UK car theft has fallen to a record low overall, but with almost a million vehicles still at risk every year and premium vehicles being stolen “to order”, car dealers cannot afford to take a risk with their assets.
According to the Office for National Statistics’ Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW), there were an estimated 889,000 vehicle-related thefts in the year ending September 2015, the lowest level since the survey began in 1981. However, neither police forces nor the motor retail industry collect statistics on how many of these occur at dealerships, so getting a true idea of the threat is difficult.
Andy Barrs, head of police liaison at Tracker, said there are two levels of crime that happen most often within the dealership.
The first is opportunistic, where a criminal spots a set of keys stuck to a piece of paperwork, or left lying around near the service desk.
The second is highly organised criminal gangs that are operating a “steal to order” service to international clients. Barr said these gangs tend to target prestige brands.
“The criminal gang member will come into the dealership, enquire about a specific model to see if it is in stock, perhaps a Mercedes C63 AMG with all the bells and whistles, and then the gang will come back to get that particular model for the client.”
Barrs said criminals may target sales executives that are using demonstration cars by following them home to steal them.
“There’s a lot of slackness with security at dealerships, particularly around looking at who is coming and going from the dealership” Andy Barrs, Tracker
In 2014, officers from the National Crime Agency, ACPO Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service and the Border Force seized 44 stolen vehicles worth more than £1.2 million at ports across the country.
The vehicles, including BMWs, Range Rover Evoques, Audis, and a Porsche Cayenne, were destined for African countries, Cyprus, France, the USA, Malaysia and Burma.
Barrs said: “There is one dealer group we work with that puts trackers on any car over £50,000. But that was prompted after a big robbery at their premises.
“Unfortunately a lot of dealers are reactive, rather than being pre-emptive. There’s a lot of slackness with security at dealerships, particularly around looking at who is coming and going from the dealership.”
CCTV 'is the first line of defence'
Denby Security Services has worked with Benfield Ford, Citroën, Škoda and BMW, including showrooms, service areas and car storage compounds.
Owner Andy Denby said: “Security protocols and procedures have to change constantly as businesses change in size.”
Denby said this includes the size of premises, the number of staff, location, responsibility and product ranges.
He said: “The first line of defence on the forecourt or pitch is a very good CCTV system both in and outside of the premises, images must be of a certain quality so that should something happen, the images are easily recognisable and easily distributed.”
Denby advises that the CCTV system be monitored either in-house or by contracted personnel, but especially out of hours. He also said it is worth the dealership speaking to other businesses around the same area, particularly if there are several dealer businesses in the same industrial park, to try to get everyone to use the same security supplier.
He said: “Handovers and pertinent information can then be passed on more easily. It can also cut down on cost.”
FarSight provides remote CCTV monitoring to some dealers in the UK. It works by connecting a dealer’s CCTV cameras to FarSight’s remote site via the internet. The connection can be switched on all day or at specific times at the request of the dealer.
FarSight’s software monitors activity and as soon as a dealer’s alarm system is tripped, the cameras at that showroom are routed to the screen of a FarSight security operator.
Monitoring is then manually handled by FarSight, remotely panning and zooming on what is going on. The emergency services can be contacted, the dealer can be contacted and FarSight can communicate with intruders via a loudspeaker.
According to FarSight, nine times out of 10, the loudspeaker warning is enough to drive intruders away.
Install vehicle trackers
Tracker recovered 23,532 vehicles in 2015, worth a combined £502 million. To put that in perspective, that is more than the annual turnover of four in five of the AM100 dealer groups.
Barrs said part of the problem with vehicle theft is that the lines are often blurred within modern dealerships between what is a public area for all and what is a private business area. It means customers often have a lot of access across the showroom site.
Barrs said the majority of dealers are not fitting trackers to demos or vehicles and that 53% of stolen cars are never recovered. This compares to a 95% vehicle recovery rate with a tracking device, usually within 24 hours.
He said: “A lot of stock ends up in containers at ports in the UK, never to be seen again.”
Trackers can be fitted to vehicles from £250. A tracker or “stolen vehicle recovery system” works like an electronic homing device. A covert transmitter is hidden in one of several dozen places around the vehicle. There is no visible aerial, which makes it difficult for thieves to locate.
Barrs said: “I think the percentage of dealers fitting trackers to demos is so low because it’s just another thing that eats into margins.
“But it always shocks me when a £100,000 vehicle isn’t fitted with a tracker.”
Bollards – space-saving security
Bollards are another way of keeping the dealership site secure and they can be much more sophisticated than just putting in a concrete post.
Green Gate provides rising bollards for dealerships in the UK that can be operated through a swipe card or wall-mounted code panel.
Rising bollards are increasingly popular at dealerships over more conventional swing gates and barriers. Green Gate said its barriers have a higher impact resistance up to 40mph, but have the added benefit of not providing an obstacle when not in use. More traditional gates can take up a large area of ground, or block off valuable parking spaces. The bollards can rise or fall in six seconds.
