Let the lot damage begin

It's that time of year again. Big chunks of the country have been getting the season's first dump of snow. Minneapolis received a foot and a half over the weekend. Buffalo has 28 inches so far.

Let the lot damage begin.

Dealerships can wrack up thousands of dollars in dents and scrapes moving vehicles around to clear the snow. Lot damage happens all year round, of course, but severe weather makes it worse. Northern dealerships have the snow to deal with. Dealerships in southern states face hailstorms and even hurricanes.

Even without weather problems, those dings still can be a persistent headache. Earl Stewart, who owns a Toyota dealership in North Palm Beach, Fla., recently told me that lot damage is one of his biggest problems, costing him $3,000 to $4,000 a month.

He parks 500 cars at his store, and they're squeezed in so tight that door scratches and fender dents are common. It happens to customers' cars, too. “It's a really costly thing to have to park the way we do,” Stewart said.

Stewart's solution: Spread the cars out. As part of a planned expansion, Stewart is doubling his parking space. He expects to be able to significantly increase his inventory and avoid much of that lot damage at the same time.

At least he doesn't have to worry about the snow.