Imagine customers driving off your rental lot without having to stop and wait for your employee to scan vehicles with a radar gun and wave them through the exit. Radio frequency identification (RFID) technology in car rental operations is making this scenario a reality.
"RFID technology is replacing the old barcode technology of tracking inventory," says Lori Flower, vice president of sales for Global Access Control Systems, a security systems provider.
RFID technology is another tool in an emerging trend of modern security and asset-management systems in the car rental industry. RFID tags and readers help automate inventory control while eliminating the use of clunky, expensive handheld barcode scanner guns.
Flower says in the recent past, RFID tagging was a viable concept but was too expensive to implement. Two to three years ago, an RFID tag consisted of a little box that cost $30 to $50. The technology has advanced to the point where RFID tags have been reduced to the size of a mailing label, are made of paper, and are much cheaper.
RFID tags, which are also called "smart labels" or "intelligent bar codes," are already used to track livestock, consumer products, trucks and trailers in shipping yards, highway toll collection cards and subway passes. The leap into car rental, says Flower, is natural.
One independent rental company has embraced RFID technology. In October 2009, Florida-based E-Z Rent-A-Car set up a pilot program at its Orlando International Airport location to test the effectiveness of an RFID tracking system.
Kevin Sas, facilities manager for E-Z Rent-A-Car, says the company wanted a secure system that automatically tracked vehicles, streamlined operations and improved employee accountability. The company already uses tiger teeth - a row of metal spikes that protrude from the ground - to control traffic flow and prevent vehicle theft.
Other traditional security measures on rental lots, such as chain link fences and metal sliding gates, aren't foolproof against a potential thief, Sas says. A thief can drive a large vehicle through a chain link fence or place a wooden plank over a row of tiger teeth to create a ramp to drive over.
Sas says that after Sept. 11, the security industry employed new types of systems for car rental, such as plate barrier systems and crash bars. "We've had to come up with systems that were harder to break," says Sas.
To address E-Z's security issues and inventory control, the rental company hired Global Access Control Systems to install an RFID system to track and manage E-Z's fleet of 2,000 rental vehicles in Orlando.
The RFID tag on the car connects via radio waves to an electronic reader, which reads the data stored on the tag and transmits it to a software system that tracks vehicle activity.
How it Works
Sas says the RFID system can typically be installed in two days, but setup time depends on whether vehicles are on rent or idle. "It took us a week to label about 90 percent of our cars. Then we set up an area where cars without tags would be staged for tagging," he says.