By on September 15, 2017

Jetta TDI 2015

I have to admit I’ve been following the story of the looted diesel Volkswagens with more than a healthy amount of interest. These cars are showing up hundreds of miles away, covered by bogus titles, maybe with involvement from various nefarious officials. Clearly this is an American version of a Guy Ritchie heist film or something.

The absolute weirdest and least believable part of the whole thing, however, has nothing to do with the theft of the cars. Rather, it’s in the police response.


Somewhere between nine and twenty thousand vehicles are stolen in Detroit every year. That’s more than twenty cars per diem. In other words, this 70-unit theft might seem significant to the uninitiated, but for Detroit, it was Tuesday.

I don’t know exactly how the police handle a report of a stolen car in Detroit, but I can tell you how the Franklin County Sheriff handles a report of a brand-new and reasonably expensive car-hauler trailer: they stop by the scene, run your driver’s license, and take a report. That’s it. There’s no CSI: Auto Theft Division action. The area is not swept for fingerprints. They don’t bring in any dogs or psychics. Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson don’t keep working the case 20 years later. It’s basically, “Hey man, sorry your stuff got stolen, let us know if you find it.”

Now imagine that you’ve called the police for a stolen car and they show up and the conversation goes like so:

Cop: You want to report a stolen car?

You: Yeah. I had it parked out behind the house because I was going to junk it and sell the parts when I had time.

Cop: Wait a minute. You called to report a stolen car that you were going to have junked?

You: Yeah. I mean, some of those used parts were gonna be worth something.

Cop: What do you expect us to do?

You: I’m thinking that you’ll get the FBI and the state police for Kentucky involved. Other states, too.

Cop: looks at partner, nods, takes Taser from belt

You get the idea. Under no circumstances in the world would the police give a damn about YOUR stolen car that was going to be sold for parts. Particularly if you just had it sitting around in a stadium parking lot. But somehow this VW theft is the biggest caper since Bradley Cooper or whatever his name was jumped out of a jetliner.

So, what’s really going on here? And what do you think is going to happen in the end?

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72 Comments on “QOTD: Shouldn’t We All Be a Little Bit Less Worried About Those Stolen Volkswagen Diesels?...”


  • avatar
    hirostates12

    Pontiac MI PD has a lot more available time since they solves all the other crimes completely. They need to stay active.

    • 0 avatar

      I have lost three motor vehicles in my life to theft. I can honestly say that other than giving me a report to fill out, not one Police Agency has ever cared or made move one to find any of it…..

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        I had my Oldsmobile stolen in Southfield, MI back in November 2001, it was found shortly before Christmas, stripped for parts.

        Essentially it was found by accident when someone reported the carcass blocking an alleyway in Detroit proper.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        I perceive car theft to be a lot like DUI: unless you catch the offender in the act, he’s long gone.

      • 0 avatar
        JimZ

        25 years ago my dad had his car stolen from the “secure” parking lot at work (inside the city of Detroit.) It was recovered a day later because it was left (mostly intact) on a side street about 5 miles away.

      • 0 avatar

        It all depends on who does the claim. A local car auction had a dozen cars stolen in the night a while back. They were all recovered after a multi town force of detectives tracked them down and made multiple arrests. Apparently a auction house backed by the largest dealers in the state have a bit more pull.

      • 0 avatar
        I_like_stuff

        A friend of mine had his car stolen from his condo garage. The garage has a camera and the theft was caught on camera. From what he said it had a pretty good image of the people that stole it, even showed the car that was used by the thief’s accomplice to drive into the garage. Pretty good clues for the police right?

        He told all this to the po-po and was told back – in a polite but firm manner – leave us alone we have better things to do than watch video of your car getting stolen. Get the insurance money and move on with your life.

        • 0 avatar
          ClutchCarGo

          People are deceived by TV and movies into thinking that the police actually pursue non-violent property crimes like theft. At best, a string of thefts in a given area might set a detective on a path of preventing more thefts by looking for the thief, but their attitude regarding any specific loss is; Was it insured? Then file a claim. If not, too bad. They really aren’t in the business of recovering your property or giving you a personal sense of justice, except incidentally as part of their effort to prevent more thefts.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      Pontiac does not have its own police department ever since it went through a financial crisis back you-know-when. They contract with the Oakland County Sheriff for police services.

