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Safeguarding Vehicle Inventory

Robert Ebin /

Have you ever felt overwhelmed? Maybe you had too many things on your plate or too many deadlines approaching at the same time. Or possibly, you had to deal with non-job-related stress combined with work stresses. Whatever the reasons may be, I am sure that most, if not all, of us have experienced the feeling of being overwhelmed at least once this past year. And as we are well aware, one of the many side effects is sometimes making silly mistakes. Perhaps this is why we have seen an increase in calls about unsecured vehicle inventory and stolen vehicles. I know that when I am overwhelmed, getting reminders here and there about what needs to be done makes a world of a difference to prevent these silly mistakes. Accordingly, this article will provide some examples and best practices regarding vehicle inventory safeguarding in hopes that it will be the reminder we need to close out the year stronger and more secure.


Many of the recent examples that we have come across have been as a result of keys left in unsecured locations that are able to be easily accessed by unauthorized parties. Although some of these examples may seem obvious, the goal here is to get everyone actively thinking about these situations to prevent future mistakes. 

  • Keys were left on a desk (or in an unlocked desk drawer) in an unlocked office. This situation has been seen frequently by our auditors. With all the daily foot traffic that comes through your dealership, this is an easy invitation for an unscrupulous person to steal a vehicle right off the lot. Also, remember that keys left out in this manner are not always taken during business hours. We have heard of keys or vehicles going missing at night after hours because offices are frequently left unlocked with keys left on desks or inside unlocked desks.
  • Keys were left inside the vehicle. We have also observed keys that were left inside of unlocked vehicles. Specifically, we saw keys left on the front seats or in the ignition. Purportedly, the keys were left in the vehicles after test drives or after porters had moved vehicles around the lot.
  • Vehicles left unlocked. Although this may not be as bad as leaving the keys in an unlocked vehicle, there have been many accounts from dealers of finding people sleeping in vehicles when opening for business in the morning. Especially when the weather gets colder and the days get shorter, the transient population tries to find warmth and shelter, making an unlocked vehicle an ideal resting place. People sleeping in vehicles may also provide additional costs due to the pandemic, such as the need to deep clean and sanitize the vehicle.
  • Vehicle was stolen in the service drive. We have had a few reports of vehicles being stolen straight out of the service drive. In one instance, a vehicle had just been cleaned and reconditioned, and the keys were left in the vehicle’s cupholder as it was waiting to be delivered to a customer. In a matter of a few minutes, a thief walked into the service drive and drove off with the vehicle.
  • Secondary keys/key remotes were left unattended. As we all know, most new vehicles come with a secondary key/key remote. Many dealers typically store these with the owner’s manuals and then provide them both to a customer upon delivery of a vehicle. We have heard of accounts where guests have gained access to these secondary keys, walked the lot pressing the buttons on the remote to find the matching vehicle, and then taking the vehicle off the lot for a joyride.

Best Practices for Safeguarding Vehicles

Although not an exhaustive list, here are some best practices to consider to help safeguard vehicle inventory. Remember that although each one of these practices will help to a certain extent, the real power lies when many, or all, of them are adopted together. The goal is to create a series of failsafes to prevent unauthorized people from obtaining easy access to keys or to the insides of vehicles.

  • Have a key storage and tracking system in place. It is essential for the dealer to have a system in place that securely stores the keys to all vehicles and that keeps track of each key that is checked out (and ideally each person who checked out the key) throughout the day. There should be dealership employees in charge of checking the system throughout the day and at the beginning and end of each day to ensure that all keys are accounted for. 
  • Check periodically for unattended/unsecured keys. Not only should employees be checking the key tracking system, but dealers should also designate employees to check around the dealership throughout the day (and especially at the end of each day) for keys left unattended. Keys that are found unattended/unsecured should be returned immediately to the storage and tracking system.
  • All offices and desk drawers should be locked every night. Have designated dealership employees check that offices and desks are locked before closing. There are many other reasons why offices should be locked every night, aside from vehicle inventory security. However, for the purposes of this article, doing so is yet another line of defense in preventing keys (and ultimately vehicles) from being taken. I know that some of you might be thinking that you need to leave your offices unlocked for the cleaning crew. If this is the case, ensure that all sensitive materials (keys included) are placed in your desk and that your desk is locked. Also, remind the cleaning crew to lock the office once they are finished for the night.
  • Ensure all secondary keys/key remotes are always accounted for. These secondary key/key remotes should be securely stored in an area away from the public. Access to the storage area should be restricted only to designated dealership employees.
  • Ensure that the cars on the lot are locked every night before closing. Designate dealership employees to walk the lot and check to make sure every car is locked every night before closing. Ensuring that vehicles are locked is possibly the easiest way to prevent people from sleeping in them and to prevent damage to the interiors.
  • Make sure the lot is well-lit and that there are functioning security cameras/security system. A well-lit lot is a major deterrent for would-be car thieves, and so make sure there are enough lights on the lot and that all the lights are working properly. Similarly, functioning security cameras are important when trying to identify culprits. I want to specifically emphasize “functioning” because there have been too many times in the past that I have heard of security cameras not working or not even being turned on, rendering them useless if a theft did occur.
  • Have procedures in the service drive to safeguard the vehicles. Securing customer vehicles should also be of the utmost importance because there is no faster way to make a customer angry than to tell them that their car was stolen out of the service drive. The dealer should have procedures in place to collect keys from drop-off customers so as to prevent keys from being left in unattended and unsupervised vehicles. Also, remember to securely store vehicle keys while the vehicles are being serviced or are waiting to be picked up. Only certain designated dealership employees should have access to these keys, and the service area should be constantly monitored to prevent any authorized personnel from being there. Finally, have procedures in place for returning keys to customers when they are picking up their vehicles. Never leave keys in vehicles in the service drive, and only release vehicle keys to the correct customer.
  • Pay attention. This is an important step that is frequently overlooked. Always be alert for suspicious activities or people. Also, even though you may not be the designated employee to, for example, check for unsecured keys, if you observe unsecured keys, don’t just ignore them.  Be proactive and remember that a stolen vehicle is ultimately the responsibility of the entire dealership.


We know that these times are hard, and everyone everywhere has been affected by this global pandemic. We are all in this together, and this too shall pass. Hotline clients are invited to contact us at (800) 785-2880 (then press “4” for hotline) or [email protected]. We are here to answer any questions you may have.

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