How to Recover Your Stolen Vehicle

Quick action on your part may help you get your vehicle back.

You step outside of your home and immediately notice that there is an empty spot where your car was last parked. You are the only one who holds the keys and you also know you did not lend your vehicle to a friend.

Likely, your car has been stolen and your chances of recovery may hinge on what you do next. Increase those chances by taking the following steps.

1. Notify the Police

Contact your police department the moment you confirm your car has been stolen. The police may not ultimately recover your vehicle, but your chances of stolen vehicle recovery may increase by giving the authorities your vehicle information including the make, model, model year, license plate number, and a vehicle description.

Your description should include details that set your car apart from the pack such as unique striping, a bumper sticker, or custom wheels.

Once information is shared with the police it is added to a stolen vehicle system database. Some police departments utilize an automated license plate recognition system with cameras mounted on police cars that scan license plates as they drive by.

When a “hit” is returned, the police can react and hopefully apprehend the driver and complete the stolen vehicle recovery with a happy ending.

If your car is equipped with LoJack or is OnStar enabled, make certain that these services have been notified as well. File a report with your insurance company too.

2. Check Surveillance Cameras

home security camera

Check the footage of your security camera if you have one. It may reveal the face of the person who stole your car. Look for another vehicle that may have been involved in the theft.

For instance, a flatbed tow truck may have pulled up and loaded your vehicle. Markings on the truck can reveal the name of the company or its license plate. Forward your findings to the police.

Ask your police department to review their camera system as well. In many urban areas, cameras are fixed on top of light posts and other public areas. In other places, red-light cameras photograph cars as they drive by and may reveal your car.

You can also ask your neighbors to check their own security camera footage to aid your stolen vehicle recovery effort.


3. Spread the Word

Tell everyone you know that your car has been stolen. Your neighbors, friends and family should be alerted, with a description of the vehicle shared. Notify local retailers, cab companies, package delivery companies, and anyone else who does business in your area.

Make use of social media to help you spread the word. Post a description of the vehicle on Facebook, setting up an album with photographs of your car. Ask your online friends to share your post with their friends — the more eyes that see your post, the better the chances for stolen vehicle recovery.

Share your information on Nextdoor, Twitter, and Instagram as well. If it is a classic car, reach out to Hagerty’s and ask them to spread the word.

4. Keep an Eye Out Online

finding stolen car
Courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Set up a Google Alerts to monitor the web for information about your vehicle. Google’s vast Internet web presence can aid you in stolen vehicle recovery if the person who stole your car attempts to sell it online.

With Google Alerts, set up an alert for your car’s make and model as the search query. Then, choose “everything” as the result type. Follow that up by selecting “as-it-happens” to get instant updates to your smartphone. Select “all results” to ensure that no information is filtered.

Establish other alerts for unique descriptors such as the engine size, the type of transmission, and body style.


Stolen Vehicle Recovery Done Right

No stolen vehicle recovery effort can possibly succeed apart from diligence on your part. You need to orchestrate the process by working with the police and your community to help locate your vehicle.

Your best chance of recovering your vehicle is within the first 72 hours after it was stolen. After that, your chances of recovery fall sharply possibly leaving you with negotiating with your insurance company for a settlement.

What to Do If Your Recover Your Stolen Car

recovered stolen car

If you are fortunate enough to recover your stolen vehicle, there are several important steps to take.

First, contact the police immediately to report you have located the vehicle. Police may want to check for fingerprints or other evidence if the vehicle was found shortly after being taken. You will also need to have a police release for the vehicle before you can take it from the location where it was found.

Once you have possession of the vehicle, inspect it thoroughly and note any damage or missing items. Take photographs of any damage or vandalism to the vehicle. You will need this documentation for your insurance claim. Also check the mechanical condition and safety of the vehicle, especially if it was driven extensively by the thief.

Replace locks and keys to prevent another theft. If the title was stolen, you will need to apply for a replacement title from the DMV before you can legally drive the vehicle again.

Notify your insurance company that you have recovered the vehicle and start your claim process. With some time and effort, you can get your stolen vehicle back to its pre-theft condition.


See AlsoWhy Older Cars Remain a Theft Target

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Matthew Keegan

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