Last Updated on June 9, 2022 by Bernard Juchli
At least 56.1% of locally stolen cars are recovered in 721,885 cases of stolen vehicles in the US alone. It looks like you belong in this lucky number, and this article explains what happens when your car is stolen then found.
Suppose the police find your stolen car or you discovered its whereabouts personally. It is not advisable to simply hop in and drive it right away or remain silent after recovering your stolen car, especially if you reported it stolen. Besides, the car VIN will report the car stolen on the database until you inform the police.
The insurance and your lender (if any) mostly have a role when your stolen car is then found. Let’s find out what happens and what you must do to make the car legal and roadworthy again.
What Happens When Your Car is Stolen then Found?
Typically, you would have reported your stolen car to the police, insurance, and lender for investigation. Now that the stolen car is found, all three parties, including the police, insurance, and lender, must be informed.
- Finding your stolen car somewhere. If you found your stolen car somewhere, you have to inform the police, insurance, and lender. Report to the insurance whether you claimed the vehicle or not because the insurance could still be investigating if you were not given a replacement car. However, if the insurance paid your claim, they become the registered owner of the vehicle.
- Suppose the police found your car. The police would typically identify the car using the plate and VIN. They will contact you (the registered owner) or the insurance who may now be the owner. You will be informed to visit the location where your vehicle is in possession.
- What if the police can’t contact you? If the police cannot contact you (the registered owner), or you can’t claim that the car belongs to you, a tow operator will tow it for impound. The police will also update the database to report the stolen car as recovered. Unfortunately, the registered owner is liable for the impound and storage fees. Nonetheless, you can always negotiate tow charges with a tow operator.
- Suppose the car has been abandoned. When the police find an abandoned stolen vehicle, they typically process it in an attempt to identify the suspect. The car can be dusted for fingerprint, or any item found that does not belong to the owner will be taken as possible evidence. The police will also enter any missing item in the vehicle that the owner reports.
- Suppose the stolen vehicle has been damaged. If your car is stolen then found and has been destroyed, keyed or suffers damages from collision or was stripped, the police will impound it. The owner can claim the damage. If the car destroyed another person’s property, the insurance could defend the car owner against such claims.
What Happens if the Insurance Paid for Your Stolen Car that is Found?
If the insurance paid for your stolen car that is now found, you would have transferred ownership to them. The insurance is now the registered owner of the car. Depending on the condition of the vehicle, the insurance can advertise it for sale.
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Most of the time, the insurance may not bother to change the title of the car to their name, perhaps to save cost and avoid the stress of transferring the ownership of the car that may never be found. When the stolen car is then found, the police inform the registered owner (not the insurance because they did not transfer the ownership). The insurance may not be aware that the stolen car has been found unless you inform them, or they find out when you try to put it back on insurance.
- The insurance wants the car back after paying your claims. If your car is stolen and then found within a year, the insurance will have you sign it over to them. If you want to keep the car, you can buy it from them.
- Car value over the year. The vehicle value is a factor the insurance puts into consideration. Suppose your stolen car is found after a year in good condition. The insurance is confident of recouping money back. However, if they had written the vehicle off their books and no paperwork, they may spend more to put it in their name. If the vehicle has been damaged over the year and lost its value, they may sell it into junk or may have written it off as disposed of on their books.
In extreme cases, a stolen car that is then found badly damaged ends up in the junkyard as totaled. Nevertheless, you can buy and put the totaled car back on the road. It will be challenging to get insurance for the salvaged car, except you go through rebuilding it and removing the salvage title. You can also wash the car title to make it clean again.
Can You Refuse to Take Back Your Stolen Car?
Whether you can refuse to take back a stolen car depends on the situation.
- A totaled car. If the stolen car is salvaged, you refuse it depending on your insurance policy. Of course, the insurer will not force a salvaged car on you. But if the car has minor damages, the adjuster informs the insurance, and they may refuse to give you a new car.
- You were paid insurance claims. If the insurance paid off your claims, it is no longer your property. Suppose the police informed you about the recovered stolen vehicle racking up storage fees in your name. You simply notify the insurance. It is possible that the insurance did not transfer the owner into their name and may have written it off their books.
- The police and tow operator. The police will have the tow operator take possession of your stolen car that is then found. If you do not turn up to claim the vehicle, you are liable for the storage fees. In some states, after the tow company sells the car and the sales amount does not cover the storage debt, you are liable for completing the debt.
Your Stolen Car Can be Involved in an Accident
What if your found stolen car was involved in an accident? If you reported the car as stolen, and it was involved in an accident affecting other people’s properties, you are not liable for the damages if the suspect is not found. Moreover, it is the responsibility of your insurer, and they will defend the claim against you.
However, the police will require you to provide proof that you were not the car driver. They will search for evidence to identify the driver, but your insurance may still cover the accident.
Suppose you did not report your stolen car then found, and you have no insurance. You may not be able to prove that you were not the driver and would be liable for the damages caused by the suspect.
This article has attempted to provide various answers as to what happens when your car is stolen and then found. If your stolen car has minor or no damage, it is still advisable to have a mechanic inspect it for safety.
Make sure to inform your insurance and lender (if any). Even if your insurance was yet to pay off your claims, you must inform them. They may have to replace lost items or pay for the vehicle repairs depending on your policy.