Auto theft laws and procedures vary from state to state. But in most states, after a vehicle is reported stolen, the vehicle description, license plate number, vehicle identification number (VIN) and registered owner information will be entered into the Statewide Stolen Vehicle System (SVS) and the National Crime Information Center (NCIC). The SVS and NCIC systems are accessible by virtually all law enforcement agencies nationwide. It is up to the registered owner to contact his/her vehicle insurance company and financial institution (if you have a loan on the vehicle) to report that the vehicle was stolen. Unfortunately, most vehicles are not recovered.
In most cases, a BOLO (be on the lookout) will be issued to all law enforcement officers in the area where the vehicle was stolen. If the vehicle is found being driven, officers will attempt to stop the vehicle. In most states, stopping a stolen vehicle is considered a felony stop, and all persons in the vehicle will be removed at gunpoint. Therefore, if you find your vehicle, call the local law enforcement agency in the area and notify them that you found your vehicle, and let that agency dictate how you will take possession of it.
Once the vehicle has been positively identified by the plate and the VIN as entered into the SVS and NCIC, an attempt to contact the registered owner or authorized contact of the vehicle will be made. The owner will be requested to come to the location of the vehicle to take possession of it. If the owner or the authorized contact cannot take possession of the vehicle (the distance is too great, the owner or contact can't be reached) then a tow service will be called to the scene and the vehicle will be impounded. The vehicle will then be entered into the SVS and NCIC as recovered. Unfortunately, any towing, impound and storage fees will have to be paid for by the registered owner.
Processing for Evidence
If the vehicle is found parked or abandoned, most law enforcement agencies will process the vehicle for evidence in an attempt to identify the suspect. The vehicle may be dusted for fingerprints, items found in the vehicle and identified by the owner as not belonging in the vehicle may be taken as possible evidence, and theft of any items from the vehicle will be entered into the police report.
In cases where the vehicle has been destroyed by vandalism, a collision or the vehicle was stripped, the vehicle may still be towed and impounded. The owner will then deal with the insurance company and the towing and impound company to settle and pay fees incurred.
For more information on the prevention of, and how to check for, stolen vehicles, check your local law enforcement and vehicle insurance agency website.