Ingenuity Deterring Third-Row Seat Thefts

Crafty solutions designed to stave off thieves

It can take less than a minute for thieves to pop the hatch of a sport utility vehicle and grab the third-row seats. Now business owners and law enforcement agencies believe they have come up with a solution to help prevent crooks from stealing the seats from SUVs.

Carrollton brothers Matt and Brian Verhalen, owners of The Seat Shop, have been working on way to protect third-row seats from theft. After a year and a half, they now have a patent-pending lock that they say will stop thieves.

“We worked so hard trying to come up with all these different designs and we finally had a design that works to where the seats are 100 percent functional,” Matt Verhalen said. “It just disables the handle.”

The $125 lock secures the seats in place, while making it easy for consumers to take it on and off.

“It won’t let it release from the floor at all,” explained Brian Verhalen, the younger brother. “You can still stow and go, so if you need to put up the groceries you can still flip the seat forward and you have the extra room for storage.”

Niche Market

The Verhalen’s know a lot about third-row seats since they’ve learned over the years how to build them from scratch. While the main focus of their business today is factory match leather seats, they started their business as a side job in 2006 in Matt’s Frisco garage, originally rebuilding and refurbishing third-row seats they found in junk yards.

“As the economy kind of slowed and families were growing and they needed an extra row of seating, instead of buying a vehicle that had a third-row seat, they found they can actually just add a third-row seat to their existing vehicle,” said Matt. “And that’s kind of where we saw the niche. And we were going, ‘Wow there’s a big market for this.’”

The war in Iraq brought more opportunity. A bullet-proofing company, which won a government contract to send SUV’s overseas and had no need for the third-row seats, sold them to the brothers.

“Eighteen-wheelers started backing up to our shop and we had pallets of third-row seats. So gone were the days of crawling the junkyards in the heat in the summer,” Matt said.

But Matt said they’re constantly getting calls from residents, and even dealerships, who have had seats stolen.

“We had a dealership calling us, like, ‘We got 10 sets of third-row seats stolen off of our lot,” he said. “It’s the biggest crime-theft ring, whatever is going on, in Dallas that we’ve seen in the history of the company.”

Plano resident Pat Sayers learned about The Seat Shop after the third-row seats were stolen from her GMC Yukon over the summer. She said her son had borrowed the SUV to sleep at a friend’s house in Dallas near the intersection of Inwood Road and Royal Lane. When he got home and they were preparing to take him to college, they noticed the back glass of the hatch didn’t seem to close right. They both looked inside, and the seats were gone.

“I thought he had taken them out and he thought I had taken them out. They were nowhere to be found,” Sayers said.

And likely, they were long gone.

Thieves Target GM Vehicles

Highland Park, University Park and Dallas have seen a spike in these thefts. According to police reports, General Motors vehicles like the Chevrolet Suburban and Tahoe, Cadillac Escalade and GMC Yukon are typical targets. Not only are consumers victims of third-row seat thefts, but according to police reports, the Sewell Buick GMC of Dallas on Lemmon Avenue was also hit.

Victims like Sayers said even if the seats are found by police, there’s no identification, making it difficult to return to the rightful owner. And dealers cannot help if the seats are stolen.

“I called them and I said, ‘I need to order a third-row seat.’ And they said, ‘We don't sell those.’ The manufacturers don't sell those. They only sell parts for seats,” Sayers said. “That’s very frustrating.”

Another problem when the back window is popped open, the alarm doesn’t sound.

“The glass doesn’t have any kind of alarm on it,” Sayers said.

NBC 5 Investigates asked General Motors about the problem.

“GM is aware of the situation with an increase in thefts of third-row seats in some large utility vehicles in certain areas of the country,” said Mike Meyerand, GM Communications Manager. “We don't have any plans to change designs at this time.”

“The bigger the house, the bigger the vehicle”

Highland Park Department Public Safety spokesman, Lance Koppa, told NBC 5 that two suspects were caught in the act of stealing the seats in late August.

“One of the officers drove up on an in progress offense and caught the suspects and probably connected them to about 100 offenses,” he said.

Those suspects detailed to police why they targeted the Park Cities and surrounding areas. In an arrest affidavit one suspect said, “The bigger the house, the bigger the vehicle,” and goes on to say that they sell the seats to a third party.

“There's a market for it and whether its people that don't have a third-row seat or if it’s unfortunately our victims whose third-row seats have been taken and they're just trying to replace their stolen merchandise -- which is in some cases what has happened,” said Koppa.

Back Window Alarm

Highland Park police are testing another solution, using a separate vibration motion alarm for the back window of the vehicle. They cost less than $20 and are meant to deter would-be thieves with a loud alarm when the window is popped open.

“This alarm we've been trying out for a few weeks and we have not had any falses. We have had good success with it and we are going to distribute those alarm devices though out the town,” Koppa said.

The goal is to create an audible deterrent and to alert residents to call 911.

Sayers said she wasn’t taking any chances after spending $1,100 to replace her seats. She bought the third-row seat lock as well. It even came with a sticker for the back window to warn would-be thieves that her third-row seats are not for the taking.

NBC 5’s Karin Matz contributed to this report.

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