Thieves were unwitting stars of an online tracking episode after stealing a car last week.

Northland police were able to track the stolen ute in real time during the evening through a GPS unit the owner had fitted.

Police Senior Sergeant Cliff Metcalfe said the Holden Colorado was stolen from Maunu Rd in Whangarei about 5.50pm last Friday. Police received a call from the owner half an hour later with its location.

"The owner has an app on his cellphone that was able to track the vehicle, and he was updating police on the vehicle's movements over the phone," Mr Metcalfe said.

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Police followed the car's route for more than half an hour when they found it parked at a Fraser Rd address in Titoki. Mr Metcalfe said four offenders fled the scene. Staff and police dogs searched the area for almost two hours but were unable to find them.

An investigation into the theft is under way, and the ute was returned to the owner.

There were 1005 reported car thefts in Northland last year, a 62 per cent increase since 2012. Police apprehended an offender in 153 of these cases.