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Car theft: What happens if your stolen car is actually found?

What will your auto insurer provide if your stolen car is recovered? If you don't have comprehensive coverage, they won't even consider providing anything. Get a free comprehensive car insurance quote today to protect your vehicle.

Every driver is legally required to have car insurance before heading out on the road. Car insurance protects drivers from liability associated with a motor vehicle collision, preventing them from having to pay out of pocket for any damages caused to people or property. Car insurance can also come in handy if your vehicle is ever damaged or destroyed by weather, vandalism or theft, but that will depend on if you have the right level of coverage.

Having your vehicle stolen can be very stressful. When your vehicle is stolen, you have to find an alternative form of transportation to solve your short-term needs, you likely lose some valuable possessions from inside the vehicle, and, if it's not recovered, you have to decide what to do in terms of replacing the vehicle in the long term. Depending on your coverage, car insurance can take care of the financial impact of these problems. 

But what happens if your car is stolen and then recovered? While this may seem unlikely, it actually happens more often than you might think. In 2021, about 80,000 vehicles were stolen in Canada. In 2022, 57% of the vehicles stolen in Canada were eventually recovered.

What does car insurance cover when a vehicle is stolen?

Every car insurance policy is different. 

Basic car insurance does not cover expenses related to vehicle theft, but having comprehensive insurance coverage added to your policy will ensure it does. 

If you have comprehensive car insurance, you are likely covered for the cost of repairing a vehicle that has been stolen and recovered, or the fair market value of a vehicle that’s been deemed a total loss. 

Depending on your policy, you may also be reimbursed for the cost of renting a vehicle while the police and insurance provider are investigating the theft, and, if you have a home insurance policy with contents insurance coverage, you could claim the replacement of the contents that were lost or damaged from inside the vehicle.

Will my car insurance cover items stolen or damaged inside my car?

A standard auto insurance policy will cover anything that is attached to the car, including your stereo, roof rack, or tires. Some companies may even go a bit further and cover some auto related contents found inside the vehicle, like your spare tires, jack, or emergency kit. Unless otherwise specified on your policy, you will only be covered for the Actual Cash Value, which reflects the stolen items' current condition and age. Any other valuables found inside your vehicle that are not deemed to be part of the car, like your personal phone or designer sunglasses, would not be covered. 

Typically any piece of valuable contents that was stolen or damaged from inside your car would require you to submit a home, condo or tenant insurance claim (assuming you have that type of coverage). For example, if your top-of-the-line laptop was in your vehicle when it was stolen, you may look to your home insurance provider to help cover the loss. However, many people prefer to avoid making a claim on their home insurance to prevent their premiums from rising and the deductible associated (i.e. the amount you have to pay) with making the claim may negate the benefit entirely depending on the total cost of your incurred losses.

The best course of action is to speak with both your auto and home insurance providers to understand what coverage you have in place in case you were a victim of theft. It’s important to understand your options and to ensure you have the right level of coverage in place.

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What should I do if my car is stolen?

If your vehicle is missing, the first thing to do is make sure it is actually stolen. Is it possible that a family member borrowed the vehicle? Did you forget where you parked it? Could it have been towed? 

Once you’re certain the vehicle has been stolen, the first thing to do is call the police, and the second thing to do is call your insurance provider to start the process of financial reimbursement for the expenses you are about to incur. 

Once the vehicle is reported stolen, the police will begin to look for it, and your car insurance provider will start the process of filing a claim.

What happens when a stolen car is recovered?

Most auto insurance companies have a minimum wait time before closing a claim. They are waiting to see if the police are able to locate the vehicle. 

When a vehicle is located before the claim is closed, the insurance company will assess the damage to the vehicle. If the damage is repairable, the insurance company will pay to have the vehicle repaired before it is returned to you, the policyholder. 

If the vehicle cannot be repaired or it is not located before the minimum wait time is over, the insurance provider will determine the vehicle is a total loss. 

When a vehicle is recovered after the claim is closed, it belongs to the insurance company. It is quite uncommon for a policyholder to go through the process of submitting a claim, waiting for the payout, receiving the payout, and then being contacted by the police to let them know the vehicle has been recovered. However, it does happen from time to time.

When this happens it is important to contact the insurance provider right away because the vehicle that was recovered now belongs to them. 

Even if the vehicle is recovered after the claim is closed and the vehicle belongs to the insurance company, the contents of the vehicle still belong to you and they will be returned.

How long does it take to get a payout when a stolen car is written off?

If the vehicle is determined to be a total loss, the policyholder will work with the insurance provider to determine the fair market value of the vehicle, and the amount agreed on is the amount the insurer will pay the policyholder. While insurance companies differ, most will pay out the claim within 30 days of the vehicle being determined a write-off.

Read more about how the insurance claim process works

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What can I do to prevent my car from being stolen?

Even though you have insurance, it’s always best to avoid having your car stolen in the first place. Here are the top three tips to help you prevent becoming a victim of vehicle theft:

  1. Don’t leave valuable items in the vehicle, or if you must, keep them out of view. If a thief sees items like cash, electronics, or sporting goods in the front or backseat, they’re more likely to choose to steal that vehicle rather than one that is empty. 

  2. Consider theft when you choose the vehicle you buy. Some vehicles are more likely to be stolen than others. If this is a concern for you, do your research before you buy

  3. Park in a public, well-lit area with a lot of people around. Thieves are less likely to steal your vehicle if it is in a public space. 

  4. Get an alarm. If your vehicle does not come with an alarm system, consider having one installed. An alarm system is an easy way to scare off amateur thieves who are just looking for a joyride.

The bottom line

Having your vehicle stolen is a big inconvenience, and having the right level of coverage in the event of theft is definitely something to consider when you’re shopping for auto insurance quotes.

Be sure to speak with a licensed insurance broker to help you find a comprehensive vehicle insurance policy that covers theft, so you’re protected if your vehicle is ever stolen.  

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