Question: Will my insurance pay for repairs (less deductible) for my fully covered, financed vehicle if it were reported stolen and then hit a tree, but no one has been charged with the theft? Or does the thief have to be found? I’m in Texas, in case it varies by state.
Answer: Yes, your insurance should pay for the repairs. But expect to be grilled about the claim -- and don't take it personally.
Auto insurance companies will pay for the repairs of a recovered stolen vehicle, minus your deductible, if you have comprehensive coverage on your policy -- no matter if the thief is found or not. But, as the Texas Department of Insurance stresses, you do need to report the auto theft to the police to get your claim accepted.
In your situation, your insurer’s investigator will do an intense examination of your claim to make sure you didn’t crash your own car and then report it as stolen (because you were drunk, didn’t want to make a collision claim, owed too much on the car, etc.). Also, he will check for any unauthorized use, such as if you have a child who may have gone on a joyride, crashed into the tree and then left the car (this happens more than you think).
Your claim for your stolen vehicle will be scrutinized by your auto insurance company because fraud is widespread with both theft and fire claims. The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) says fraudulent claims are especially common in hard economic times, so auto insurance claims investigators are meticulous in their inquiry to determine if a vehicle has really taken by a thief or if something else occurred.
Once your insurer has thoroughly investigated your claim and determines it’s legitimate, then your repairs should be covered (less your comprehensive deductible).
If repair costs for your financed vehicle are high, compared to the worth of your car, your insurer may decide to total out the vehicle instead of repair it. If that is the case, then actual cash value (ACV) would be paid out for the vehicle, but to your lienholder and not you (unless you owe less than the value of the vehicle, in which case your lienholder would be paid off first and you’d received any remaining settlement money).
If you're upside-down on your loan, owe more than the vehicle is worth, then after the ACV was paid out, you’d be responsible to pay the remaining balance due on the loan unless you have gap insurance to cover this amount.
While many issues with car insurance vary by state, how stolen cars are handled typically does not. No one has to be charged with theft in order for you to make a claim or for you to get your claim paid out by your auto insurer. State laws do, however, vary on how long an insurer can take to pay out a claim.
In some states auto insurance companies are allowed to settle within a very subjective “reasonable time,” but Texas has laws that set deadlines for car insurance carriers to take action after you’ve filed a claim. Insurance companies must:
- Respond within 15 days of the date they received your claim (in writing). Part of this will be you documenting your loss.
- Accept or reject your claim within 15 days after you submit any requested documentation.
- Send your payment (check or draft) within five business days after it agrees to pay your claim.
However, Texas laws also allow for extenuating circumstances. If an insurance company cannot meet the above deadlines, it must send you a notice explaining why. The insurer then has 45 days to either approve or reject your claim. If a claim is ultimately rejected, your insurer must explain why in writing.
If after your claim is paid the car thief is found, your insurer has the right to pursue that individual to recover whatever they paid out on your claim.