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Less than half of all stolen cars recovered by police

Less than half of all stolen cars recovered by police
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Hugo Griffiths

2019-01-09 00:01

Auto Express investigation reveals just 45.31 per cent of stolen cars are recovered by police, with detection dates at five-year low

Fewer than half the vehicles stolen in the UK have been recorded as recovered by police over the past decade, Auto Express can exclusively reveal. 

A series of freedom of information requests to the UK’s police forces shows officers logged a total of 522,214 stolen vehicles between 2009 and 2018, but only marked 236,636 as recovered. 

With an average stolen-to-recovered ratio of 45.31 per cent over the past 10 years, some forces are leagues ahead of ahead of others in their posted results. Merseyside police, for example, recorded 35,624 stolen vehicles from 2009 to 2018 and marked 26,816 as recovered, giving a recovery rate of 75.27 per cent. West Midlands police, in contrast, recorded 73,644 stolen cars over the same period yet logged only 8,643 as recovered, giving an 11.73 per cent recovery rate.

Trends over time

Looking at recovery rates over the last decade paints a concerning picture. Just as we exclusively revealed back in November that car thefts reached a six-year high in 2017, recovery rates are declining as police battle cuts to their numbers that have seen over 20,000 officers lost since 2010.

In 2017, for example, (the last year for which we have complete data), the forces that responded to our requests posted a recovery rate of 46.46% - the lowest ratio since 2012.

Data inconsistencies 

These statistics provide valuable insight into recovery rates across the years, but they should be treated with caution. Some police forces, for example, provided information for cars, while others gave data for vehicles, meaning their numbers relate to stolen motorbikes, vans, lorries and, in one instance, a stolen and subsequently recovered aeroplane. 

What’s more, when responding to our requests, many constabularies told us their records are known to contain inaccuracies.

How to avoid keyless theft

Andrew White, assistant chief officer for Lincolnshire Police (3,630 stolen cars, 629 recovered, 17.33% recovery rate) explained his force’s data by saying: “We do not believe the figures accurately represent the vehicles that have been recovered and we will be working on our processes to gain a true reflection.” 

West Midlands police explained its figures by saying: “In the past 10 years, a total of 12% of recovered vehicles have been recorded with a full address by West Midlands police; however, as this is not a mandatory field on the systems used, the number of recovered vehicles is likely to be much higher.” The force added: “Between September – December this year, there have been 949 vehicles stolen in car key burglaries in the West Midlands, 40% of which have been recovered.”

Dorset police, meanwhile, (7,142 stolen, 1,512 recovered, 21.17% recovery rate) said it “takes vehicle crime seriously and will take all proportionate lines of enquiry to investigate reported thefts, recover stolen property and identify the offenders.” 

The National Police Chiefs Council echoed those sentiments, saying: “Forces will investigate all reports of stolen vehicles and will take action against the perpetrators where there is evidence to do so.” 

And the forces with strong recovery rates? Chief Inspector Diane Pownall of Merseyside police told us her force uses “uniformed officers, covert tactics, CCTV and forensic tools.” Pownall added using “all available technology… goes towards improving our rate of recovery.” 

Unreliable national figures

We contacted the Driver and Vehicle Licencing Agency to determine if its database is more accurate, but were told because the DVLA relies on police reports for its records, we could expect to encounter similar inconsistencies. 

So, while the data presented on these pages may come with a number of caveats, it’s the best there is available. Given 20 of the 45 forces we contacted weren’t even able to furnish us with the number of stolen vehicles they had recovered, some may find that concerning.

Comment: RAC insurance spokesperson Simon Williams

“Drivers might be surprised to discover that on average less than half of vehicles stolen from these police force areas end up being recorded as recovered, with the proportion in some parts of the country far lower than this. Combine this with the fact that vehicle thefts are actually increasing and a rather alarming picture is painted. 

“The fact that data appears to be collected and analysed inconsistently in some cases is also a worry – this data is surely the only way to understand the scale of the problem. While it is well-documented that police forces are under severe resource pressures, it is ironic that clearer data would support their case for additional government spending.” 


Vehicles stolen

Vehicles recovered

Recovery rate





































2018 (to various dates)




Total 2009-2018




Best performers

Police force Vehicles stolen 2009-2018 Vehicles recovered 2009-2018 Recovery rate
Merseyside 35,624 26,816 75.27%
Northumbria 9,956 6,887 69.17%
Greater Manchester 63,064 36,460 57.81%

Worst performers

Police force Vehicles stolen 2009-2018 Vehicles recovered 2009-2018 Recovery rate
West Midlands 73,644 8,643 11.73%
Lincolnshire 3,630 629 17.33%
Dorset 7,142 1,512 21.17%

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