    • 0 avatar
      psychoboy

      local PDs couldn’t generally give less of a shit about stolen cars. My CRX got stolen (because there are only two states of CRX: ‘stolen’ and ‘about to be stolen’) and I filed my report. three days later the cops called me to tell me that I had a hour to come get my car from the apartment lot it had been dumped in before they were going to tow it off. they did not care about obvious fingerprints, latex gloves left in the car, or the trail of fluid leading to the dump site, just getting it moved or charging me for impounding it.

  • avatar
    87 Morgan

    I would be appalled if the DPD spent more than 3 minutes trying solve this caper. They have probably have a WGAF crime file somewhere at 1 Police Plaza that the reports for this entered.

    I drive by the stock pile of VW’s next to Pike’s Peak Raceway on a regular basis. Being the cheapskate that I am, I tend to muse on ways the public could benefit. Seems like the least they could do is line up the cars based on tire wear, wheel option etc. Then every Saturday VW owners who need a new (er) set of meats can come in with a jack and do the swap out. Kind of like a pick n’ pull only you would have to call it pick n’ put back with like kind and quality does not matter. Seem a waste to flat spot that many presumably good tires.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      Pontiac is a half hour north of Detroit, why would the Detroit Police Department even be involved at this point?

      • 0 avatar
        87 Morgan

        To go along with what was stated below. Lighten up. This is the Detroit metro area, so we all call it Detroit: Southfield, Pontiac whatever who cares.

        Just like I tell people that I live in Denver. Do I really? No, but close enough and no one cares the name of the Suburb that I live in or if said residence is in the incorporated or unincorporated portion of said suburb city.

        • 0 avatar
          FreedMike

          That makes perfect sense if you’re just having a conversation with someone.

          But if you’re a journalist, and you’re writing about a crime that took place, identifying the specific locale of the crime is part of your job.

          Would you have been OK with the Denver Post saying “James Holmes killed 12 people in a theater in the Denver metropolitan area”? I’d wager not. You have to be specific. That’s Journalism 101.

          • 0 avatar
            Lorenzo

            Don’t be too sure of the professionalism of journalists. Just 20 years ago, New York newspapers would identify San Diego as “140 miles south of Los Angeles”.

            That happens in the other direction too. I was talking to a TV reporter in Phoenix, and when I mentioned New England, he asked me where it was. I told him it was around Boston, likely the only city in the region he’d heard of.

            Don’t sweat the people who call the suburbs of metro Detroit “Detroit”. It not as bad as never having heard of an entire six state region of the country.

  • avatar
    PV_Pathfinder

    Who technically owns the cars now? VW? If so, maybe there’s an insurance company giving 5-0 their marching orders.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      I have no idea why VW or an insurance company would want to be involved in car theft, particularly when the crime crosses state lines. If I’m not mistaken, that makes it a federal crime, and the FBI would get involved.

  • avatar
    DeadWeight

    There are a bunch of obtuse people here, including Jack, who keep stating that this is “Detroit.”

    It’s not.

    “Somewhere between nine and twenty thousand vehicles are stolen in Detroit every year. That’s more than twenty cars per diem. In other words, this 70-unit theft might seem significant to the uninitiated, but for Detroit, it was Tuesday.

    I don’t know exactly how the police handle a report of a stolen car in Detroit..”

    The vehicles were stored and somehow moved from the City of Pontiac, in Oakland County, 30 miles NORTH OF THE CITY OF DETROIT.(and County of Wayne).

    ACCURATE DETAILS MATTER (and Jack’s getting really sloppy lately).

    • 0 avatar
      DeadWeight

      There are a bunch of obtuse people here, including Jack, who keep stating that this is “Detroit.”

      It’s not.

      “Somewhere between nine and twenty thousand vehicles are stolen in Detroit every year. That’s more than twenty cars per diem. In other words, this 70-unit theft might seem significant to the uninitiated, but for Detroit, it was Tuesday.

      I don’t know exactly how the police handle a report of a stolen car in Detroit..”

      The vehicles were stored and somehow moved from the City of Pontiac, in Oakland County, 30 miles NORTH OF THE CITY OF DETROIT (and County of Wayne).

      Oakland County is one of the wealthiest counties in the nation (though the City of Pontiac is a poor city).

