Go To Top

More than 880,000 vehicles were reported stolen across the U.S. in 2020, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, an insurance industry association. That’s a jump from the 794,000 cars that were stolen the year before.

Bakersfield, California, tops the list of American metropolitan areas with the highest rate of stolen vehicles, according to the NICB. But you don't have to live in one of the top cities for car theft or own one of the most stolen vehicle models to have your car snatched. Anybody with wheels is at risk.

You might also be wondering, “what happens when your car is stolen then found?” Who will pay for the damages that happened when the car was not in your custody? What happens when you find your car after the settlement for the claim? Does car insurance cover theft?” “How likely is it that I’ll get my stolen vehicle back in one piece?”

  • More than 700,000 vehicles are reported stolen in the U.S. each year. Over 880,000 were reported stolen in 2020.
  • Report your stolen car to the police immediately and then notify your insurer, lender and DMV.
  • You are still responsible for making car payments on the stolen car.
  • Continue to pay for insurance coverage until the car is either recovered or considered a total loss by the insurer.
  • Take proper precautions to avoid making your car an easy target for theft.

What to do if your car is stolen

If you leave your house or office and discover your car isn’t where you left it, there’s a good chance it was stolen.

You are stunned, of course. You are muttering and pacing, “My car was stolen. Someone stole my car. What the heck?”

You’re typing into your phone’s search engine, “Does insurance cover stolen cars?”

So, what to do if your car is stolen? Or if you think it has been?

Here’s our 10-point plan to enact when your car isn't where you expect it to be.

1. Ensure your vehicle is really stolen

Before you panic too much, call 911 or study up on how to create a terrible hex for a car thief, you might want to save a little embarrassment and confirm your vehicle has actually been stolen.

Your car could have been towed away due to an illegal parking issue.

So, take a minute to check the signs around your parking spot to see if that might be the case. 

Granted, time is of the essence, and so if you’re sure, whip out your phone (hopefully you didn’t leave it in the car) and call the police.

2. Report the stolen car to the police

Once you have confirmed that your car has been stolen, call the police immediately to report the theft. Not only will you need the police report later, but it will give law enforcement officers an opportunity to keep an eye out for the stolen vehicle. You will need to be prepared to provide them detailed information on the vehicle and the location it was last seen.

3. Contact your auto insurance company

Getting in touch with your insurer should be your very next move after the police.

Fausto Bucheli Jr. img
Fausto Bucheli Jr.
President of the Cheap Insurance Agency

Make sure to provide the insurance company with the exact same data and descriptions you've given the police. You wouldn't want your insurance claim to be dismissed based on a technicality.”

4. Be prepared to give you insurer all the information it needs

When you contact your insurer, have the following information handy:

  • Date and time of the theft
  • Location of the vehicle
  • Location of all keys to the car
  • Title to the car
  • Names and contact information for anyone who had access to the vehicle
  • Detailed descrilition of the car and its condition when it was stolen
  • Contact information for your financing company if the car is financed
  • Police report number

5. Inform your insurance adjuster

If your vehicle is recovered, be sure to notify your insurance company's claims adjuster immediately to speed the resolution of any claim.

6. If you have a loan, contact your lender

If your car is financed, notify your lender as well. It’s just a good idea to give them a heads up. But the bad news is that you’ll still have to make your payments.

Sorry to tell you that, but theft doesn't affect what your bank is owed. That’s why lenders require that you purchase comprehensive and collision coverage. Your obligation to the financial institution ends only when the loan is repaid, whether you have a car in the driveway or not.

7. Inform the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV)

The next important step is to notify the Department of Motor Vehicles. The DMV keeps a database of stolen vehicles. This database helps to ensure you don't have future ownership or title issues with the vehicle and is especially useful if someone tries to register the stolen vehicle.

8. Check for possible CCTV recordings

In this age of rapidly expanding technology, it is common for businesses of all kinds to have security cameras installed outside of their business. Let's put it this way, in most cities, someone somewhere is watching. This could be a parking lot or garage, street parking, or even parking near an ATM that has a camera. It is worth checking with any businesses near where you were parked to see if they might have captured the car thief on camera.

9. Track your car with an in-vehicle communications system

New cars are loaded with technology. Many of them can help the police locate your vehicle. General Motors’ OnStar system or Toyota's Safety Connect are examples. Hyundai's Blue Link can help police locate the car and even reduce the engine power to slow it down.

Some pay-as-you-drive car insurance plans – the kind that measures your mileage and driving behavior – include GPS tracking as a way to deliver roadside assistance or summon an ambulance. They can also help track a stolen car.

10. Attempt to locate your car with a tracking device.

Theft prevention systems such as LoJack use radiofrequency technology to help track and recover stolen cars. Law enforcement can send a radio signal to your vehicle to activate the device.  

One thing to note: Not only do car insurers reserve their biggest anti-theft discounts for devices that actively locate a stolen car, but some manufacturers also will refund the price of the device or even pay you a settlement if the car isn’t recovered.

What happens when I report my car stolen?

What happens next depends on whether your vehicle is recovered or not. There are two obvious scenarios – your car is found or it isn’t.

What happens if your car is stolen and never found?

