is Your New Best Friend
or those who sell abandoned vehicles to the public, I am going to propose adding 2 additional steps to the process: developing a key control program and establishing a long term relationship with a locksmith.
In the past 20 years, motor vehicle theft has significantly dropped compared from the levels in the late 1990’s. According to the FBI, In 1999, over 1.15 million auto theft reports were reported. In 2020, that number was 850,000. The major contributor to this drop has been the adoption of transponder and laser cut keys by vehicle manufacturers. Although these advanced technologies have significantly cut auto theft, it has come at a cost of significantly higher prices for keys and electronic control units.
Developing a Key Control Program
If you don’t feel you are ready to start buying keys from a locksmith, you should at a minimum consider keeping and tracking surrendered keys from former vehicle owners. In order to keep your process from becoming disorganized, it takes some thought and organization to make sure the surrendered key makes it through the auction process to vehicle pickup. It does not have to be fancy or complicated. In fact, I recommend that it not be. Something as simple as a file cabinet drawer may be all that you need.
- Some practices we have seen our sellers use include
- Secure keys to the steering wheel with a steel cable.
- Require a photo ID to “check out” a key
- Use auto dealer key tags with the vin or lot number to make sure keys don’t get switched
Once you feel confident that surrendered keys are able to be consistently matched and sold with your abandoned vehicles, then you may want to consider having a locksmith cutting additional keys beyond those surrendered by the vehicle owner
Developing a Key Purchasing Strategy
As a liquidation and valuation professional, I can tell you that IF you can establish any sort of wholesale or bulk key cutting program with a locksmith, your long-term revenues will increase on all of your vehicles. By buying keys, you are demonstrating that you are serious about selling your vehicles to the public, and it will increase the credibility of your liquidation program. Not every market has the availability of locksmiths to accommodate bulk key cutting. Our most successful clients hire locksmiths to cut keys for as many vehicles as they can. However, that’s an investment that not all towers can make.
If you have to make decisions about which vehicles to forgo keys and which to invest in, I recommend looking for the ones most likely to be drivable. If you can announce a vehicle as able to drive forwards and backwards, you will obviously achieve the best results.
Cutting Keys are like Bathroom Remodels
Having keys cut for your abandoned car is like remodeling a bathroom when selling a home. It’s one of the first things a potential resale or retail buyer will assess when choosing to buy a vehicle. By investing in a set of keys, the marginal gain achieved can be double or triple the key cost.
A set of business decision criteria should be developed for establishing when a key should or should not be cut for a unit. For example, units with a high likelihood of being dismantled or recycled should not have keys cut. The recycler will simply abandon or scrap the keys. Criteria for determination should include:
- Can you develop a wholesale purchase program with a locksmith to cut keys?
- Can your locksmith agree to a price break in return for them cutting keys during off-peak hours?
- What is the locksmith’s technical breadth of skill? What COULD be cut?
- What vehicles would most likely start if a key was cut?
- What key blanks does the locksmith regularly carry? Should you order blanks ahead of time?
Make no mistake – buying keys for your abandoned cars is an investment. Sometimes the marketplace just doesn’t have interest in a particular vehicle and it will sell to a dismantler or recycler. However, if you invest some time and marketing into your liquidation program, you will achieve significantly greater results.