Originally created 10/07/01

Car dealers try to curb auto thefts



AIKEN - Less than two weeks ago, a 2002 Honda Accord was found by police in a field near Williams Street. The gas tank was empty.

Fortunately for the dealership, and unlike past thefts, the car did not have a scratch on it and only 42 miles on the odometer.

Of the three cars stolen from Honda Cars of Aiken in the past three months, the Accord is the only one the police have recovered.

Stolen cars are rarely found, police said.

The thefts have Scott Wade, the U.S. Highway 1 dealership's manager, rethinking security measures. Mr. Wade said he will install a gate, something he has tried to avoid since opening the dealership two years ago.

"We've been trying to work on an open premises, but we are not going to be able to do it anymore," he said.

Although gates on lots might deter crime, they also could deter buyers.

"A lot of them don't like gates because gates stop you and I from going to look at the cars," said Patrick Watson, the executive vice president of the South Carolina Dealers Association.

Lt. Michael Frank, of the Aiken County Sheriff's Office, said his agency received 11 reports of stolen vehicles in September and three this month. The office recovered two of the stolen vehicles.

Mr. Watson said his organization doesn't keep statistics on the number of cars stolen from dealerships.

Dealers say newer models are harder to steal because of new technology, such as a device that shuts down the car if someone attempts to hot-wire it. Also, some manufacturers use a key recognition device that disables the car when the key is taken out of the ignition.

Some General Motors cars have the OnStar system, a car security and information service that can track a stolen car anywhere in the nation.

"That's a deterrent, I guarantee it," said Hugh Cook, the general manager at the Owensby Buick-Pontiac-GMC dealership on U.S. Highway 1.

Other security measures, such as gates, are focused on the lot.

Three months ago, two Jeep Cherokees were stolen from Dick Smith Chrysler-Jeep on Richland Avenue in Aiken.

Billy Mozingo, the general manager at the dealership, said the lot has installed stadium lights since opening in June 2000. That might have deterred some car thieves, he said, from taking one of the about 150 cars on his lot.

"We light the place up like a football stadium at night," he said. "It'd take a lot of nerve for someone to stand out there as bright as it is."

Reach Matthew Boedy at (803) 648-1395 or mboedy@augustachronicle.com.

Some auto dealers are implementing new security measures because of car thefts from their lots, but those same measures might deter some customers.