Coping with car theft can be an incredibly stressful experience. Unfortunately, car thefts are on the rise. In 2020, thefts increased by over 10% in the US alone.
The process of recovering a car is often lengthy and exhausting. Without adequate protection (in the form of a good car alarm or locking mechanism), the risk of a car being stolen is significantly higher.
There are means to track and recover a stolen car. Read on to find out the steps to find a stolen car, report a stolen car, and prevent a car from being stolen in future.
Is There a Way to Track a Stolen Car?
There are different ways to track a stolen car:
- Report the license plate to police
- Check its VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) maintenance log
- Find the location using a pre-installed Bluetooth tracking system
- Locate the car using a pre-installed GPS tracker
Tracking systems are usually available on a monthly subscription. To install a tracker, it needs to be fitted to the car and synced to a mobile device. The car’s movements, speed, and whereabouts are tracked and recorded for a set period.
How to Locate a Stolen Car By VIN
If a thief has any maintenance work or repairs carried out on a stolen car, they will have to provide the vehicle’s VIN. Obtaining the car’s VIN history will reveal any activity relating to the thief, and this information can be passed on to the police to indicate the whereabouts of the vehicle..
How to Locate a Stolen Car By License Plate Number
When a car is reported as stolen, the police will request the vehicle’s make, model, and license plate number. A tag will be placed on the car’s license plate, so it is flagged to local patrol cars and surveillance cameras it passes.
How to Track a Stolen Car With Bluetooth
If a car connects to a phone via Bluetooth, try connecting to the car to see if it is in range. If it doesn’t connect, Bluetooth may be switched off, or the car is not in range.
Bluetooth trackers are available for cars, while some newer models come with built-in Bluetooth tracking devices. However, these aren’t exactly reliable, as they will lose signal easily. A Bluetooth connection can also easily be disabled by thieves when the vehicle is stolen.
How to Locate a Stolen Car With a GPS Tracker
Some modern cars come with built-in GPS tracking devices that are connected to a satellite. Paired with a smart device, a car’s whereabouts can be tracked via the corresponding app. This only works if the device is connected to the car and the GPS tracker has not been disabled.
Cars without pre-installed GPS trackers can have one fitted. These are small and unnoticeable, so thieves are unlikely to recognize and remove them right away. GPS trackers can be fitted to the underside of the vehicle or hidden in the trunk. Such devices connect to an app, enabling owners to see where the vehicle is at all times and receive notifications when it moves.
How to Locate a Stolen Car With an Airtag
Airtags are not designed to locate a stolen car, and should only be used to find keys, airpods, bags, and other valuables. They can indicate the location of a stolen car, however, if the item it is connected to is left inside the vehicle at the time of the theft.
An Airtag typically only has a range of around 100 meters. Airtags are also not designed to track fast-moving objects, like cars, so the location may be unreliable. It takes time for the location to update itself on a mobile device.
How to Find a Stolen Car Without a Tracker
Finding a stolen car that doesn’t have any pre-installed tracking devices should be left to the police to investigate. Here are several things you can do to locate a stolen car without a tracker:
- Report the theft to the local police department
- Provide as much information as possible about the vehicle and its last known whereabouts
- Search the VIN number online to check if it’s been serviced since the theft
- Put up posters about the vehicle asking for information
- Post the car/license plate on social media asking for information
- Offer a cash reward to anyone with information
How Fast Can a Stolen Car Be Found?
Joyrides are usually resolved quickly, as are amateur thefts or thefts committed under the influence of drugs or alcohol. However, some cars are never found. Generally, if a stolen car is not found within 30 days of being reported, it’s unlikely to be found at all. Thieves will often change license plates illegally before selling the car on, making it impossible to trace.
How to Find a Stolen Car: 3 Steps
1. Confirm car is stolen
When a car goes missing, it’s easy to assume that it’s been stolen. But it could be parked somewhere unexpected, taken out by a family member with access to the keys, or even towed if it’s blocking someone’s driveway.
2. Check tracking devices
Check built-in or externally installed trackers. Check ‘Find My iPhone’ on another device or a desktop if a phone was left in the vehicle. So long as it’s enabled, this can be used to track the exact location of the device, and thus the vehicle it’s in.
