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15 Ways to Spot a Stolen Car

15 Ways to Spot a Stolen Car

Lieutenant Raymond E. Foster, LAPD (ret.)

“G-ride, Hot Roller, Code 37” – no matter what you call it, arresting someone driving a stolen car is solid police work. In this article we are going to examine 15 tactics that will assist you in locating stolen cars. Before we look at these tactics, let’s review a couple of basic legal questions.

First, you need little, if any, reasonable suspicion to run a license plate. On the other hand, if you are making a probable cause stop for some other violation (typically a traffic violation) checking the status of the vehicle’s license is common and accepted police safety practice. Second, pre-textual stops are Constitutional. Lastly, many of these tactics would come under the realm of building reasonable suspicion.

Throughout your patrol you pass scores, hundreds perhaps thousands of automobiles; but which ones might be stolen? The point of this article is to narrow down the number of cars to those at which you might want to take a second look. In other words, with all the cars you see, these tactics can help you narrow down the field to taking a closer look at few and thereby greatly increase the likelihood that you will find a stolen car. As you will see, none of these tactics alone indicate a car is stolen, but two or three together are stronger pointers toward further investigation.

Inside the Car

Does the driver have keys? While a few high-end cars have a push button start, most cars require a key in the ignition to start the vehicle. As you’re on patrol, and particularly when you are stopped for a light, develop the habit of looking through your driver’s side window and through the passenger’s window of the vehicle next to you. Do they have a key? Is the steering column intact? What is in plain sight from this typical vantage point? Indeed, I once observed a young driver with a “club” still on the wheel. During the pursuit he could only make quarter turns to the right or left!

Lights

The reason the person is driving without lights might be that the steering column has been damaged. When a steering column has been damaged, the headlights and turn signal lights might malfunction. I have seen vehicles with a damaged steering column that caused the bright lights to be stuck on. The point is that your equipment violation may be more than just a fix-it ticket. The better you get at this, the more specific knowledge you’ll have.

Age

What may draw you attention to a potentially stolen car is the age of the driver. Imagine you are stopped at a traffic light. There are two cars a head of you. Both have taillights out, one driver appears to be 30 and the other appears to be 15. Clearly, you are going to conduct the traffic stop on the younger driver. Would a reasonable person of similar training and experience think that person was too young to drive? If so, you are building your reasonable suspicion.

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    medcab1

    about 4 years ago

    6 Comments

    I like to look at dealer stickers to see if the car is "local" or not for all stops.

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    jbeams

    about 4 years ago

    196 Comments

    just this past moinday at 0540 hrs, I had a kid run into work, into the nw parking lot, driving erratically. His girl jumped from the passenger side he chased her, she popped him several times. Nothing unusual right. We see arguments all the time there. Especially between marrieds and non marrieds. He chased her again, then I noticed the engine was running. So I called the other officer on duty, he said call 911. I did, soon the place had police everywhere. State Patrol, county, and the locals all showed up. They all identified the truck. then my turn came-could I describe the driver-I did, it was the same person they id'd as well. Was the passenger a blonde? no she was dark haired! Are you sure-yes I was sure. Found out later, this young man is 17-likes hot cars or trucks and his women just as hot. Has a problem with authority-last time it took down 4 locals and 2 county to get him on the ground and 2 state troopers to get him into handcuffs and leg irons, as he likes to kick alot. no big deal-I get the thumbs up for doing my job..my employer gives me the thumbs up for a terrific job. Our contractor-gives a thumbs down! dont figure.

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    32828

    about 4 years ago

    52 Comments

    good working

  • Editedworkpic_max50

    sactoviking

    about 4 years ago

    10 Comments

    Cold plating has skyrocketed w/car thieves in our neck of Northern California. I compare the DMV info (vehicle year, body type such as 2-door vs 4-door or SUV etc) w/the car I'm seeing the plate on. Our local g-ride folks often use paper plates on stolens. It doesn't hurt to look @paper plated cars to see if they look like they've truly just left a dealer's lot (no primer spots, lights working, etc), see if the paper plate has been on the vehicle/in use so long it is discolored/cracking etc, and one of my favs- license plate on the front/paper plate on the back. If you have the time & can do it safely- glance @front plates of passing cars & look in your rearview to see if the back plate matches- may not be able to see it digit-for-digit perfect, but in that 2-4 second window you can tell if ABC123 is on the front and the back is XYZ789 etc. Again, if you have the eyes for it, run front plates on passing cars too- many of our bad guys just cold plate the back plate- too lazy or too dumb to switch out the front plate too I suppose. Happy hunting!

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    Cigarman

    about 4 years ago

    446 Comments

    Good Info

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    ATLjerseyboy

    about 4 years ago

    24 Comments

    Good article.

  • Americanheroespress_max50

    RaymondEFoster

    about 4 years ago

    52 Comments

    BTW, they are beginning to group my writings here:
    http://policelink.monster.com/content/raymond_foster

  • Americanheroespress_max50

    RaymondEFoster

    about 4 years ago

    52 Comments

    Greetings - Thank you for the kind comments re: my article. If you liked the article and are interested in leadership, I am certain you would like my book Leadership: Texas Hold 'em Style, available at http://www.pokerleadership.com.

    As to a few of the comments - excellent suggestions for additional things to look for. And, yes, as Docta Peppa points out - the apparent age of the driver may be only one of many factors in a traffic stop - however, if someone looks 11, well, that's a good stop. And, yes, profiling behaviors is appropriate - physical factors - apparent race and age, may be among the factors, but rarely the only factors.
    Lieutenant Raymond E. Foster, LAPD (ret.)

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    karkonis

    about 4 years ago

    32 Comments

    probable cause. Dont you just love guilty till proven innocent?

  • Steve_mcqueen_max50

    ilegworldchamp

    about 4 years ago

    8966 Comments

    DoctaPeppa , "CRIMINAL PROFILING IS ALOWED" !

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    DoctaPeppa

    about 4 years ago

    8 Comments

    @creed1299 Stopping someone because they look young is in fact a way of profiling. But that doesn't necessarily make it inappropriate. Good law enforcement officers profile people constantly, picking up on various subtleties that their training and experience indicates to be consistent with criminal activity. Profiling becomes inappropriate when someone is detained SOLELY because of age, race, gender, creed, etc. It's one thing to pull over somebody just because they look young, but it's quite different if you are pulling over a vehicle that has an equipment violation, the driver of which appears to be too young to drive alone, along with bearing bumper stickers and decals indicating that the owner of the vehicle is over fifty years old, and the vehicle is exiting the parking lot of a geriatrics office.

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    BigNTS

    about 4 years ago

    6842 Comments

    Along with the broken opera or vent window, punched out doorlocks and even trunk locks are worthy of a second look also.

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    EmilyCragg

    about 4 years ago

    50 Comments

    Reckoning and Reasoning are no longer taught to our children in school. This article is so excellent in terms of connecting causes-and-effects, I would like to utilize it to teach reason to my 9yr old tutoring students. Hope the author doesn't mind. :)

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    amoser2

    about 4 years ago

    12 Comments

    you canot not communicate.!!!!!!! Watch for the oh oh look, and wheres the next exit look.

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    Anonymous

    about 4 years ago

    Isn't stopping someone because they look young a way of profiling?

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