When customers show up at a dealership for sales or service, they likely aren’t really thinking about how cars might get stolen during their visit, but it does happen. Just last week, a couple in Massachusetts got an unpleasant surprise after they dropped their Audi off at a dealership for a repair. The phone call from the dealership the next morning was not to tell the couple the car was ready; instead, the vehicle had been stolen and was located almost 30 miles away at a Mercedes-Benz dealership.

The police told the couple “there is a spree going on” and that “someone is going around just hopping into cars and taking them.” Therefore, the Massachusetts theft was unfortunately not a one-time occurrence and thieves probably target dealerships more than one would think.

Key control is not a new issue in the auto industry, but the security of keys in both the sales and service lanes has ramped up in the last couple of decades. Many have experienced going into a dealership and asking to take a specific new or used vehicle for a test drive, but the salesperson cannot seem to find the keys or needs to ask a specific person for access to the keys. Of course, it hurts sales if the keys to the car that may potentially be sold cannot be located, but if keys are not managed and are left out in the open where they shouldn’t be, they could also get into the hands of the wrong person.

Key control also greatly pertains to the service lane. When a car is dropped off for service, many times the technician will ask, “Did you leave your keys in the car?” and, of course, the response often will be, “Yes.” This moment – when the car is sitting unlocked with the keys in it as the customer checks in for their service appointment – is a prime opportunity for a thief to jump into the car and speed off (or slowly drive off so as to not attract attention.)

In the olden days, many dealerships kept keys on a cheap pegboard on the wall, but all businesses – not just dealerships – are encouraged to invest a little more money into security these days. Of course, one of the most common ways small- to mid- size dealerships maintain key control is to keep them all in a locked room, a lock box, or a safe. Many of these dealerships have some sort of system where the paperwork or unique ID on the car matches up with a specific key number within the safe or lockbox.

As mentioned, limiting key access to one or a select few people may also increase security, but oftentimes tracking down those people can extend the amount of time customers spend in a dealership, and it’s no secret that customers would rather not stay longer than they have to.

Key security solutions

Dealerships with a sufficient budget should look into investing in a computerized car key cabinet or some more advanced form of key control. Users of these key control systems have to open them via means such as a username and password combination, a fingerprint, or some sort of personal badge.

Various companies offer key control management systems, which range from simpler technologies like key count and availability metrics to more advanced ones including real-time tracking for every single key so a dealership knows where the keys are, who has them, and what time they were checked out and returned.

As a whole, maintaining security is a major component of a dealership’s operations to cut back on losses and prevent recurring crime. Larger-scale security measures that can be taken to deter theft are investing in a reliable video surveillance system, fencing or blocking off a significant piece of the exterior to reduce exit points, and installing lights all throughout the dealership and lot to deter potential thieves.

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