Article

Computer Record Retention

September 2006, Auto Dealer Today - WebXclusive

by David Keller, CPA, CFE - Also by this author

The factory has just announced 1.9% interest on specific models. You have plenty of those vehicles in stock. What you don’t have is a list of customers who have purchased those models in the past and who might be ready to trade again. You ask your people to produce a list of prior customers who purchased these specific models from two to four years ago, including some relevant sales data. They look at you as if you just asked for the moon to be delivered to your front door.

You wonder what the big deal is. After all, you spend $5,000 per month for your computer system that records all your monthly transactions. You have the latest technology and good people in place to ensure accuracy. Surely it can’t be that difficult to get a simple list. After all, your service department tracks the customer’s service history for 36 to 70 months per the manufacturer’s warranty period.

Your people attempt to print a list of customers and sales data as requested. They can only get detail from car deals less than three months old. They find out too late that your computer system has been set up to retain car deal information for only the last three months. They dread the idea of telling you this because you might have them go to the file storage area for those years and go through all the deals to find those prior customers.

What happened? When your computer system was set up, the retention time was probably set per your F&I manager’s instructions. They only need the data for one to two months. They covered themselves by setting it at three months, knowing they would never have to look up a deal that far back. Or the record retention time was originally set for 12 months when you purchased the computer system, but as time went on, you ran out of hard drive space. The computer vendor wanted a fortune for more hard drive space. You decided to save money and delete old activity to free up enough hard drive space to keep your normal operations working smoothly. You never thought you would ever need data that far back.

What do you do? Have your computer vendor analyze your current computer system for unused hard drive space. Print a report of all your history retention setups. Review both and ask your computer representative how much space it would take to retain your car deals for up to 72 months. For a dealership selling from 80 to 100 vehicles per month, it only takes approximately 25MB of hard drive space to retain car deals for five to six years on one of the major computer systems available today.

By retaining car deals for five to six years, you can look up F&I charge backs to see if they are really yours, print a list of prior customers who purchased specific models from two to four years ago, see what gross you made on the prior deal to the current customer, what F&I income was generated, and more. This is so much easier than rummaging through storage boxes.

It’s probably too late for most dealers to obtain this type information from their computer systems. However, by reviewing your computer setups and capacity today, you can at least prepare for the future. Don’t wait. Faced with the additional time of having to rummage through storage boxes to obtain the information, most dealers will be convinced by their employees to opt not to do anything.

Remember, your best gross and best leads are from your prior customers. You already know how to structure those deals from your history.

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