Thieves Take Fancy to Swanky Wheels

Crooks are both brazen and sophisticated.

Jim Leman, Correspondent

September 14, 2016

2 Min Read
Upscale wheels like those on Infiniti Q50 Red Sport cost thousands of dollars
Upscale wheels, like those on Infiniti Q50 Red Sport, cost thousands of dollars.

Thieves are targeting tires and wheels, many times from vehicles on dealer lots.

“Wheel theft is definitely on the rise everywhere,” says Melissa Vertentes of Wheeltrak, a theft-deterrent firm.

It has led to an increase of dealership F&I protection products both for dealers and their F&I customers, especially people who opt for upscale wheels and tires costing thousands of dollars.

“We’re seeing more F&I distributors carrying laser-etch wheel marking products on their menus,” she says.

Tougher deterrents are needed to thwart today’s sophisticated wheel thieves, Vertentes says. “From park and rides, to suburban neighborhoods, dealerships and shopping malls, every time I think I’ve seen it all, we see or hear another story about wheel theft and just can’t believe how brazen, yet sophisticated, these thieves are.”

Thieves recently hit a Texas dealership stealing 180 wheels and tires, a $300,000 loss. It was no small-time theft.

“It’s all on surveillance tape, yet police have no suspects and no leads,” Vertentes says. “We watched it and couldn’t believe how efficient they were at removing the wheels.

“They went in first and cut the wires to the light poles on the back lot, used cordless impact guns to take off all the wheel locks and lug nuts and then jacked up the cars about an inch so not to set off motion alarms in the trucks.”

The thieves had even pre-cut 180 wooden 4x4 fence posts to exactly the right length for jack stands. When all the vehicles were up on blocks they cut the lock to the front gate and drove in with a 24-foot rental truck, filled it with the stolen goods and drove off, closing the gate behind them.

Crews like this can swipe wheels and tires from a lot of vehicles in five hours or less. They’re also hitting five to 10 vehicles in suburban neighborhoods in a single night. Stolen wheels are difficult to locate and identify, if they ever are found.

Today’s thieves are often pros.

Ironically, the surge in such thefts partly is because cars themselves are harder to steal these days. “Hot wiring and joy rides are a thing of the past,” Vertentes says.

Theft-deterrent product manufacturers are changing their strategies. This fall Wheeltrak, known for its vehicle VIN and selling dealership info laser-cut markings on the inner rim, is introducing a program to ensure wheels are marked for protection before they reach the dealership lot. Dealers can even use it on customer vehicles in for service.

About the Author(s)

Jim Leman

Correspondent, WardsAuto

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