When officers arrived at the junction of Pound Street and Carshalton Road the traffic lights were red and there was no sign of the vehicle.
The officers spoke to other motorists waiting at the lights and were told that the vehicle police were looking for had not gone through the lights.
So officers turned around and went into Wilmot Road - a small resident cul-de-sac which runs behind a row of shops - which was the only road the vehicle could have turned into without being seen.
The suspect vehicle was found parked and unlocked at the end of the road and local residents confirmed they had not seen the vehicle before. Officers found a quantity of copper piping, cable wiring, tools, gloves and woollen hats inside the vehicle.
Other police units joined in the search for the suspects. Moments later, two men walking along Carshalton Park Road were stopped.
The men, both aged in their 20s, were arrested: one for handling stolen goods, going equipped to steal, no insurance and no driving licence; the other man was arrested for handling stolen goods and going equipped.
They were both taken to a South London police station. Enquiries are continuing.