Last Updated on January 1, 2023 by Bernard Juchli
This publication tackles the question “how do police investigate stolen car?”. The police need a lot of luck to find a stolen car, it could be by accident, and sometimes with computerized help such as car trackers.
To a police officer, every vehicle is suspicious. And when the vehicle in sight is caught in a violation, the police use that opportunity to check if it is stolen or not.
Some states will assign an investigator. However, the investigator may have a few other stolen cars to track, so it may not be about yours alone.
How do police investigate stolen car?
When you report a stolen car to your local police department, a report entry begins. However, the transfer process may take a couple of days to be assign to an investigator. If detectives or investigators are busy, it could take even longer.
During the report entry, your VIN (vehicle identification number) and license plate are entered into a stolen vehicle database nationwide. This happens prior to the written report. Now, when any officer processes the license plates, they can tell if a car is stolen or not, and make attempt to recover it.
The police department will contact you using the number or contact address you provided when you reported your stolen car. You will be notified on the impound location where the associated fees will be paid.
The department receives hundreds of reports monthly, and your stolen car report is investigated in the order it is received. Even though the police department understands that you just want your vehicle back, your patience is necessary.
The police finding a stolen vehicle can be difficult there is only a little, or no evidence to base the investigation. If there is a video available, the police detective works with it to recover the car faster. However, if there no timely video equipment, the investigation can be challenging.
There could also be hurdles in the video. For example, the surveillance video may show the car theft, or another car involved, but the quality may be poor. The surveillance camera may have been at extreme angle, or blocked by an obstacle, making it difficult to identify the suspect or read the vehicle license plate.
Some surveillance systems are not installed to capture details other than the general activities on site. Moreover, video surveillance may not identify the suspect or involved vehicles without a reliable witness. It is also rare to get a witness with specific knowledge but the assigned detective will attempt to find one.
The video evidence is important to compare with an arrested suspect caught with your stolen vehicle.
Speaking of fingerprints, they are quite difficult to lift inside a car due to the interior surface design or texture. Fingerprints on the vehicle exterior may not provide conclusive evidence but detectives do not hesitate to pick them.
Unfortunately, fingerprints can take as long as 12-18 months of wait for results due to other cases already awaiting examination. DNA testing for auto theft may not also be available in your state because of DNA backlog evidence waiting for the Forensic lab examination.
Ways a police detective finds your car
An assigned police investigator typically looks out for things that indicate a possibly stolen car. Below are the ways they find your stolen vehicle:
Tour areas with high stolen car volume
An officer will drive to areas around in the city where stolen cars are routinely dumped. Such neighborhoods may be surrounded by hills, open farmlands, and valleys. They would also cruise industrial areas and residential neighborhoods for possible suspicious vehicles. Vehicles looking out of place or left on the street or business parking lots overnight are typically inspected for theft.
Read also: State laws allow you to claim abandoned cars
The police also patrol parking lots at local motels known for criminal activities to run the tag numbers for possible theft. In Chicago, for instance, stolen cars may be commonly parked along streets without being noticed. Chicago also records high crime rates than the national average.
Vehicles with unusual signs
Again, an investigating police officer sees every car as stolen. Cars with crooked license plates, temporary tags (especially out-of-state tags) and busted out windows covered with bags are signs that a car may be stolen.
If the license plate of a car does not match the vehicle description after a plate check, it is a big sign for the officer. For example, a blue Nissan plates could be found on a black Ford, which indicates possible theft.
License plate check
Stolen vehicles reported to the police department are logged into a database accessible nationwide. A police officer can visit the database while interacting with vehicles on the road. If a license plate query returns a stolen report, the suspected is arrested.
In some states, police vehicles with onboard computers (automated license plate readers) autonomously scan license plates in real time. The police officer will be spontaneously notified of a stolen car around them, which they immediately attempt to trace.
Search frequently stolen cars
If a police officer finds a car in that is on the hot sheet of stolen cars, they will run the plate numbers. They may pull over the driver for questioning since the police officer believes the car is stolen until proven otherwise.
Mismatching plate numbers
Some criminals will use the wrong license plates when absconding, joyriding or legalizing a stolen car. If an officer finds a truck license plate on a passenger vehicle, it is a sign of a stolen car. The driver is pulled over for further investigations and possible arrest.
A fake license plate is also a sign of a stolen car. Nonetheless, some residents casually use fake license plates to replace their lost plates temporarily or just to avoid the fees.
The police normalize pulling over drivers who violate traffic rules. The run a check on the car, which may come back stolen. A car without a tag or a fake tag all flag vehicles police officers check to know if they are stolen. Even a minor traffic offense is enough reasons for a police officer to run the car for theft.
Will police continue the search after 30 days?
If the assigned police detective does not find your stolen car within 30 days, the chances of finding it just gets stiffer. Even if the stolen vehicle is found, it would have been wrecked or ripped into parts. If the criminal stole the car for a joyride, it will not take long to recover it.
Police officers do not actively look for stolen cars, especially if they have no clue where to begin. They just run the tags on random vehicles abandoned or illegally parked until they discover one reported stolen on the database.
Criminals chop older model cars for parts, and then ship them overseas. They sometimes hide the car for up to 30 days until the heated search reduces.
On the other hand, your insurance company may wait several weeks before settling your claim. If the car has a lien on it, your lender should know about it.
Read also: Steps to recover your stolen license plate
What are the odds of getting a stolen car back?
The odds of getting a stolen car back is 46%, but this figure varies by state. In Washington, for example, stolen car recovery rate is 71%, about 63% in Utah and 28% in Alabama. In essence, the chance of finding a stolen vehicle is high, especially during the first few days.
Are stolen cars ever found?
According to ValuePenguin report, the recovery rate of stolen cars is about 20% in the U.S. This estimation also depends on the region. For example, people in Northeast will get their stolen car back 14% of the time while people in Midwest recover stolen cars back about 24% of the time.