Claims Diary: My car was stolen ... or was it?

Vehicle thefts are on the rise for the first time in years. Here’s one man’s story about filing an insurance claim after his car was stolen.

Kara McGinley

By

Kara McGinley

Kara McGinley

Property and Casualty Insurance Expert

Kara McGinley is an insurance editor at Policygenius, specializing in home, auto, and renters insurance. She's been writing about insurance since 2019, and her work and insights have been referenced in Kiplinger and WRAL.com.

Published September 16, 2021|5 min read

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Welcome to Claims Diary, an ongoing series where we interview real people who filed real insurance claims to learn about how the claims process actually went.

A stolen vehicle can be one of the worst possible scenarios for car owners — coming back to a parking spot to see that your car is gone is a heart-in-stomach moment for most people. Car insurance covers vehicle theft, but only if your policy includes comprehensive coverage. Comprehensive coverage is optional coverage that protects your car from hazards like weather-related damage, vehicle theft, and vandalism. But how does your insurance actually work when your car gets stolen? Who do you call first? And what if the car was leased?

In this installment of our Claims Diary series, we talked to one man about filing an insurance claim after his leased car was stolen (or so he thought).

A rainy evening 

Jarrett Sanders was 23 years old when he moved from State College, Pennsylvania to his new home in Detroit in 2013. Not long after his move to the Midwest, on a September evening, Sanders found himself driving late at night in the rain. He noticed the roads were slick, but didn’t think too much of it. “I only had to go about a mile down the road to get back to my apartment,” Sanders said. 

But slick roads can be deceiving, and when Sanders went to turn left, his 2012 black Chevy Cruze suddenly felt out of control. “I just lost control of the car, it jumped a curb, and I hit a fence,” he explained. 

Sanders tried to restart his car, but didn’t have any luck. “I tried putting it in reverse and everything, but the transmission was completely wrecked,” Sanders said.

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A long night of waiting 

Sanders knew he had to contact the police to report the collision, and he also needed a tow for his now undriveable car. “I called the cops and they said they’d send someone over to help,” Sanders explained. 

“It was pretty late at night at this point. I waited about an hour, or maybe over an hour, for them to arrive and they still hadn’t. I didn’t want to wait until the wee hours of the morning. I figured I notified the police and they knew where to come.” Because Sanders was only around a mile from his apartment, he decided the safest thing to do was walk home before it got any later. 

“I figured they’d just come and tow it or impound it and then I’d pick it up the next day,” he said. 

A sudden disappearance 

On his way to the police station, Sanders and his friend drove by the road where Sanders had left his vehicle the night before. It wasn’t there, so they headed straight to the station, assuming they’d file a report and pick up the towed vehicle. 

Unfortunately, when they arrived they got some alarming news. “The police told us they didn’t have any records of taking the vehicle in last night,” Sanders explained. “I asked if they had any other records. They did end up having the police report from the 911 call that I made. But they said when they drove by last night there was no car there.” 

After a few more discussions with the police, Sanders got his answer — the car must have been stolen. “They told me I’d need to report a stolen vehicle. Apparently Chevy Cruzes are easy to steal and it was happening a lot around that time. They thought it was most likely what happened since the car was there on its own,” he said. 

Filing a car theft claim

After getting confirmation from the police that the car was likely stolen, Sanders contacted his insurance company. “I called my insurance company and told them what happened and that the police couldn’t find my car. I was actually shocked with how straightforward the process was from there. My insurance company told me to wait around seven to ten days, and if the car wasn’t recovered by then, they would proceed with filing a claim,” he explained. 

And that’s exactly what happened. In the meantime, Sanders was supplied with an economy class rental car for a couple of weeks. 

“My car was leased, so my insurance company just bought me out of the rest of my lease. It was crazy how quickly it all worked out. They told me I no longer owed anything on the car. I no longer had a lease,” Sanders said. 

This means that either Sanders’ comprehensive coverage covered the rest of his lease, or his gap coverage paid off the remaining balance. 

Gap coverage is a policy add-on, or endorsement, that can be a valuable coverage option for drivers with a loan or lease. When a car is stolen, your comprehensive coverage pays out the car’s actual cash value, meaning depreciation is factored in. Gap coverage kicks in if your comprehensive coverage hits its limit, to pay off any “gap” in between your comp coverage and what is left on your auto loan. 

An unexpected recovery

A few weeks later, Sanders came home to find a message waiting for him with the reception desk of his apartment complex. “They told me an officer had been by to see me,” he said. It turned out that Sanders’ car was impounded the night that he called it in. It was never stolen. 

“I called my insurance company but they’d already been notified. They told me there was nothing else I needed to do but pick up my personal belongings that were left in the car. They said they would auction it off.”

It’s estimated that the recovery rate for stolen vehicles is around 59%, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau. [1] However, it’s hard for officials to pinpoint an actual number. Luckily for Sanders, he hasn’t run into any trouble with car theft, or surprise recoveries, since this incident.

Have a claims story of your own to share? Email your story to Kara.Mcginley@policygenius.com and you could be featured in a future Claims Diary

Image: Getty Images / PixelsEffect