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’30 cars a day’: Thieves target Bay Area rental cars

A rental car with a smashed-in back window at the Hertz Car Rental return area at San Francisco International Airport on June 21, 2023. | Garrett Leahy/The Standard

Before the pandemic, Tylan Vinson mostly fixed windshields damaged by flying debris or broken in accidents. But nowadays, at Super Auto Glass, his auto glass repair shop in South San Francisco, half of his work is replacing windows broken by thieves.

“It’s been a busy day,” Vinson said over the phone Friday between fix-it jobs.

Vinson mainly works on private vehicles but occasionally fixes rental cars too, and rental car companies in the Bay Area, in particular, are feeling the pain. Employees at some rental car companies say dozens of their cars each day are returned with broken windows.

A car's passenger-side car window is shattered following a break-in. The car is being repaired at Express Service Auto Glass in San Francisco on March 1, 2023. | Garrett Leahy/The Standard | Source: | Garrett Leahy/The Standard

“Rental car companies are losing money hand over fist from broken windows,” said Sharky Laguana, head of the American Rental Car Association and owner of Bandago Van Rental. “If it takes two to three weeks to get windows, we can’t rent out that car.”

'30 Cars a Day'

Staff at multiple rental car companies at San Francisco International Airport said they see dozens of cars returned daily with broken windows. The employees agreed to speak on the condition that they not be named, because they were not authorized by their corporate bosses to talk to the press.

“We get like 30 cars a day broken into,” a worker at National Car Rental said. Another employee of the company agreed with that estimate. “I’d say that’s the average,” they said.

“There’ve been times we’ve gotten back 30 back with broken windows,” an Avis Car Rental worker concurred.

Broken glass is scattered on the ground from a car break-in in Oakland on Feb. 1, 2023. | Garrett Leahy/The Standard

A worker who repairs auto glass at an in-house garage on the top floor of SFO’s car rental center put the figure at 10 to 20 per day.

The rental fleet at SFO for Enterprise Holdings, which owns National Car Rental, Enterprise Rent-a-Car and Alamo Rent a Car, contains 6,000 vehicles while the airport fleet for Avis Budget Group, which owns Avis Car Rental and Budget Rent a Car, has 3,000 vehicles, workers said. Of those two fleets, between a third to a half are being rented at any given time, workers said.

Hertz Global, Avis Budget Group and Enterprise Holdings did not respond to requests for comment about how many of their cars are broken into daily.

Superior Auto Glass in South San Francisco fixes broken windows on 35 to 40 cars a day, of which 25 to 30 are rental vehicles.

“They’re almost all break-ins,” owner Giovanni Soto said.

Business was better before Covid, Soto said. His shop would typically repair about 50 cars a day and up to 75 on a busy day back then.

“It’s probably because there isn’t much tourism,” Soto said. “To us, it’s kind of a slowdown.”

Burlingame-based New Auto Glass often fixes windows on rental cars, as many as 15 on a busy day, owner Ronaldo Silva said.

“On the vans and SUVs, they’ll smash three or four windows,” Silva said.

Silva said the rear right and left windows are frequently broken and it can take up to a month to get replacement glass for models that are often burglarized, namely Hondas, Toyotas and Audis.

Replacement car windows at TLC Auto Glass in San Francisco on Feb. 24, 2023. | Garrett Leahy/The Standard

Vinson of Super Auto Glass said a new window can cost $285 to $400 depending on the supply and specifications.

“The corner windows are probably the most expensive on a car nowadays,” Vinson said. “They don’t make too many of those.”

Car Break-Ins Are High in SF

Car break-ins are only slightly down compared to before the pandemic despite tourism being significantly lower than before.

September 2022 saw the most car break-ins of any month since 2016, totaling 3,384 thefts from vehicles that month, according to San Francisco Police Department Data. February 2020 came in second with 2,955 break-ins.

Tourism in San Francisco remains lower than pre-pandemic levels, with hotels at 55% occupancy in December 2022 compared with 79% in December 2019. Over the same period there were also fewer flights at SFO than before the pandemic, with 1.9 million flights boarded in December 2022 compared with 4.8 million in December 2019.

SFPD data shows that car break-ins tend to tick up in July and in the fall, and 2022 had the highest total number of break-ins of any year since 2016 between July and December. Car break-in rates in 2023 have maintained rates similar to 2022 through May, the most recent data available.

A sign in a shopping center near Oakland International Airport warns shoppers to take valuables out of their cars to prevent break-ins and theft. | Garrett Leahy/The Standard

San Francisco police said they were unable to provide data on break-in rates for rental cars compared to vehicles owned by locals, but said thieves target areas popular with tourists.

“Anecdotally, I can say that it is not uncommon to see an increase in car break-ins in popular tourist destinations in San Francisco,” Sgt. Adam Lobsinger said.

READ MORE: Filmmaker Blasts San Francisco Police After $30K in Camera Gear Stolen in Car Break-In

SFPD partner SF Safe encourages visitors not to leave valuables in their cars.

Some tourists interviewed by The Standard at SFO such as Josh Fricks and Christina Hoyer-Kimura, who flew in from Arizona to spend a few days in San Francisco before hiking the Lost Coast Trail, didn't need any reminders about the potential for thieves.

“We hear about it on the news,” Fricks said. “I wouldn’t leave my stuff in my car.”

Josh Fricks, right, and Christina Hoyer-Kimura, left, who flew into San Francisco International Airport from Arizona, said they already knew not to leave valuables in their car while in San Francisco. | Garrett Leahy/The Standard

But others are less aware. A couple from Atlanta parked outside San Francisco’s Legion of Honor on Wednesday, only to return an hour later and find the back window had been smashed during their one-hour visit.

Thieves had swiped the couple’s two work laptops, an iPad, a drone and a passport. The couple had to trek to SFPD’s Central Station to report the loss.

“We didn’t know about this here,” said the tourist, who gave his name only as Raj.

Garrett Leahy can be reached at