How dealers can guard against auto theft

At Redwater Dodge, leaving a key fob unattended is a firing offence. 

It’s one of the security measures enacted at the dealership three years ago after thieves made off with two Ram pickups, said Dave Tingley, dealer principal. Redwater is located about 50 kilometres northeast of Edmonton. 

Tingley also installed new fencing, lights in the lot and surveillance cameras. That’s how he got to watch a pair of thieves make off with a power washer and three sets of tires in the middle of one night this summer. He said he called police, who did nothing. 

Tingley then made headlines by posting the video on social media, identifying the alleged thieves, then driving to their home to accost them “with four or five of my largest guys — I was angry.” 

He found his stolen tires and washer and called the police from the property. This time, they came quickly and charged two men with multiple counts of breaking and entering, and theft. 


While Tingley’s case attracted national media attention, the more common form of theft against dealers is to make a copy of the key fob or to fraudulently complete paperwork handing over possession of the vehicle, said Sgt. Catherine Brown of the Ottawa Police Service. In both cases, thieves don’t need much time, said Brown, who oversees trends in organized auto theft in the Ottawa area. 

Getting the key fob is the simpler of the two crimes, but only if staff can be distracted long enough to lose sight of it, she said.

“Most dealerships are doing a good job of protecting themselves,” said Steve Gardner, an auto theft investigator with the Insurance Bureau of Canada. “Through education and the school of hard knocks, most of the dealerships have realized that [leaving a key out] is not a good idea.” 


The fraudulent purchase of a vehicle can be much tougher to detect. A buyer will apply for a no-money down loan to buy a vehicle and present forged documents as proof of credit, or a “straw man” legitimate buyer will take possession and almost immediately allow the vehicle to be stolen from his or her home. 

When this happens, it’s usually the finance company that takes the hit for the theft, as long as the dealership did its required due diligence in processing the applications. Brown said it’s always “old-fashioned police work” that will bring such thieves to justice.

“Car dealers are an easy target — nobody likes them,” said Tingley, the Redwater Dodge dealer. “I often hear comments that car dealers deserve it because ‘you guys are stealing from us,’ so we’re low-hanging fruit for the haters.” 

But, Brown of the Ottawa Police Service cautioned against adopting Tingley’s approach for justice. 

“For the love of God, that’s the last thing I need — Billy Joe Bob taking his four brothers and some bats and going to get his car back,” she said. “Or getting into a chase where someone gets killed over a car.” 


Make it difficult for the thieves to remove vehicles or property. Sgt. Catherine Brown of the Ottawa Police Service recommends installing immobilizers on all vehicles or just removing some critical engine parts so vehicles can’t be easily started and driven away, even with the correct key fob. 

• Never leave ignition keys unattended and keep a record of everyone who has access to them. 

• Install barrier fencing, spotlights and motion-detection cameras.

• Stamp all vehicles with a marking service such as Global-i, which imprints a tracking number tied to the VIN into a vehicle’s paint in multiple, discreet places. This normally costs a couple hundred dollars for each car. So far, more than five million Canadian vehicles have been marked. A thief can’t remove the numbers without removing the paint. “It’s a layering approach,” said Amanda Paetkau, vice-president of Dealer Group Solutions at Burlington, Ont.-based RSR Global. “The more you do, the less attractive your vehicles become to those guys who are going out to potentially steal a car.” 

• In October, RSR Global launched a new product called Global iFind, which uses a Bluetoothbased unit to report motion and location to dealerships that install it. If a vehicle is moved from the lot at night, the dealer is immediately informed and police are told of the vehicle’s location. “As these guys get better [at stealing cars], we have to get better at helping our dealers,” Paetkau said. “This product is the evolution.”