Law enforcement sources said they suspect Charles McCammon followed a pattern.
He would break into several cars a night throughout Elgin, stealing whatever he could get away with, officials said.
McCammon, 48, has been charged with eight felonies related to the burglaries and use of stolen credit cards.
He has a long criminal record and was released on parole in July 2012.
Police said he apparently tried to support himself with the change and stolen credit cards he was able to scrounge from cars.
He often got away with little more than loose change.
He collected enough of it that employees of an Elgin grocery store told police that they saw him coming in daily and depositing $40 or $50 worth of coins into a change machine in the store
Police said they also found stolen property in the apartment where the suspect was staying.
McCammon is likely to get up to ten more years in prison if convicted, according to police.
Police said having alert citizens helping out makes a big difference.