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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!


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.


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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  • Photo_user_banned_big


    almost 5 years ago


    my instinct is the vibes I got, and also to me people look like the cars they drive and the behaviour thewy display when I strat shaking the tree a little, following that I watch for the mechanics as pointed out,, it all seems to work..

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    almost 5 years ago


    Well put together. Thise is book material in itself!

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    almost 5 years ago


    if yiou pull up on a vehicle running in front of a convenience store and there are no keys in the column you will see wires hanging below the column......very probably a stolen vehicle and may be a robbery in progress. Be careful on entering the store AFTER you have called for back up.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    almost 5 years ago

    Good info!!

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    almost 5 years ago



    I know you probably didn't mean it to come out like this:

    "What's funny abiut that is he'd raped the same senior before."

    but there ain't nothing funny about that.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    almost 5 years ago

    I appreciate the reminder!

  • Anonymous-killer-whale-232189_1__max50


    almost 5 years ago


    Lots of good info here !! A tip of the hat to Lt. Foster, and also to ilegworldchamp for the added info, as well !!!

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    almost 5 years ago


    I was always told if the ignition is messed up 99.99 percent chance the vehicle was Jacked or 10-15

  • Ba_old_glory_max50


    almost 5 years ago


    I only recover them. But good info

  • Picture_008_max50


    almost 5 years ago


    just look at the people straight in the face when you get close enough and see their reaction if they get nervous or not. usually people try to look away or avoid you if they are doing something wrong.

  • Ring_max50


    almost 5 years ago


    Hey, my partner told me the car that was next to us was stolen. I told him he was full of it and bet him dinner. I bought that dinner the next day then learned some things from him! The biggie was......instinct.

  • Prayer_max50


    almost 5 years ago


    Maybe I missed it, but other good indicators are: a freshly broken opera window or a rear plate barely held on by one screw. Don't forget about your gut instinct, too!!

  • Funny_pictures_56616_max50


    almost 5 years ago


    Here's another tip.
    If you see someone YOUNG driving 30mph in a 30 zone.....( 40 in 40, 50 in 50, Etc) ....probably has no license or stolen vehicle. Just make eye contact with the driver for 1 second........ no one can hide that OH SH*T look.

  • Explorer_mourning_badge_max50


    almost 5 years ago


    great article, and way to think out of the box ilegworldchamp!

  • Img_0338_max50


    almost 5 years ago


    Very informative!!

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