      The Oakland County Sheriff’s Office, Michigan State Police, other state-level law enforcement agencies, and the FBI will likely have joint jurisdiction over this investigation given the locus of the vehicle storage and the crossing of state lines of said vehicles

      ACCURATE DETAILS MATTER (and Jack’s getting really sloppy lately).

      Stop being LAZY, Jack.

      Start paying attention to details, or don’t bother opining on such things even in short, lazy-effort written diatribes (phoning it in, yet again).

    • 0 avatar
      ash78

      For all intents and purposes, for 95% of America, this is the Detroit Metro area…so it’s Detroit. Trust me, I live in Birmingham (AL, not MI) and totally understand how people like to lump in rural meth labs or white supremacists or urban gang murders in with everyone else, but it’s just a shortcut to help give some context within the constraints of word count. Our readership is disproportionately skewed towards Detroit, so I could also argue you’re right — better context helps.

      • 0 avatar
        DeadWeight

        Jack cited how many vehicles are stolen per day in the CITY of Detroit (whether his lazy habits culled accurate or inaccurate numbers, I have not verified), so it matters for that reason alone.

        The fact that these vehicles apparently are showing up in the stream of interstate (across state lines) commerce makes it inevitably a FEDERAL LEO investigation (i.e. FBI) in large part, also.

        • 0 avatar
          ash78

          Again, all of us in suburban America “suffer”* from the statistics and stereotypes of the urban centers that originally fostered us.

          *(I use that term loosely, since a bad rap can keep excessive people away, keeping cost of living much lower and more predictable)

          Totally agree on the second part, the magnitude here — and organized nature — is definitely something to investigate. It’s a lot different than if all these cars went missing one-by-one over a period of time due to casual theft.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            Sorry, ash, DW’s right. This didn’t happen in Detroit.

            If you’re going to comment on a crime, you get the location of it right…or at least that’s what my journalism school profs taught me.

          • 0 avatar
            DeadWeight

            Mike, Jack may think I’m needlessly needling him for my comments here, in the Camry review, and in another venue, but it’s been a long time coming since Jack got a righteous smackdown for a litany of really half-a$$ed, phoned-in, sloppily written pieces over the course of the last month and a half (if not longer).

            The better Jack has gone missing or fishing or wishing or something.

            If he’s not going to do at least a halfway decent job by his own abilities, as judged by his last work, maybe he should take a respite and recover….then come back with serious intent.

          • 0 avatar
            Jack Baruth

            The next time somebody asks me about Columbus, Ohio I’m going to go on a similar rant only I’ll be sure to let them know I live in the Village of Powell a whole county away.

            Let’s not even get started on what is and is not Los Angeles.

            The bottom line is that Pontiac is in no way separate from Detroit in the mind of anybody who didn’t grow up in the immediate vicinity.

          • 0 avatar
            DeadWeight

            ice try to cover, roll and deflect with written diarrhea, Jack, but you’re WRONG factually and in all ways otherwise.

            Pontiac is as close in fact to Detroit, for the purposes you were driving at in scribbling your screed here, as Portland, Oregon is to Portland, Maine.

            You loterally could not be more wrong, factually incorrect, and entirely miss the entire point of your mistake (not to mention very, very lazy).

          • 0 avatar
            sirwired

            @Jack But if you are going to go on a rant about the overwhelmed DPD being VW’s lapdogs, the fact that Pontiac isn’t remotely in the DPD’s jurisdiction isn’t exactly a minor factoid.

            The general public does (quite correctly) consider Pontiac to be part of the Greater Detroit Metro Area, but that doesn’t excuse an article that treats them as one and the same when the distinction turns out to be very important.

          • 0 avatar

            Jack I live 15 minutes out side Hartford CT. I never say I live in Hartford.

    • 0 avatar
      I_like_stuff

      The ***DETROIT*** Lions and Pistons played in the stadium, for crying out loud. Yeah it;’s outside of the city limits, but come on…..it’s freaking Detroit for all intents and purposes.

      • 0 avatar
        sirwired

        When talking about the overworked DPD being VW’s lapdogs, even though the crime occurred outside their jurisdiction, the difference between Wayne and Oakland county becomes a lot more important than the geographic designation used by a sports team.

        We no more expect the NYPD to investigate crimes in NJ, just because that’s where the Giants play.

    • 0 avatar

      My guess is that car theft rates are as high in Pontiac as they are in Detroit, and the Pontiac police department is even less well equipped to investigate major crimes than the Detroit PD. Pontiac is pretty much a basket case of a municipality.

