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Stolen car, now what?


If your vehicle is stolen, you should call the police immediately and then notify your insurer, your lender and your state’s DMV.

Almost 900,000 vehicles were reported stolen across the U.S. last year according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), an insurance industry association.

Lots of questions! 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 you’ll get your stolen vehicle back in one piece?

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.

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

Follow this 9-point plan to enact when your car isn't where you left it?

1. Ensure your vehicle is really stolen! Your car could have been towed away due to an illegal parking issue or missing a few car payments! Take a minute to check the signs around your parking spot for any hints to see if that might be the case. If you’re sure it has been stolen…

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. 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, plus approximate odometer reading
  • Contact information for your financing company if the car is financed
  • Police report number.

4. 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.

5. If your car is financed, contact your lender. If you have a car loan, notify your lender as well. It’s just a good idea to give them a heads up. The bad news is that you’ll still have to keep making your payments. Unfortunately, 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 still have your car or not!

6. Inform your state’s 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.

7. 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.

8. Track your car with an in-vehicle communications system. Many new cars are loaded with technology. Some 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.

9. 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.  Be aware that car insurers reserve their biggest anti-theft discounts for devices that actively locate a stolen car, and some manufacturers also will refund the price of the device or even pay you a settlement if the car isn’t recovered.

What happens after you have reported your car stolen?

What happens next depends on whether your vehicle is recovered or not. There are two obvious scenarios – your car is either 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, license plate number and approximate odometer reading. 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.

Next question is -- will you ever see your stolen vehicle again?

NICB statistics show 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 should compensate you for the "fair market value" of your car – the price an identical car would bring on the open market. They should issue a document called the Market or Vehicle Valuation Report. Be aware that every policy has an ‘Appraisal Clause’ which gives the policy holder the right to an independent appraisal of the Prior-to-loss fair market value of the vehicle.  By invoking this clause, 9 times out of 10 the settlement will be significantly higher than the insurance company’s initial offer, and many times the cost of the appraisal.

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

Can you reject your 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, although be aware that the theft is almost certainly now on the Carfax report which may negatively impact your vehicles value.

Need help on stolen, totaled or accident vehicles?

Text/call 786-853-0711


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Stolen car, now what?