What’s The Deal With Auto Show Vandalism?

Hello, ladies and gentlemen of Jalopnik, and welcome to this week’s Letters to Doug, which involves me signing into my e-mail and trudging through constant Tai Lopez motivational e-mails in order to find something worth posting.


If you want to participate in Letters to Doug, you can! Just send me an e-mail at Letters2Doug@gmail.com, or write me a note on my Facebook page. I promise I won’t use your real name in the column, just in case you’ve written something embarrassing like your Audi Allroad has broken down for the ninth time this spring and you want your mommy.

Anyway, this week’s letter comes to us from a reader I’ve named Mario, who lives in The Bronx, which is a place in New York City where Babe Ruth once stood at home plate, grabbed his bat, pointed to the stands, and ordered a deli sandwich. Mario writes:

Dear Doug,

My goomba Paolo and I recently toured the NY Auto Show. After sitting in countless Buicks and Cadillacs, we were both shocked and dismayed to discover the majority of them were ruthlessly pilfered by savages. I’m talking missing shift knobs, absent floor mats, hell; one dude walked away with a spare tire! A fucking spare tire!!

Doug, my question is this. Are auto show vehicles eventually reconditioned and sold to unsuspecting consumers?

Your Friend,
Bronx, NY

For those of you who have never before been to a major auto show, what Mario is talking about is this: if you look closely when you will climb inside various vehicles on display, you will see missing items, from shift knobs to radio buttons to entire joystick iDrive controller thingies. You get the sense that if windows could be removed, they would be.

Well, Mario, there are two reasons for this: number one is, as you suspected, people steal them. And number two is that automakers actually remove these things themselves. And today, Letters to Doug will explain why, and also make at least one “I Don’t Wear Pants” joke in the process.

Now, Mario, I suspect you’re wondering: why the hell would an automaker remove this stuff on its own accord? If Ford is trying to get people to buy the Explorer, why are they pulling the volume knob out of it? Do they want people to think the Explorer is stuck at one volume all the time? (“Not so loud, kids.”)

Well here’s the reason: because if automakers don’t remove this stuff from their cars, people will steal it. Back when I worked at an automaker, this was a frequent problem. People would constantly steal things from the vehicles we were exhibiting. Like, you know how you and I walk into an auto show, and we say: “Ooooh! I want to sit in the Audi S3!”? Well, there are people out there who walk into an auto show and say: “Ooooh! I want to steal the windshield wiper stalk from the Audi S3!”

It was so bad that was could pretty much count on the fact that an “auto show car” would need thousands of dollars in reconditioning at the end of the show – from sticky fingers, from broken controls, from stained seats, and from stuff being stolen out of the car. If you’ve ever shown up at a car company’s booth and you’ve been upset that a certain vehicle was locked, now you know why. (And yes, Mario, auto show cars are later sold to human beings.)


This brings us to the second question: why the hell do people steal things from cars at auto shows? Fortunately, Letters to Doug is ready to tackle this one, too, with a clear answer: because people are almost entirely awful, with the exception of a) me, b) whichever editor is reading this, and c) you, my dearly beloved reader, assuming that you have purchased my book.

One theory I have is that people steal things in order to sell them on eBay later and help defray the cost of the auto show ticket. If you’re ever on eBay and you see “Lexus GS 450h Volume Knob - Not In Package,” you can guess where it came from. And if you look at the seller’s other items, I bet it will include things like “Hyundai Azera Horn Pad” and “Jeep Wrangler Center Cap” and “Heavy-Duty Surge Protector Labeled ‘Property of Jacob Javits Convention Center.’”


I was also told that some gang initiations involve stealing things from the auto show. However, this strikes me – someone who has never been in a gang, except Freelance Writers Without Pants – as a pretty lame gang initiation. If I had a gang, my initiation would involve getting my gang member subordinates to visit zoo and bring back the tapir to live with me in my two-bedroom apartment. He could even have the master bedroom, but only if he agrees to do the dishes twice a week, and take out the trash, and avoid defecating on the Xbox.

Anyway: I hope this column solves the mystery of the missing knobs and buttons at auto shows. I will now leave you to get back to work, and by that I mean visit Google and figure out what a tapir is.


@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars, which his mother says is “fairly decent.” He worked as a manager for Porsche Cars North America before quitting to become a writer.


Devon lost his burner, understands electric cars don't require front grilles

It’s getting bad. Someone stole the grille right off of this thing at an auto show.