      In any case, it’s going to be the Michigan State Police and FBI doing the investigation, not the Detroit or Pontiac police.

      • 0 avatar
        sirwired

        Somebody else relayed that there is no “Pontiac Police Dept.”; police functions throughout Oakland county are handled by the Sheriff’s dept. (A quick Google confirms this.)

        And a different comment pointed out that Oakland County is quite well-off as a whole (Median Household Income of $86k; it’s the wealthiest county in the state), even if the City of Pontiac isn’t doing great. They are hardly in the same league as Wayne County.

        • 0 avatar
          JimZ

          No, not “throughout Oakland County.” Pontiac dissolved its police department under its emergency financial manager about 8 years ago, contracting with the Oakland County Sheriff to provide community policing. Guess it cost less to pay the county Sheriff to add deputies than for them to run their own PD. Plus the sheriff is HQ’ed in Pontiac already since it’s the county seat.

          in general in Michigan, cities run their own police departments. Larger charter townships (like Waterford Twp. and Clinton Twp.) often are able to fund their own police departments. smaller/more rural charter townships tend to use the county sheriff for policing, as do villages/towns/other unincorporated areas.

  • avatar
    notwhoithink

    It’s pretty simple:

    If someone steals your car that’s worth maybe $10,000, that’s a single count of grand theft auto and a matter for the local police.

    If someone steals 70 cars worth $700,000+ in aggregate, that’s a significantly larger crime. It will involve more than a single thief. The fact that they tried to scrub the titles will likely implicate at least one government employee who is complicit. The fact that it wasn’t discovered until the cars showed up several states away brings in a federal component, hence the FBI.

    What police force wouldn’t want to break up a multi-state car theft ring responsible for nearly $1 million in thefts (because I’m sure there hasn’t been a final accounting yet)? That’s great PR.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    It’s almost certainly a Volkswagen insider.

    They should start with Mr Winterkorn; maybe he’s trying to shove an “I told you so” in the face of his former employer. What did he know about these derelict cars, and when did he know it?

    So really, the German authorities should get involved as well, and maybe Interpol.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    If a) there was some kind of organized ring responsible for this (which I think there was), and b) the stolen cars were driven over state lines, then I’d consider this to be a federal organized crime case. I’m no expert on this, but if someone is, I’d love to hear if I’m right (or wrong).

    And, yes, it sucks that cops can’t find the guy who ripped off your car, but I think the scale of this crime merits more police attention.

  • avatar
    ash78

    I wouldn’t hold out much hope for the Head Unit.

    Or the Creedence.

  • avatar
    sirwired

    Catching car thieves one at a time is a high-effort, low-reward task. Catching a group that stole 70 cars all at once is a lot more bang for investigative buck.

    And Jack, you are getting sloppy. In addition to the geography problem others have pointed out (conflating Wayne county with Oakland county) VW actually has an EPA-approved fix for 98% of the cars as of over a month ago, so these are not going to be broken down for parts. (They might be exported instead of sold in the US, but they aren’t going to the scrapper.)

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      The majority will be scrapped. It just won’t make financial sense to spend the money fixing them compared to what they can wholesale them form

      • 0 avatar
        sirwired

        Why do you think the majority will be scrapped? While high-mileage/really old/poor-condition ones may be scrapped, there are plenty of newer/low-mileage/good-condition vehicles in there where it makes good financial sense to execute the emissions repair.

        Their wholesale value is not much above metal scrap since they CANNOT be sold in a drive-able state to anybody (they can’t even be exported) without the fix being put in place. Essentially, without the fix, the cars might as well not even have an engine in them, and would be priced accordingly.

        • 0 avatar
          JimZ

          if they’re the earlier EA189 cars, then VW has already paid more than they were worth to buy them back from owners, then will have to spend quite a bit to “fix” them to the point they’ll lose money on each of them.

          pretty much a golden example of throwing good money after bad.

          • 0 avatar
            sirwired

            It doesn’t matter how much VW has spent on the cars already; that money is gone. All that matters is how much it would cost to fix them vs. how much they could recover selling them afterwards vs. just crushing them.