As you would expect, once you call the police, they’ll come to wherever you are, and you’ll file a report with them. Give them a detailed description of the vehicle as well as the VIN and license plate number. The police will take down all relevant details, and then the search is on.

The police will add your vehicle information to state and national databases, which will make it harder for the thieves to sell your vehicle.

The big question you'll then have is -- will I ever see my stolen vehicle again? The odds of you seeing your stolen vehicle again are… eh. Not terrible, but not good either.

Several years ago, the NICB found that roughly 59% of stolen cars were recovered nationwide. 

Most insurance companies have a waiting period of 30 days before declaring the car gone for good. After that point, your insurer will pay out the "fair market value" of your car – the price an identical car would bring on the open market. It’s somewhat negotiable if you can find comparable values.

Your deductible will come out of the insurance settlement check, and so will anything owed to lienholders.

What happens when your car is stolen then found?

What happens if you file a comprehensive claim for your stolen car, buy a new one and then your old vehicle is found? 

If your stolen vehicle is found, immediately notify your insurer. Comprehensive will pay to repair your vehicle if the thieves managed to put in a few fresh dents. You would owe the deductible amount.

Many people wonder about the items that might have been in a stolen car.  If a car is totaled but then found, for instance, and items left in the car are still there, the items found inside the car are yours, according to Progressive.

Unfortunately, any valuables left inside the vehicle and not recovered, like a cell phone or laptop, usually aren't covered by auto policies. But your homeowner's insurance or renters insurance might kick in.

Your car may be found after you settle the claim. If so, the car belongs to the insurance company.

What percentage of stolen cars are recovered?

According to a 2018 NICB report, 59.3% of stolen vehicles were recovered in that year. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the vehicles were in drivable condition. Thieves may significantly damage the vehicle before recovery.

Can I reject my stolen recovered car?

It can take time to recover a stolen car. In the meantime, you still need to get around. With that, you might have found a replacement by the time your stolen car is recovered. It can be a nuisance to deal with a stolen recovered car.

But generally, you cannot avoid accepting the vehicle without a significant fee unless there is significant damage. If you don’t want to hang on to the vehicle, then consider accepting it and then immediately selling it.

Does car insurance cover theft?

What is a stolen car insurance payout? It depends. It could be a lot or nothing at all

Comprehensive coverage will pay to replace your vehicle. You will have to pay the deductible amount you choose, and then your insurance company will pay you the actual cash value of your car.

“Comprehensive insurance does cover incidents that aren’t under one’s control, such as theft,“ says Clayton Hasbrook, an Oklahoma-based attorney. Other events that a comprehensive insurance policy might cover include vandalism, fire, or a fallen tree.

As of 2020, the most theft-prone vehicle was the Ford full-size pick-up truck, according to the NICB. But other hot targets include the Chevrolet full-size pick-up, Honda Civic, and Honda Accord. The increased number of thefts for these vehicles will likely translate into a factor that pushes comprehensive coverage costs higher.

If you carry only liability, we have bad news: Recovery of the car is your only hope. There is no stolen car insurance payout.

Additionally, don’t expect a rental to be covered unless you’ve bought rental reimbursement coverage or your policy happens to include it. Even then, you’re typically limited to no more than 30 days with daily limits of $25 to $40. So you’ll probably be replacing your stolen vehicle before too long unless you want to drive around a rental indefinitely.

How to reduce the chances of your car being stolen

Here are a few ways to discourage thieves from stealing your car:

  • Keep your car locked at all times.
  • Never leave your keys in the vehicle.
  • Make sure valuables are not visible in the car.
  • Do not leave the title in the vehicle.
  • Park in well-lit and well-known areas.
  • Install an anti-theft system in the vehicle.
  • Have the VIN etched in the vehicle's glass.
  • Track your car with a GPS tracking device.

Frequently Asked Questions

What should you do if you see a car that you suspect was stolen?

If you see a vehicle that you have reason to believe was stolen, report it to the local police.

What happens if your car is stolen and you still owe money?

Unfortunately, when your car is stolen you are still obligated to make payments on it. If your insurance claim payout is approved, you can use the claims check to pay against any amount owed. If the payout amount is less than the amount financed, it will be your responsibility to pay the difference. If you have gap insurance, check with your insurance agent to see if it will cover the difference.

How often are stolen cars found?

The NICB reports that in 2018, 59.3% of stolen vehicles were recovered. However, that does not mean the recovered vehicles were not damaged.

How long does it take for insurance to pay out on a stolen vehicle?

The timeframe of an insurance payout for a stolen vehicle varies based on the company. But in general, you should expect the funds after a 30-day waiting period.

What happens when your car is stolen without insurance?

If your car is stolen without car insurance, you’ll need to look at your options for buying a replacement vehicle.

Does liability insurance cover theft?

No. Liability insurance won’t cover theft. Instead, you’ll need comprehensive coverage for theft.

What happens when your car is stolen and recovered after settlement?

If the insurance company has already paid out the claim, then they technically own the vehicle. So, if it is recovered, you’ll need to report it to your insurance company. At that point, the insurance company may come to collect the vehicle or may offer you the option to purchase it from them.

--Additional reporting by Mark Vallet


Vehicle theft prevention report by NHTSA

Fraud stats by Coalition Against Insurance Fraud

2018 data and 2020 data by National Insurance Crime Bureau