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Few things are worse than walking outside to realize your car is not where you left it. After the initial shock and the call to the police, you'll likely start thinking about your car insurance. What happens when your car is stolen, and does car insurance cover theft? What happens if the car is stolen and then found after the insurance pays for it?

If it s found, who will pay for any damages that happened when the car was not in your custody? How often are stolen cars recovered? Dealing with the theft of your car is stressful and confusing, but we have everything you need to know to navigate a stolen car claim right here.

KEY TAKEAWAYS
  • 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.

What to do if your car is stolen

You're staring at that empty parking spot hoping maybe the car has just been towed for some reason, but odds are good you've been a victim of car theft.

So, what to do if your car is stolen? Or if you think it has been, but you're not sure? 

Below you'll find ten steps to follow when you discover your car is gone and aren't quite certain what happened.

1. Ensure your vehicle is really stolen

Before you panic too much or call 911, make sure that your vehicle has actually been stolen.

Take a look at where you parked your car and check for any signs that indicate it might now have been legally parked. If 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.

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 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.

EXPERT ADVICE
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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 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, 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.

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 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 security camera recordings

It's common for businesses of all kinds 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.

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 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 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 "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 when you find your car after the settlement for the claim?

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, 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.

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 percentage of stolen cars are recovered?

According to the NICB, stolen cars in 2021 had a recovery rate of 34% if the theft was reported in the first 24 hours.

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?

It depends on the coverage you carry. A stolen car insurance payout is only available if you have comprehensive coverage, also known as other-than-collision, on your policy.

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. 

As of 2021, 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, 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 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

According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), more than 745,000 vehicles had been stolen as of November, 2022. The Bureau reports that as on track to break the previous record.

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. 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.

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 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.

--Additional reporting by Mark Vallet

Sources:

Vehicle theft prevention report by NHTSA

Fraud stats by Coalition Against Insurance Fraud

National Insurance Crime Bureau 2021 Hot Wheels Report and 2022 3rd Quarter data.

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