Every avid viewer of TV crime dramas knows that in a missing person investigation, the chances for a police rescue diminish with each passing day, each passing hour. In the car rental industry, the same is true of stolen vehicles. But too often, operators don’t realize a car is stolen until days later. By then, recovery is more difficult because too much time has elapsed before taking action.
When a car is stolen, the sooner law enforcement is notified, the better. The thief may have left evidence or may have been observed by eyewitnesses. What’s more, today’s chop shops operate with such efficiency that a car can be dismantled in a matter of minutes.
“We get a lot of calls from rental car companies,” says Sgt. John Pasquariello of the Los Angeles Police Department.
The most common targets are the top-selling models among the general public.
“There’s lots of commercial theft of those vehicles because of their parts,” Pasquariello says.
“The parts are worth more than the whole,” explains Ed Sparkman, public affairs manager at the National Insurance Crime Bureau. “Selling parts of a vehicle can command a return that’s two to three times greater than what you’d get for the entire vehicle.”
Some thieves, however, sell the entire vehicle after transporting it across state lines or international borders. The vehicle may undergo alterations to obscure its original identity. Criminals can obliterate the vehicle identification number and forge vehicle titles and registration. Sometimes they’ll go a step further and repaint the car or add aftermarket products to change its appearance.
Car cloning is a growing trend. Crafty criminals take a vehicle identification number from one car and place it on a newer one, such as a rental.
But rental operators can dramatically improve their chances of recovering a stolen car if they routinely run and balance their fleet inventory three times a day, says Jim Schalberg, an independent trainer who serves the car rental industry. Moreover, a number of anti-theft products — from GPS-based fleet tracking systems to security cameras — can help thwart would-be thieves.
What’s crucial is that operators take an aggressive approach to car theft prevention, whether the threat is customer conversion or theft from the parking lot.
Take Inventory Regularly
“Every operator should balance inventory when they open, at midday and when they close at night,” Schalberg says. That means running a report on units available and reconciling that against the list of vehicles physically present on the lot.
With leading software programs, such as TSD Rental Management Software and Bluebird Auto Rental Systems, taking inventory is simplified. Using handheld scanners, employees can quickly log in VINs or other barcoded ID numbers from all vehicles on the lot. Then that data can be downloaded into the rental management system to generate an exception report. This identifies which vehicles, if any, are missing. Of course, employees can also compile VINs in the parking lot the old-fashioned way, with pen and paper, to generate an exception report.
TSD’s Marianne Sullivan recommends that at least two employees conduct each fleet audit. One employee should collect the VINs, and another should run the exception report. This rule helps discourage employee theft.
It’s also important to change administrator-level computer passwords on a regular basis, recommends Angela Margolit of Bluebird. In fact, she says, all employees should change their passwords periodically just in case they fall into the wrong hands.
Unfortunately, theft by employees and former employees remains an industry concern. These people are familiar with a location’s routines and procedures and can pinpoint vulnerabilities.