What happens if your car is stolen

If your car has gone missing and you're pretty sure it's been stolen, you'll need to know what steps to take.  Below are ten steps to follow when you discover your car is gone and aren't quite certain what happened.

1. Ensure your vehicle was really stolen

Before you report a theft, make sure that your vehicle has actually been stolen.

Look at where you parked your car and check for any signs indicating it might not have been legally parked. If you find signs that regulate parking in that spot, there may also be a phone number to call if your car has been towed. If that's the case, put in a call to the towing company.

Be careful if you're reporting a car stolen when it was borrowed; if you permitted the person to take the car, the police may not treat it as stolen until it's been gone for a certain period.

2. Report the stolen car to the police

Once you have confirmed that your car has been stolen and not towed, call the police immediately to report the theft. Not only will you need the police report later, but it will also allow law enforcement officers to watch for the stolen vehicle. You will need to be prepared to provide them with detailed information on the vehicle and the location it was last seen.

Bear in mind that a stolen car is not considered an emergency. Call the non-emergency line to make your report, and not 911.

3. Contact your auto insurance company

Getting in touch with your insurer should be your next move after the police. Call the claims line or file a theft claim online or through the mobile app if you have that option.

Expert Advice

Fausto Bucheli Jr.

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 your 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 description 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. Stay in touch with your insurance adjuster

If your vehicle is recovered, 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.

Unfortunately, theft doesn't affect what you owe on your loan. 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 ensure you don't have future ownership or title issues with the vehicle and is especially useful if someone tries registering the stolen vehicle.

8. Check for possible security camera recordings

It's common for businesses to have security cameras installed to monitor parking lots and other outdoor areas. It's worth checking with any businesses near where you were parked to see if they might have captured the car thief on camera. If it was stolen from your home, ask neighbors if they have cameras or if they saw anything suspicious.

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

New cars have technology that 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. If you have a theft prevention tracking device, contact the company.

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

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 actual cash 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 and then found?

What happens when you find your car after the settlement of the claim? And what happens when your car is stolen and then found wrecked?

You filed a comprehensive claim for your stolen car, bought a new one, and then the car was found. What's next?

If your stolen vehicle is found, immediately notify your insurer. If the policy has already paid out and you bought a new car, your old car now belongs to the insurance company.

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.

Unfortunately, auto policies don't cover any valuables left inside the vehicle and not recovered, like a cell phone or laptop. But your homeowners insurance or renters insurance might kick in.

If the car is found before the claim has been settled, the insurance policy will instead pay to repair any damage done by thieves or total the car out if the damage is too severe.

What happens if your car is stolen and then found wrecked?

If your car is stolen and found wrecked, it will be treated as a total loss, unless it's repairable. As mentioned above, if insurance has already paid out on the claim, your car now belongs to the insurance company. However, if the claim has not been paid yet and the car is repairable, your insurance company will likely repair it.

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 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 percentage of stolen cars are recovered?

According to the NICB, more than 85% of stolen cars were recovered in 2022, the most recent year for which data is available. About 34% of those were recovered within the first 24 hours of the car being reported stolen.

What happens if your car is stolen and you have full coverage?

Does car insurance cover theft? Comprehensive coverage will pay to replace your vehicle or to repair it if it's found damaged. 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. This coverage is part of what's referred to as "full coverage."

“Comprehensive insurance does cover incidents that aren’t under one’s control, such as theft,“ says Clayton Hasbrook, an Oklahoma-based attorney. 

If you carry only liability, there will be no coverage for your stolen car.

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 replace your stolen vehicle before long unless you want to drive around a rental indefinitely.

How to reduce the chances of your car being stolen

According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), more than 1 million vehicles were stolen in 2022. The Bureau reports that as on track to break the previous record.

Pueblo, Colorado, 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. Any car is at risk. So what can you do to prevent it?

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.

--Additional reporting by Mark Vallet


Vehicle theft prevention report by NHTSA

Fraud stats by Coalition Against Insurance Fraud

Auto insurance FAQs

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

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

What happens when someone steals your car?

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. And if it is found, whether the claim was closed and what condition the car is in will also make a difference.

Can I reject my stolen recovered car?

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, consider accepting it and immediately selling it.

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 after you report your car stolen?

After your car is reported stolen, the police will place it on a list of stolen vehicles, and if they locate it, you'll be notified. In the meantime, you can start the claims process with your insurance company.