Preventing Airbag Theft at Dealerships & Auto Lots

by | Jun 23, 2023

Prevent Airbag Theft

Imagine this: A customer wants to take one of your vehicles for a test drive. That’s when the sales associate notices something is amiss. In the middle of the steering wheel, there’s a hole and visible wires. The airbag is gone. On further inspection, you learn that it’s far from the only vehicle on the lot in this condition. You’ve become the victim of airbag theft.

That’s what happened to an Iowa dealership recently, losing tens of thousands overnight. This was just one of many dealerships across the country seeing an uptick in airbag theft. Below we’ll explain why criminals target airbags—as well as effective steps your dealership or auto lot can take to stop them in their tracks.

The Growing Problem of Airbag Theft

It’s difficult to steal a whole car. That’s why thieves increasingly look for easy-to-remove automobile parts. Wheel and tire theft, catalytic converter theft, and, yes, even airbag theft have become increasingly common.

For a skilled criminal, it takes mere seconds to break into a car and remove the airbag. In one Detroit dealership, thieves hit 18 cars in just one night. At a dealer’s lot in Howard Country Maryland, they removed bags from 29 vehicles.

According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, thieves steal about 50,000 airbags per year. And information from the insurance company Admiral reveals that it’s a growing problem. Insurance claims for steering wheel and airbag theft rose 68 percent between 2020 and 2021.

Thanks to post-pandemic supply chain issues, airbag demand remains high, but supply is low. That creates a lucrative black market for criminals.

Unreputable collision repair shops purchase stolen bags and install them “new” to unsuspecting customers. This allows the repair shops to charge full price (about $1,000) to someone’s insurer, even though they only paid the thieves somewhere between $50 and $200. Unfortunately for car owners, this voids the bag’s warranty. On top of that, the bag may not deploy correctly when needed.

Clearly, airbag theft is a problem. But the good news is there are ways to solve that problem for your lot or dealership.

6 Traditional Security Methods to Prevent Airbag Theft

Here are a few traditional security methods that can help.

But a word of warning: you’ll see, these methods aren’t foolproof solutions on their own. Consider their downsides before implementing and add other layers of security to make up for any shortcomings.

#1. Key Access Control Measures

To prevent thieves from swiping and cloning keys, use a sign-in/sign-out system to track all keys and fobs. That way, if there’s a problem, you’ll know who last had a given vehicle’s key.

Of course, you’ll also want to lock those keys during and after business hours. Just hanging them on a communal peg board opens the opportunity for someone to steal or copy them. The challenge here is making sure your staff follows these guidelines.

#2. Steering Wheel Locks

Steering wheel locks are helpful devices, and they can be a relatively cheap deterrent. Their primary function is to prevent people from driving off with the car. However, many steering wheel locks have a bar that sits across the steering wheel, making it much harder to remove the airbag.

Sure, this can slow thieves down. However, more sophisticated criminals will get around them eventually. It’s important to have other security methods in place. Steering wheel locks aren’t enough on their own.

#3. Lot Lighting

On any auto lot, it’s important to make sure you have adequate lighting indoors and out. That includes motion-activated security floodlights throughout your property.

However, like steering wheel locks, lighting is a good layer of deterrence, but lighting alone is not enough to stop airbag theft. Particularly motivated criminals can disable or ignore it.

#4. Security Fencing

Security fencing can be another crime deterrent. Putting up a physical barrier can do a lot to slow down and stop thieves. And an electric fence may be worth the investment to prevent thieves from sneaking up at night.

Controlling access to the lot is also a great way to keep track of who is on the lot at any given time. But again, this method comes with drawbacks. The cost and time involved with maintenance, for instance. And a fence says “STAY AWAY” to criminals and customers alike. Yes, fences keep some criminals off your lot. But fencing also keeps potential customers from browsing inventory after hours, which could hurt sales.

#5. Video Surveillance

A traditional unmonitored video surveillance system will record and store footage automatically. This is serviceable to aid police after someone commits a crime.

However, cameras alone don’t entirely prevent crime. A monitored video system is a more proactive deterrent since someone is watching the feed for nefarious activities. You can view these cameras can yourself or entrust the monitoring to a remote or onsite security team.

#6. Onsite Security Guards

Onsite guards are a way to signal to potential criminals that the lot is under protection. But hiring security guards costs a lot of money. Training, salary, benefits, and insurance are all major expenses to take on. Not to mention the time it takes to manage those employees.

Plus, even the best guards can’t be everywhere at once on your lot. It’s easy for crime to take place as soon as they walk to another part of your dealership. So guards aren’t the be-all-end-all.

Traditional Security Measures Aren’t Enough for Airbag Theft

Unfortunately, if you read police reports of airbag theft, you’ll quickly notice that thieves knew how to circumvent many of the traditional security measures. To truly protect your lot, use the latest, most advanced security solutions.

This is where Deep Sentinel security camera monitoring comes in. Every Deep Sentinel system comes equipped with the following features:

  • High-definition color night vision: In the event thieves manage to steal airbags, these cameras offer clear, full-color footage that helps police to track down the crooks.
  • Artificial intelligence: AI can distinguish between a human intruder and critters, for example. When an AI camera security camera detects a threat, it streams the video feed to a human via high-speed internet within seconds.
  • Two-way audio: Cameras equipped with this feature allow you (or a hired guard) to talk directly to potential thieves, scaring them off.
  • Live monitoring: If your cameras merely film a crime in progress, they’re not much of a deterrent. But if a live guard warns thieves and alerts authorities within seconds, you increase the chances that everything on your lot will remain intact. Deep Sentinel’s live guards are, simply put, the best in the business.

Get the most modern and effective after-hours security coverage around. Contact Deep Sentinel by calling 833-983-6006.

Need a Solution that Prevents Crime?
Deep Sentinel is the only security technology that delivers the experience of a personal guard on every customer’s home and business. Visit or call 833-983-6006

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