Green Gate installed rising bollards at Rates Ford in Essex so that no vehicle could be driven from the showroom,
forecourts or workshop areas while the bollards are enabled.
It has meant the dealership can reduce costs on insurance premiums that have been passed on because of the bollards and they have also reduced spend on security guard costs.
Dealership staff gain access to a control system for the bollards that is controlled from a single network point and can be accessed remotely if needed.
Keep keys secure
Paul Smith, Traka Automotive managing director, believes the best way to keep stock secure is through the keys.
He said: “If you can’t get to a key, it’s pretty difficult to steal a car these days.”
However, Smith acknowledges that keys can get in the way of what a dealer needs to do and “no one is interested in keys at the dealership”.
Smith said: “Our job is to make things as easy as possible and make sure storing those keys securely is always the easiest option, it has to be the path of least resistance.”
Smith said keys are often passed from department to department, and although ideally keys would be returned to a secure place when technicians don’t need them, that rarely happens in practice.
“Our largest threat is system failures. Should a piece of equipment go down, our systems automatically let us know”Roger Dawkins, Jardine Motors
Traka offers a smart key system where each key is fitted with a fob with a microchip.
With the “clever key” system, dealers don’t need to use labels – so if a key gets dropped or lost, there is no immediate identity issue and security risks are minimised.
Keys, or keysets, are permanently attached using a tamper-proof security seal to a metal iFob. The iFobs, with keys attached, lock into a receptor strip within the key cabinet, where they are available 24/7, but to authorised staff only.
The system automatically records when a key is used and by whom on a database. Managers can see an audited history of all key transactions and movements.
Smith said a lot of dealerships still use a single strongbox to keep keys in and this is mostly for insurance purposes.
He said: “Usually the strongbox will have one code, that everyone in the dealership knows. The box is there for security purposes, but it really doesn’t offer much security.”
Smith said dealers with prestige brands such as BMW, Porsche and Audi, have been early adopters with smart key technology. Traka also works with luxury retailers such as HR Owen and seven of the top AM100 dealer groups to provide key management services.
However, Smith said dealers with volume brands have also started to add smart key management over the past two years.
Smith agreed that most dealers tend to be reactionary when it comes to reviewing how keys are managed.
He said: “Directors usually don’t see the day-to-day operation level of key management within the business. But when the boss wants his 7 Series and the keys have been lost, it becomes more of a priority.”
Smith said installing a smart key system can pay for itself in between six and 12 months, simply through higher efficiencies.
He said: “If you can save a technician 10 minutes each day at a £100 an hour labour rate, suddenly you’re making things a lot more efficient, as well as secure.”
Set and enforce staff policies
One AM100 top 10 dealer, who asked to remain nameless, had two vehicles taken after thieves stole 11 keys during a separate raid. While a key policy was in place to make sure keys were secure throughout the dealership, the individual dealership staff were not following the procedures put in place by the group.
The keys were “lying around” and inside salesmen’s desks, which had not been locked.
The dealership in question did have CCTV cameras in place, but none of the external cameras worked and those cameras that did work on the interior of the showroom were not of high enough quality to record footage in low light.
The robbery prompted a review by the local police force of what measures the dealership should implement and the group upgraded its CCTV across its network of dealerships.
While dealers can put security measures in place, the staff throughout the group need to follow those procedures in order to keep showrooms secure.
Case study: Roger Dawkins, security and facilities manager, Jardine Motors group
No two days are the same for Roger Dawkins, group security and facilities manager across 70 businesses for Jardine Motors.
Dawkins manages security for the whole group, but his role also includes managing facilities, workshop maintenance, fire and health and safety.
Rather than the background threat of potential theft and vandalism, Dawkins said the biggest security risk to the business is making sure all the systems that have been put in place, such as CCTV and alarms, are functioning the way they are meant to.
Dawkins said: “Our largest threat is system failures. These are monitored centrally, so should a piece of equipment go down, our systems automatically let us know, enabling a fix the same day.”
Key management is also a big part of keeping stock secure across the group. Jardine uses Traka to track where car keys are and who has them at all times, whether it’s a car in for servicing or a car in stock.
Dawkins said: “The electronic system we use is fully auditable giving staff the ability to see where the car and keys are in the process from their desk without having to waste time walking around the site looking for the car.
“Knowing the keys are secure on site is very important to us and our customers should never feel that their car is vulnerable while it’s with us.”
Each dealership site is fitted with intruder alarms and CCTV for security, which are all monitored and recorded 24/7.
The group also employs security guards at some sites and they are all managed centrally by Dawkins.
He said: “If a site requires additional security guard support, whether it’s because we have a valuable display on-site or a system is down, then a request is sent to me and I arrange the cover.
“This is reviewed with the supplier on a yearly basis to ensure we get the best rates.”
Jardine has its own internal procurement department and all security supplier partners are regularly reviewed by Dawkins. He sets pre-agreed key performance indicators to make sure each supplier is delivering.