Google Maps and Apple Maps also have features that allow users to save the location of a parked car.
Both apps function similarly: tap your location on the map (the blue pin).
Select ‘save your parking’ on Google Maps and ‘Set as parking location’ on Apple Maps. The former app is slightly more useful, since it allows a picture to be taken and uploaded of the surroundings. At the very least, images will be useful in a police investigation.
3. Check cameras
Many car parks have attendants that monitor CCTV who will be able to confirm if a car has been stolen or towed.
You do have the right to see CCTV footage recorded on private premises, but you can ask shop owners and other businesses with surveillance cameras to see the footage. They have the right to refuse your request, but some managers will be willing to help if the situation is explained.
Naturally, the police will be able to request CCTV footage without delay.
If a car has been stolen from home, check any alarm and camera systems (namely garage and porch cameras), whether that’s an outdoor IP camera or a smartphone pointed out the window of your home.
AlfredCamera users frequently place viewing devices against a window to observe the driveway, thereby keeping a watchful eye on any parked vehicles 24/7. Motion detection notifications will indicate if anything suspicious is going on.
Try it today by downloading it for free from the App Store or Google Play Store.
How to Report a Stolen Car to the Police
Reporting a stolen car to the police is the best thing to do if you don’t have a tracking device and you’re certain it hasn’t been towed or taken by someone you know who has the keys. Here’s how to report a stolen car to the police.
1. Gather as much information as possible
When reporting a stolen car to the police, the more information you can gather the better. Consider things like:
- Has anyone nearby seen the car or anyone suspicious around it?
- Do any neighboring houses or businesses have surveillance footage that might have caught the car being stolen?
Police will ask for secondary information, which includes the car make and model, color, year of manufacture, and any other cosmetic quirks that will help in identifying the car, including significant scratches.
2. Call the police and file a report
The good news is that car theft is usually much more traceable than other types of theft due to number plates being easily identified, and the amount of surveillance that monitors busy roads and car parks.
In other words, it is worth reporting a stolen car to the police. Once you have notified the police and satisfied any of their requests for information, descriptions, and alibis, it’s simply a matter of waiting.
How Do Police Track Stolen Cars?
Police will track a stolen car using various methods, including reporting the car as stolen onto the stolen vehicle database.
Here’s how police departments track stolen vehicles:
1. Check the car has not been towed
2. File the car into the police stolen vehicle database
3. Notify local patrol cars of the theft, so if the car is spotted driving it will be pulled over
4. Obtain nearby surveillance footage from local businesses or residential properties, as deemed necessary, to uncover further information about how the theft happened and who took the car
5. Use public cameras on highways to locate the vehicle driving around
Use the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) website and enter the vehicle’s VIN to check if it’s been reported as stolen.
3. Contact insurance
Once the police have confirmed your car is stolen and not towed, contact the insurance company to notify them of the theft. Before filing a claim, read the terms and conditions around car theft and what the entitlements are. Usually, the police will give an incident reference number that can be passed onto the insurance company for their records.
Don’t delay contacting insurance after a vehicle has been stolen in the hopes it’ll show up somewhere. Some insurance providers have limits on how many days after the vehicle is reported as stolen that claims can be made. This can be as little as 24 hours or up to 30 days, depending on the conditions set.
To make a valid claim, insurance companies almost always require an incident reference from the police. What else greatly helps a claim is supplying footage. With AlfredCamera, you can easily record and store footage when the device notices motion. Try it out by downloading it from the App Store or Google Play Store.
What Happens When a Stolen Car is Found?
If the car is located quickly after the theft and no insurance claims have been made, the car will be taken to a police impound and the owner will be notified. The owner will need to pick up the vehicle after confirming the situation with the insurance company.
In situations where the car is found a long time after the theft and an insurance claim has already been processed, the vehicle belongs to the insurance company until other such arrangements have been made.
Can I Stop My Car From Being Stolen?
Whether or not a car is returned, understanding how to minimize the risk of being a victim to a repeat offense is important moving forward. Here’s how to prevent car theft in future.
1. Invest in a surveillance system
You don’t need to break the bank to invest in home security. AlfredCamera provides superior surveillance of a driveway or garage even when using an old phone as a viewing device, while adding the indoor AlfredCam to the setup will provide better coverage, quality, and infrared night vision.
