Auto Tech

Stolen Tesla Model S retrieved using smartphone app

Vehicle-location services can do more than help scatterbrained owners figure out where their cars are parked.

Tesla's Model S 70D in Ocean Blue.

When an owner's Tesla Model S suddenly disappeared from a parking garage, a combination of quick thinking and the automaker's smartphone app led to the car's prompt recovery. Strangely enough, new technologies facilitated both the car's theft and its subsequent retrieval.

Katya Pinkowski parked her Tesla Model S 85D in an underground parking garage for the evening. Upon her return, the car was missing, and calls to towing companies didn't provide any closure. Pinkowski's second call was to her husband, Cary, who used Tesla's smartphone app to track the car's location in real time, which was then relayed to local police, who apprehended the thief and returned the car to its owners.

Instead of calling on Tesla to deactivate the car remotely, the Pinkowskis left the car active and gave that information to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. "It was so much fun, actually," husband Cary told a reporter for The Province.

The car was stolen because the Pinkowskis had accidentally left an extra wireless key fob inside the parked Model S. New-car technology was thus responsible for both the bad news and the good news that came shortly thereafter.

Smartphone apps that relay pertinent vehicle information to the owner are not limited to high-end vehicles like the Model S. Both GM and Hyundai offer apps that include the same services, although it's typically reserved for helping an owner find his or her parking space. Several automakers also offer remote vehicle tracking in case of theft. Perhaps most famously, Mercedes-Benz used its mbrace system to track the Boston Marathon bombers after they hijacked a late-model M-Class crossover.

Systems like these could go a long way in ending vehicle theft as we know it. As more and more new cars come connected to the cloud, smartphone-based location services could serve as serious deterrents for would-be scofflaws. Used cars are not able to take advantage of the same technology, but that's what the aftermarket is for -- LoJack has been providing aftermarket stolen-car tracking for decades.

Tesla did not immediately return a request for comment.