        • 0 avatar
          Scoutdude

          Plain and simple the total cost of fixing them will just be too high. Not only do you have the actual fix you’ve got transportation costs. Additionally if they fix too many at a time and flood the market their value will be low. If they try and trickle them out then they will find that many cars now need other items like new batteries and tires to make them saleable. That means an even lower value and higher costs.

          • 0 avatar
            sirwired

            The ability to export the cars after the fix reduces the dilution concerns, and transport costs really aren’t that high when transporting cars by the truckload.

        • 0 avatar
          sgeffe

          Lord knows their value has plummeted sitting and rotting in that lot for all those months!

          Wonder where they keep the keys for all the cars, and HOW do they keep track of them?! (That probably points to how the crooks got to the cars in the first place!)

  • avatar
    Driver8

    8/10 for film and tv references
    Missed Hans Gruber’s EFF BEE EYE

    4 stars: would click again

  • avatar
    bikegoesbaa

    Crimes get more attention when the victims are wealthy and powerful.

    You can test this by smashing the window of a double-wide or a Section 8 house, then smashing the equivalent window of a million-dollar mansion in Luxury Acres, and then observing the timeliness and thoroughness of the police response in both cases.

    There are few entities with more money and clout than a multinational automotive OEM. This is especially true in Michigan, where automakers are widely regarded as sacred cows to be defended at all costs.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    The cars are parked in Pontiac, Michigan?

    Clearly, this is all the old GMs fault.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    What would be great is if the stolen “yet to be fixed” VW had ended up being found stripped for parts and their engines showed up in old VW Caddy pickus and Rabbits.

    That would have been a “circle of life” solution.

  • avatar

    A huge pile of poorly guarded cars, most fairly new..each with many parts easy to sell and tough to trace ?

    Every part of the car, save the powertrain, fits on some other car, and most would be an upgrade to the base Golf/Jetta.

    Parts stolen…Imagine that….you’d think they’d have a full time guard with a golf cart riding around occasionally.

  • avatar
    JimZ

    1) How many times have you used that Street Fighter reference now (appropriately, I might add?)

    2) This is a “big deal” the same way a plane crash which kills 250 people is a “big deal” while 40,000 on-road deaths every year is business as usual. Onesies and twosies have no impact.

    just like the Joker said in The Dark Knight:

    “You know… You know what I’ve noticed? Nobody panics when things go ‘according to plan.’ Even if the plan is horrifying! If, tomorrow, I tell the press that, like, a gang banger will get shot, or a truckload of soldiers will be blown up, nobody panics, because it’s all ‘part of the plan.’ But when I say that one little old mayor will die, well then everyone loses their minds!”

  • avatar
    phlipski

    Do they have any promising leads?

    https://youtu.be/v7acD4q0lp0

  • avatar
    I_like_stuff

    “So, what’s really going on here? And what do you think is going to happen in the end?”

    Simple. It’s the MSM which likes to scare the crap out of America with never ending stories about crime, diseases, global warming (err climate change), you name it. This is a twist on the “if it bleeds, it leads” local news mantra.

  • avatar
    whitworth

    I knew someone that had their car stolen and while driving around, they saw it at a nearby apartment complex.

    They called the police, they came out, and asked if the owner had the keys. They then said just take it, not worth the paperwork. I guess waiting to see who came out an arresting them was just a waste of their precious time. Had to get back to writing speeding tickets.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      Nope. The cop was right.

      It was probably some old lady that spotted a car across the street from her church with a For Sale sign on it. The whole entire case, surveillance, swat team, multi agency, tow trucks and ambulances standing by, sting operation will go nowhere, while the DA is laughing his asss off.

  • avatar
    JMII

    How about we give these cars to people in Houston that were under water?

    Side note… but hurricane related: during Irma I noticed several car dealerships in my area of S FL emptied their lots – moving inventory somewhere to protect it. How did they pull this off? Where did those cars hide? We are talking hundreds, if not thousands of cars that just disappeared for a few days, then magically reappeared. Transporters can only move like 8 cars at a time.

  • avatar
    hirostates12

    In 1994 I was living in the tiny town of Winnebago IL, when some knob stole the hood ornament off of my banana yellow 82 240d.

    One year later a cop knocked on my door and presented me with my ornament. It was among the goodies found in a local kids bedroom when it was raided for drugs.

    When I asked how they knew it was mine he responded “Your the only guy who ever lived around here with one of those things so it wasn’t hard to guess”. Fame has its perks.


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