Novi man finds tracker in Dodge Charger

‘It’s no different than someone breaking into your house’

By: Brian Wells | Novi Note | Published January 13, 2022

 John Nelson found an Apple AirTag in his newly purchased Dodge Charger after a day of shopping and visiting a friend.

John Nelson found an Apple AirTag in his newly purchased Dodge Charger after a day of shopping and visiting a friend.

Photo provided by John Nelson

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NOVI — When John Nelson saw the cherry-red Dodge Charger with a 392-cubic-inch engine, he was immediately drawn to it.

“I’ve always wanted one. Even growing up, one of my favorite cars was a Charger,” he said. “Exotic muscle cars are always fun to drive. It’s fast. It’s fun.”

At first, Nelson, who collects cars, was ecstatic. The day after purchasing the car in December, he drove it to Great Lakes Crossing to do some Christmas shopping. From there he traveled to Warren and Berkley, then back to Novi before going to visit a friend in Northville.

“When I walked out of my buddy’s house in Northville, I got an alarm,” he said. “I had a notification on my phone saying there was an unknown AirTag following you or is tracking you.”

He clicked the notification, and it showed him a dotted red line on a map of everywhere he’d been that day. It gave him the option to make the tracker emit a sound, which he said sounded like an old sports watch. But even with the sound, he was unable to find the tracker.

Nelson posted a reward in a local car group for anyone who could find it. A friend made an attempt but was unable to. After two visits to Eric’s Auto Service Center in Westland, they found the tracker.

Whoever had placed the tracker had unscrewed a plate from underneath the car, managed to reach into where the vehicle’s spare tire would be stored and dropped the tracker there.

“I think they put it in there because they knew that I would never look inside. … How would they get inside?” he said. “I have an aftermarket security system on it that if you breathe on it the wrong way, it goes off.”

According to Apple’s website, an AirTag is a tracking device that can be attached to keys, backpacks and other items to help keep track of things. On the website, an individual AirTag can be purchased for $29, while a pack of four can be had for $99.

Nelson’s Charger isn’t the only Dodge vehicle to be targeted for theft in Novi.

While most crime in Novi has decreased since 2020, the Novi Police Department has seen a large increase in stolen vehicles. In late December, the department had 58 vehicles reported stolen in 2021, which is higher than the 32 reported stolen in 2020.

The majority of the vehicles stolen were Dodge Challengers and Chargers, said Novi Police Lt. Jason Meier. The vehicles have been mostly stolen from parking lots of shopping areas or apartment complexes. Thieves have learned how to reprogram the vehicles’ key fobs using computer software, he said.

“In this case, there is not a whole lot that can be done as (thieves) are targeting these specific vehicles because they can reprogram the key (fobs),” Meier said in an email.

Meier said other Chrysler products weren’t being targeted, and he wasn’t aware of any other instances where vehicles had been tracked.

The Oakland County Sheriff’s Office runs a countywide auto theft team. Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard said that while trends in auto theft can change frequently, there has been an increase in theft throughout Oakland County in 2021 over 2020.

“We do see those trends where it goes to different kinds of makes and models and different kinds of items off those models,” Bouchard said.

Bouchard said most of the vehicles being targeted were Dodge products, such as Chargers and Challengers.

In 2021, there were 739 vehicles reported stolen, which is an increase from 614 in 2020.

To help protect vehicles, owners should always lock their cars and never leave them running, Bouchard said. He also suggested parking them in a well-lit spot or an area that is easily observable.

Three days before purchasing the cherry-red Charger, one of Nelson’s other vehicles — also a Dodge Charger — had the window broken in a parking lot.

“It just feels scary. … It’s no different than someone breaking into your house and knowing that someone walked in your house unwanted,” Nelson said.

Since finding the tracker on his car, Nelson said, he’s stopped driving his Charger to malls, and he uses valet lots when he can.

“If someone wants a car, they’re going to take it. There’s nothing I can do about it,” he said. “Just like a house. If someone wants to get in your house bad enough, they’re going to get in, regardless of the alarms, regardless of people watching.”

Call Brian Wells at (586) 498-1081 or (248) 291-7637.

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