How to Report a Stolen Vehicle

More than 1 million vehicles were stolen in the U.S. in 2022, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB). That’s the highest number of thefts since 2008, reversing a downward trend in the intervening years. If your vehicle was stolen, it is important to report that theft immediately.

car theft

Step-by-Step Stolen Vehicle Reporting Instructions

If your vehicle has been stolen, you should report it to the police promptly. Here are the steps you should take to report a stolen vehicle:

Call the police:

As soon as you realize that your vehicle has been stolen, call the police. Dial the emergency number (911) if it just happened or the non-emergency line if it has been more than a few hours since you last saw the car. Provide the operator with your vehicle’s make, model, year, color, license plate number, and VIN (Vehicle Identification Number). If you don’t know the VIN, it is found on your copy of the registration or with your insurance paperwork. Be sure to give the police as much detail as possible to help them locate your vehicle.

File a police report:

Once you have spoken with the police, you will need to file a police report. Provide the same details about your car that you gave over the phone to the responding officer. You may also be required to provide your driver’s license, registration, and insurance information.

Notify your insurance company:

Contact your insurance company and let them know that your vehicle has been stolen. They will likely ask you for a copy of the police report, so be sure to keep a copy for yourself.

Keep an eye out:

Check with your neighbors, local tow yards, and impound lots to see if your vehicle has been towed or abandoned. You can also keep an eye on online classifieds and social media sites to see if your car is being sold or advertised.

Reporting a stolen vehicle is an important step in recovering your car and preventing further theft. Be sure to follow up with the police regularly and provide them with any additional information that may help locate your vehicle.

Time is of the Essence

When you discover that your vehicle has been stolen, time is of the essence. Indeed, the sooner you report the theft, the more likely police will recover it. In any case, many stolen vehicles are not recovered. Here’s what thieves may do to them:

Wrecked or Abandoned:

Some stolen cars end up being wrecked or abandoned by thieves after they are used for joyriding or other criminal activities. This can happen if the car is damaged during the theft or if the thieves decide to abandon it to avoid being caught.

Chop Shop:

Some stolen cars end up in chop shops where they are stripped of parts that can be sold on the black market. Thieves will often use stolen vehicles as a source of parts to repair other damaged or stolen vehicles. In some cases, the entire car may be dismantled, and the parts sold individually.

Resold with a new Vehicle Identification Number (VIN):

In some cases, stolen cars are given a new Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) and then resold to unsuspecting buyers. Thieves will change the VIN on the car to make it appear as if it is a legitimate vehicle. This can be a lucrative business for thieves who can sell the car for more than it is worth by disguising its identity.

Shipped Abroad:

Some stolen cars are shipped abroad to be sold in other countries where they can be worth more money. Thieves may also ship the car overseas to avoid detection and prosecution by stateside law enforcement.

How to Avoid Stolen Vehicle Theft

Although vehicle theft is on the rise, it is preventable. The following tips can reduce the chances you’ll be a victim of this crime.

Lock your car:

Always lock your car when you park it, even if it’s in your driveway or garage. Thieves are always on the lookout for easy targets, and an unlocked car is an invitation to steal.

Use an anti-theft device:

Invest in an anti-theft device like a steering wheel lock, car alarm, or immobilizer. These devices can deter thieves and make it harder for them to steal your car.

Park in well-lit areas:

Whenever possible, park your car in a highly illuminated area with plenty of foot traffic. Thieves are less likely to target a car that is parked in a busy, brightly lit area.

Don’t leave valuables in your car:

Thieves may break into your car if they see something valuable inside, even if they don’t intend to steal the car itself. Avoid leaving anything valuable in plain sight, and always store your belongings in the trunk or out of sight.

Use common sense:

Be aware of your surroundings and take common sense precautions like not leaving your car running while unattended or leaving your keys in the ignition. Also, be cautious when parking in areas where car thefts are known to occur.

Keep your keys safe:

Be careful with your car keys and don’t leave them lying around or in an easy-to-find spot. Thieves can easily steal a car if they have access to the keys.

Install a GPS tracking device:

A GPS tracking device can help you locate your car if it’s stolen. This can be especially useful if you report the theft to the police right away and give them the GPS coordinates.

By following these tips, you can reduce your risk of becoming a victim of vehicle theft. Remember to always be aware of your surroundings and take precautions to protect your car and yourself.

How to Avoid Purchasing a Stolen Vehicle

Purchasing a stolen vehicle can not only result in financial loss but may also have legal consequences. Here are some tips to help you avoid purchasing a stolen vehicle:

Check the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN):

The first step to avoid purchasing a stolen vehicle is to check the VIN. The VIN is a unique 17-digit alphanumeric code that is assigned to every vehicle and can be found on the dashboard, door jamb, or engine block. You can check the VIN on various online databases, such as the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s (NICB) VINCheck, or websites such as Carfax or AutoCheck.

Inspect the car for signs of tampering:

Stolen vehicles often have their VIN plates removed, altered, or replaced, so check for signs of tampering around the vehicle’s VIN. A stolen vehicle might also have different keys for the doors and the ignition, which is an indication that the locks have been changed.

Purchase from a reputable dealer:

Always purchase a used car from a reputable dealer and ask to see the vehicle’s title and registration before making a purchase. Reputable dealers will be able to provide you with a vehicle history report that lists any accidents or repairs, as well as the vehicle’s ownership history.

Ask for proof of ownership:

Make sure that the person you are buying the car from is the legal owner. Ask to see their driver’s license and registration, and make sure that the name on the documents matches the name of the seller.

Be cautious of suspiciously low prices:

If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is. Stolen vehicles are often sold at a fraction of their market value, so be cautious of deals that seem too good to be true.

Be aware of high-pressure sales tactics:

Thieves often use high-pressure sales tactics to get rid of stolen vehicles quickly. If the seller is pressuring you to buy the car without giving you time to do your research, it may be a sign that something is not right.

See AlsoHow to Prevent Car Theft


Vehicle Thefts Nationwide Surpass One Million For the First Time Since 2008. National Insurance Crime Bureau.

Facts + Statistics: Auto theft. Insurance Information Institute.

Official NCDMV: Vehicle Theft. North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles

VIN Decoder. NHTSA.

Photo Attribution

Image by Kris from Pixabay

Matt Keegan
Author: Matthew Keegan
Matt Keegan is a journalist, media professional, and owner of this website. He has an extensive writing background and has covered the automotive sector continuously since 2004. When not driving and evaluating new vehicles, Matt enjoys spending his time outdoors.

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