The shiny new tractor on your lot or in your showroom can attract more than just customers. Thieves can quickly load valuable equipment onto a flatbed trailer, drive off undetected and get away with a handsome profit. 

The National Equipment Register, which manages a database of recorded equipment theft and ownership records, says equipment theft patterns generally mirror the overall economy. In 2021, equipment scarcities due to supply chain shortages combined with elevated demand for equipment resulted in a higher number of thefts. 

Dealerships often fall victim to burglaries during the holidays, according to the NER, and the agency received an increase in holiday burglary reports over the last 5 years. In 2021, thieves took nearly $13.6 million worth of equipment in 622 incidents reported during Thanksgiving, Labor Day, Independence Day and Memorial Day. 

“When your customer’s tractor is stolen, it’s really hard to explain…” – Greg Ayres, Vice President of Marketing and Business Development, iDter Systems

Data from the NER indicates the most popular types of equipment to disappear were utility vehicles, skid steers, mowers and wheeled tractors. John Deere, Kubota, CAT, Bobcat, Topcon and Echo were among the top equipment brands stolen in 2021.  

Why Dealers?

Thieves can make money stealing fuel, machine components or the entire machine. Greg Ayres, vice president of marketing and business development at automated detection and intrusion company iDter Corp., says limited parts availability leads burglars to part out stolen equipment to sell on eBay or Craigslist. In the southern U.S., equipment may be loaded up onto a flatbed trailer and taken across the border to Mexico, according to Ayres.

“When your customer’s tractor is stolen, it’s really hard to explain,” Ayres says. “Now you’ve got to find a comparable unit on the used market to give back to the guy, and it’s really hard to get tractors right now. The demand is outstripping the supply.”


This infographic from the National Equipment Register shows statistics about thefts reported during Thanksgiving last year. Burglars also targeted dealerships and construction sites in California, Missouri and Tennessee during other holidays in 2021.

Click to enlarge

Open-air, and often rural, ag and rural lifestyle dealerships are difficult to secure and monitor. Tom Thomasson, director of sales at iDter, says property can be stolen within minutes of someone cutting a fence at the dealership, making it difficult for someone monitoring security cameras to detect the crime and giving law enforcement virtually no time to react. 

“In the most brazen attacks reported by farm equipment dealers, criminals back flatbeds over fences, use common keys for ignitions and drive the equipment onto the trucks for a fast getaway,” Thomasson says. 

How to Protect Your Equipment

The NER says small steps and attention to detail may be all it takes to deter criminal activity. The agency recommends creating a written theft prevention policy as part of the dealership’s business plan and linking it to incentives for employees to get them invested in preventing equipment loss. 

A dealer’s workforce is either a risk or a potential ally in combating equipment theft, according to the NER. Verifying identity and conducting background checks prior to hire is a simple and cost-effective first step to mitigate risk. Consider an annual incentive plan linked to reductions in theft and safety risks or a confidential reward system for information leading to the recovery of equipment. 

Keep Detailed Inventory Records

Record the following information for every piece of equipment on your lot:

  • Year and manufacturer.
  • Model number.
  • PIN or serial number from actual plates/decals.
  • Wheels or tracks?
  • Description of equipment using manufacturer model names. Avoid using generic terms like “tractor.” 
  • Photos of all sides of equipment. 

You may also want to consider registering the equipment on a national database that works with law enforcement, such as the National Equipment Register. 

Keep detailed records about the equipment at each store (see “Keep Detailed Inventory Records”). The NER says such records dramatically increase the chance that a stolen unit may be recovered. Move light or highly targeted equipment into service bays or the most secure areas of the yard during off hours, and don’t leave anything on a trailer.

Conduct a security audit and make a written security plan to outline procedures to correct and prevent future security issues. During your audit, survey the yard and buildings. Make sure alarms and lighting work. Check if fences and gates provide a complete barrier, and look for vulnerable points of entry to the yard and areas inside the lot that could provide cover.

Dealers may consider hiring a guard service to monitor the dealership or installing video surveillance systems to provide after-hours coverage. iDter has installed its Niõ Guardian security system to detect intruders and protect equipment at several rural lifestyle dealerships, including at a Texas Kubota dealer who had multiple tractors stolen off the lot previously. The system (see “Using AI to Stop Crime”) replaced a video camera security company the dealer had been paying to monitor the property. 

“These owners are hands on,” Ayres says. “They don’t want to just hand it over to a security agency who doesn’t have the same level of care about their properties as they do. When an intrusion is detected, the owner immediately receives notification with a video recording on their phone. He can see what’s happening in real time and be further notified if the monitoring team dispatched the authorities.”


Using AI to Stop Crime

iDter has installed its Niõ guardian camera system at several rural lifestyle dealerships to protect equipment. The system uses artificial intelligence to detect and deter crime. Greg Ayres, vice president of marketing and business development at iDter, says the AI has 98% accuracy when determining if motion picked up by the cameras is an intruder.

If the system detects an intruder, it goes through a series of escalating crime deterrence measures. First, it triggers red and blue strobe lights and sirens to simulate approaching police vehicles. It also plays warning messages and will call 911 if criminal behavior persists. Dealers can monitor the cameras and control the system’s responses from an app. The system is recording 24/7 to the cloud, allowing dealers to go back to review footage if a theft or other workplace incident occurs.

Dealers should also be proactive about working with local law enforcement, rather than waiting until equipment goes missing. Request an officer or deputy to drive past each store during holiday weekends and after hours. Ask them to look for trucks, box vans, U-hauls and enclosed trailers that don’t belong to the dealership parked in the lot; open gates; late night or early morning activity at the store; and overloaded trucks and improperly secured equipment traveling in the area. If an officer isn’t available, consider designating someone from the dealership to stop into the store during the holiday. 

Not investing time or money to mitigate theft risks may save in the short term, but it increases the risk of a major financial loss and potentially increased insurance costs in the future.