Recommended reading: How To Turn Old Phones Into Security Cameras | Top 5 Apps On The Market
In the event of a car theft, the footage can be used to identify the thief and be handed to the police to aid their investigation. Being able to monitor a car 24/7 should also bring peace of mind, with alerts sent to a designated phone when motion is detected around the vehicle.
Time is of the essence with stolen cars, as they are more likely to be found the quicker they are reported as stolen. Motion detection alerts allow the police to be notified almost immediately. The footage should also give an indication of where the car was taken and which direction it went in, which can be extremely helpful in aiding the police.
AlfredCam makes an excellent garage monitoring device, but that’s just half the story. Get an idea of what AlfredCam can do for you in our review.
2. Install an alarm or siren
Car alarms usually come installed at the time of purchase. However, older cars may not have pre-installed alarms, or these may be more likely to fault.
Installing a new car alarm, or using AlfredCamera’s siren feature, can deter thieves from stealing the vehicle if the alarm sounds. Before installing a new alarm (not a camera), check with an approved mechanic that the alarm will not void any warranties or insurances.
If you unintentionally void your warranty or insurance policy, you might not be covered financially in the event of a theft.
Placing a camera in the car or over the driveway, with a built-in alarm system that can be activated from a mobile device when motion is detected, is a quicker and easier way to ward off car thieves.
I use Alfred as a basic entrance way view into my home, it’s nice to have total peace of mind while not at home. I also use Alfred as a live car alarm, I love it, it’s better than having a car alarm.
3. Consider a dash cam
In the event of a theft, a camera installed inside a car is a failsafe way to locate it based on the surroundings the camera picks up.
That being said, don’t attempt to locate and reclaim a vehicle alone. Inform the police of the suspected location based on your camera’s observations and let them investigate. If the camera connects to a screen device, forward any screenshots and video records to the police.
Dash cams are the most advantageous type of security camera to install in a car. They are just as useful in a theft as they are in an accident, since they can record, stream, and upload exactly what happened in both incidents.
Dash cams observe ‘beyond’ the dashboard through the windscreen. Some feature dual cameras or 360 views so you can see the interior of the car as well.
As suggested in our article on car cams, there is always the risk of the camera itself attracting a thief. That’s why it’s crucial that the camera you choose is very small and subtle—thankfully, we’ve identified the best on the market for you in our article.
Is there an app to locate your car?
Tracking devices can be installed in vehicles that enable owners to monitor the whereabouts of a car at all times via an app. Most trackers also deliver instant notifications when the car is moving or goes over a certain speed limit. Installing cameras inside a vehicle, or using AlfredCamera to record a car on a driveway, gives owners a live feed of the vehicle 24/7 via the AlfredCamera app.
Does my car have a location tracker?
Most cars do not come with a built-in tracking device. A car’s instruction manual will state if a car comes with a location tracker. If it does, instructions will be given on how to enable the tracker and locate the car in an emergency. GPS trackers usually need to be fitted to the vehicle and paired with a mobile device to be effective in tracking a stolen car.
What do thieves do with stolen cars?
Usually, thieves steal cars for entertainment before dumping them, or sell them on for quick cash. Cars taken for a joyride are typically found shortly after going missing. They may be dumped on the side of a road, crashed, abandoned, or set on fire.
Cars stolen for reselling are usually taken by more experienced thieves. They will target cars carefully, choosing one without an alarm, camera, or tracking device. The car will then be taken to an illegal dealership to modify the car before reselling it, making it impossible to trace.
Car theft is no one’s idea of a good time, and it can be incredibly distressing. It’s a violation of one’s property and privacy. But by following simple steps you can recover stolen vehicles and prevent it from happening in the first place.
Even though car theft has seen a sharp upturn recently, the good news is that car thefts are far more likely to end in a recovery than any other type of property in the US, with more than half of all stolen cars being recovered by police in 2020.
No doubt, logical measures like cameras, alarms, and up to date number plates all help dramatically decrease the likelihood of permanent loss of property.
Recommended reading: Another Car Blocking Your Driveway? Here’s What To Do