Catalytic converter thefts, stolen airbags, tires and extra parts can run a car rental company a pretty penny every year in swallowed costs.
But through security measures such as installing better lighting to hiring a not-so-traditional night watchmen, four companies say that preventing thefts is possible. While initial investments into a good security system must be made to achieve these security goals, the amount saved in stolen parts and other — sometimes unexpected — benefits can make for a quick return.
The First Upgrades
Security cameras can be a hit or miss, with several car rental companies reporting that many times the footage can be useless. The first step, they contend, is making sure the cameras are digital. “Analog is pretty much dead,” says Caroline Kim, director of loss control and claims recovery for Midway Automotive Group in Los Angeles.
Switching to digital can mean all new wiring. But as Kim points out, digital camera technology will continue to expand, so by rewiring now, a system can easily grow with any changes to the technology.
Midway has had digital cameras on all its lots for almost two years. After the upgrades, though, Midway experienced several break-ins, which included the theft of third row seats out of large SUVs. “It got ugly,” Kim says, “and the cameras couldn’t capture anything because it was way too dark, so we had to come up with a different solution.”
ADT handles Midway’s camera system and its burglary alarm. While the switch to digital was a definite improvement in image resolution, Kim says the real solution came after a system from Kandu Lighting was installed less than a year ago. “You’re able to actually see the car and the person — not just the form of the person — so the lighting has really helped us out a lot,” she says.
Kandu Lighting is an inductive lighting system that uses less wattage than a regular bulb. Kim reports several positives to the reduction in energy use: The bulbs don’t have to be changed as often and customers are responding well to the energy savings. She expects to see a noticeable difference in the electricity bill and ROI at the full-year mark. Midway has also been able to expand its hours.
According to Dave Capps, owner of Capps Van and Truck Rental in Texas, Oklahoma and Arizona, getting the camera system up and running isn’t as difficult as one would think. He uses GeoVision, a digital surveillance security system, and had staff members, who expressed an interest, install the equipment. He says that it’s worth checking for an internal appetite on installation, since professional installation can make the system twice as expensive.
According to Capps, a 16-camera system can cost $8,000 to $15,000 if you do your own installation, or $10,000 to $20,000 for professional installation. Low-resolution camera systems, on the other hand, can cost as low as $100 to $1,000.
Capps says he “made the mistake” of first purchasing eight-camera systems for his locations, but the systems didn’t cover the space as well as he thought. Now he’s going back and retrofitting most of his locations to 16-camera systems. “My recommendation is to go ahead and pay for the 16-camera system and get the highest resolution that you can,” he says. “Don’t get cheap on that.”
Capps says he has easily spent $100,000 on his security system for all 15 of his locations, which are monitored 24/7, but through preventing thefts — namely catalytic converters — his system has paid for itself at least once. For each location he has also invested in at least one automatic tracking camera that detects motion and will follow a vehicle as it moves across the lot. [PAGEBREAK]
The New Watchmen
Going beyond catching crimes on video, other services can remotely shoo off criminals, literally. Matt Murphy, general manager of Falmouth Toyota in Cape Cod, Mass., has been using Netwatch, a remote monitoring security company, for more than six months.
Netwatch’s camera system detects motion on the lot, signaling the security company to take a look. If the agent determines it’s an intruder, the person is verbally warned through an on-lot speaker system, and the customer is contacted immediately and asked if the police should be called.
Falmouth has had a few incidents since Netwatch has been watching the lot, in which people came with the intent to steal scrap metal, Murphy says. In each instance, an agent from Netwatch warned the potential thieves, who then took off. Murphy says that this verbal warning is the most important part of the equation. “The human element is very key to the whole process,” he adds.
There was some ironing out for a few weeks after the Netwatch installation. Since Falmouth is a car dealership, there are often late-night parts deliveries or potential car buyers browsing. “[Netwatch] called regardless, but that has virtually stopped,” Murphy says.
Netwatch’s managed service costs $100 per day, or $36,500 per year, according to the company. Murphy says that he didn’t have a “state-of-the-art” camera system before Netwatch, adding that his 10-year-old cameras only served as somewhat of a deterrent. “They didn’t help us recover any losses or prosecute any offenders,” he says.
Tom Thayer, vice president of Allstate Auto Rentals in Baltimore, uses a similar service, Eyewitness Surveillance, which can also talk to the intruder and hear their response. After hours, the cameras begin recording when they detect motion and an alert is sent to the company.
Prior to Eyewitness, Allstate used physical night watchmen, but the company experienced thefts of items such as airbags, Escalade wheels and specialty pieces of glass. “We’re pretty much to a 100% safety net now,” Thayer says.
After the installment fee for the 16-plus camera system, Thayer now pays about $1,400 a month for the service. Like Murphy, Thayer’s system has met its ROI due to the amount saved through theft prevention. And anytime there has been an incident, the Baltimore County Police were contacted immediately.
Midway is also installing more advanced technology with ADT over the next year, in which the company will line the perimeter with an electric fence. When it’s triggered after business hours, ADT will be alerted. Kim can then check to see if it’s just someone cutting through the lot, “or someone who is out to take us for a ride,” she says.
The traditional night watchman, however, is still a viable solution in certain circumstances. Midway has been using watchmen services for more than 12 years on a larger lot that holds new and used vehicles. “Sometimes you need action immediately,” she says, though Midway has changed services several times.
A side benefit to a beefed up camera system is that employee uniforms, front counters and full rental transactions can all be observed through the eye in the sky. “It has tuned up our customer service,” Capps says, adding that the company has been reviewing rental transactions that took longer than average to see what the circumstances were.
Kim likes to log in first thing in the morning to check on some of Midway’s locations. Coffee on the counter? Not after a quick call from Kim to the front counter staff. She says she has also been able to use the cameras to see who was at fault in an accident on one of their lots.
Capps also cites greater employee control. Fewer oil filters are now used, as he found employees were switching them out earlier than necessary, or were coming into the maintenance bays to work on their personal vehicles. As well, he says there are no longer mileage gaps on any of his vehicles. “All that stops,” he says.