The Multi-Million-Dollar Dealership Risk
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The Multi-Million-Dollar Dealership Risk

The few steps you take today could be the difference between a successful year or a call from your local fire department.

John Hyland is president of direct writer for Sentry Insurance. Sentry currently insures more than 3,000 dealerships and automotive service shops. Visit sentry.com to learn more.

As a dealership owner, your service and parts department is one of the greatest sources of profitability. At the same time, one of your dealership’s greatest risks also resides in your service area.

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That’s right. Vehicles left indoors with electrical, fuel or hydraulic issues are leading to large-scale fires overnight. The result is months of downtime, damaged inventory and lost customers.

What follows is a five-minute guide our safety team put together. You’ll find fast, practical tips you can apply at your dealership shortly after reading this. Let’s get started.

Flag Customer Vehicles

It’s challenging to protect against fire risks if you don’t know where to look. The same goes for your customers.

Combustible materials, flammable liquids and built-in electrical systems all reside in your vehicles and service department. Because of this, you should ask customers if their vehicle has exhibited any electrical, fuel or hydraulic issues. Even if your customer assumes everything is running well, your team should perform its own inspection process.

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If a vehicle demonstrates warning signs, have your team document their findings. Flagging vehicles with the symptoms mentioned above will help communicate to your entire team which vehicles are high risk.

This knowledge will make it easier for your team to adopt the safety methods that follow.

Park Vehicles Outside

Now that your team knows where to look, ask yourself: Would you leave your dealership’s greatest fire risk indoors? Of course not. That’s why we encourage dealerships to park vehicles or machinery outside until technicians can complete the service work.

If technicians can’t complete the full service before closing, they should also park the vehicle outside overnight. Put more simply, if a vehicle with electrical, fuel or hydraulic issues will sit unattended, place it outside. When you park vehicles, place them away from anything that could burn — including buildings and vegetation.

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Isolating your risks is a simple technique, but one often missed.

De-Energize Vehicles

Parking vehicles outside is a great first step, but it’s even more effective when paired with other strategies. Vehicles rely on more electrical components than ever before. One spark from an unchecked vehicle could put you out of business for months.

Take the most common ignition source out of the equation by de-energizing your vehicles. The first way to accomplish this is disconnecting batteries before your technicians leave a unit overnight or during the weekend. The same step applies to charging vehicles or batteries. Never leave chargers connected to batteries unattended, especially overnight.

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Of course, fuel leaks create their own set of fire risks. Ask your technicians to turn fuel shut-off switches to the OFF position before leaving a vehicle unattended for long time intervals.

Cover Your Dealership

Your safety habits are your most powerful asset, but sometimes the unexpected can hit. Combine your safety approach with the right property, liability and equipment insurance before it does.

Remember, insurance doesn’t replace your team’s need for risk management. Ask your insurer whether they have additional services to help make your dealership safer. Odds are, they’ll be happy to help. Most recently, we’ve introduced a risk management tool that makes it easier for dealerships to measure — and reduce — their risks. We’ve also helped dealerships educate their staff by running through risk scenarios and testing their safety program.  

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A single tool or service isn’t a substitute for your team’s daily commitment, but it does make it easier to manage your risks. Safety consultants have years of experience with dealership risks just like yours. Don’t hesitate to lean on them for support. 

Don’t Become the Next Headline

The few steps you take today could be the difference between a successful year or a call from your local fire department. Consider the risks of waiting: a fire, months of downtime, mounting costs and customers who may turn to local competitors.

So, don’t wait. Flag your vehicles. Park them outside. And de-energize them before you leave for the night. It takes three simple steps to follow through on the trust your customers place in your dealership.

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