washington State Law considers that when a fence designed to keep cars secured is cut or defeated, the offense is considered 2nd degree burglary (a felony). Blocking cars does not qualify as a fence. If you only rely on blockers, the only risk the thief faces is criminal trespass (a misdemeanor).

    Detective E.J. Swainson, auto theft detective with the Washington State Patrol, has 12 years of law enforcement experience. If you have any questions or comments about this article, call 509-456-4100 or email him at Edward.Swainson@wsp.wa.gov.

Detective E.J. Swainson

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