How to Prevent Theft at Your Dealership

Feb. 12, 2024

Have you ever been the victim of theft at your dealership? How can you prevent this from happening? 

Theft by employees can hurt your business’ profitability. Theft within a business is likely to occur when three things — risk, opportunity and need — exist. 

So what can you do to protect yourself?

First is applying some common sense oversight. Money is the easiest thing to steal. It’s small, it’s light and fits easily into pockets. Cash oversight is simple. Count your drawer every night and every morning. Additionally, a surprise drawer counting in the middle of the day tells employees that “I trust because I verify.”

Regular dead counts are also important. Do you know how tires are stolen from your store?

The usual process is bringing a set of tires out from inventory and placing those tires near the tire changing machine. Then an employee notices they are “the wrong tires” (Oh no!) So, the employee heads back to the inventory room to get the “right” set.

But what didn’t the employee do? He or she didn’t return the wrong set. No, those tires stayed by the tire changing machine, so when the correct tires are mounted, eight tires — not four — are brought to the scrap pile. Sometime overnight, the employee retrieves the new set and sells them to his or her friend.

Dead counts don’t take very long in most stores. You simply look in your point-of-sale system for total tire count, then go back and just count total tires. Not brand, not size, not article number — just a dead count. It’s not hard to do, it doesn’t take long and can nip a problem in the bud before that problem gets too costly. 

If you do have a tire inventory problem, the solution is harder to fix, but you can do it. First, a lock gets put on the door. I know this can be a pain, but do you know what else is painful? Writing off $2,000 worth of tires. The lock — and the fact that only two people have keys, combined with ramped up dead counts — will scare off any would-be thieves.

You’ve now taken risk out of the equation. (You can also use motion-activated cameras, but the footage rarely seems to be able to clearly identify a person.)

Parts are also easily stolen from shops. There are a variety of ways to accomplish this if your store doesn’t have a written policy on how to handle parts.

First, no vehicle should come into your shop without a ticket. There is never a good enough reason to bypass this rule. Second, no vendor should be allowed to deliver parts to your store without a purchase order. Third, parts are to be returned quickly. Everyone who is allowed to sign for parts must check for returns.

There’s another type of theft you might not think of. This is theft to the customer. I know it’s uncomfortable to think about, but this is common enough to where you have to account for it.

Sometimes not all the parts you sold the customer end up on the customer’s car. Sometimes it’s an accident, like forgetting to put a new air filter in. Sometimes it’s on purpose because the job “doesn’t pay well” or “is a pain in the neck." Regardless, the customer is getting cheated.

Then there are side hustles. Believe it or not, sometimes when a job isn’t sold, some clever technicians may leave a note in a customer’s car that reads, “If you didn’t buy the repair because it was too expensive, I work on cars on Sunday and can do it for less.” While not super-common, this does happen.

Lastly, if your dealership has an existing theft problem, ask employees to consent to a visual inspection to document existing common parts such as tire make and model, battery, oil filter, etc.

This isn’t an accusation. It’s a documenting exercise to prevent future theft. If an employee declines to “pop the hood,” he or she is entitled to that. You can clamp down in other ways.

Additionally, I recommend that new hires are given a “free inspection” on their vehicle on the first day on the job so there won’t be any mix ups.

I really do hope you never experience theft from within your business. However, I’ve unfortunately seen this way too many times in my career. Asking the question, “Would you ever steal from me?” isn’t a reliable way to prevent theft. Taking the proper actions with procedures and a “trust because I verify” mentality are the steps that work to prevent theft from ever seeping into your store or stores. 

About the Author

Dennis McCarron

Dennis McCarron is a partner at Cardinal Brokers Inc., one of the leading brokers in the tire and automotive industry ( To contact McCarron, email him at [email protected].