What Happens If You Find Your Stolen Car After The Insurance Company Has Paid You For It?

We’ve heard stories in the past of stolen cars turning up years after they go missing, and joyfully reunited with the owners who thought they had lost their beloved rides forever. But what happens if your insurance company has already paid you for that stolen car — is there any way to keep it if you find it again?

That’s the situation facing a Consumerist reader I’ll call Jeff, which isn’t his real name. A classic car handed down to him by his father, who died while Jeff was in high school, was stolen in Atlanta in January 2012.

He writes that it he reported it stolen, but held onto the title as long as his insurance company, State Farm, would let him, before it revoked the lost car claim offer.

His complaint doesn’t lie with that process — he says State Farm was great, and he asked them to notify him if it was ever recovered, so he could try to buy it at auction.

Cut to a few weeks ago, when Jeff says he became convinced he’d spotted his car on the Internet while looking for a good deal on one like he used to have. The car in question was listed as a different year than his, but had many distinguishing features that he says belongs to the model year he used to own.

While he’s convinced it’s his, and says he’s ready to provide evidence from his mechanic, he hasn’t seen the car in person, so he can’t be sure.

And because he’s a good consumer, he’s not about to try and buy the vehicle himself, as he would then be responsible for buying stolen property if it turns out that the car is his.

He’s now stuck waiting while the Atlanta police department and its Miami counterparts look into his suspicions — a process that he initiated in early July, with not much to show for it.

But, he says, State Farm tells him it’s not in the business of vehicle recovery, and the best they could do if the car is discovered to be his stolen car, would be possibly to alert him as to which salvage yard his car would go to.

We reached out to State Farm, which confirmed that in a situation like the one above — though we didn’t ask for comment on this specific scenario — sending the vehicle to salvage is the likely outcome:

If State Farm had issued payment for the value of the vehicle in accordance with the policy and state regulations prior to being recovered, State Farm would retain possession of the vehicle and process the vehicle as “salvage” in accordance with the applicable insurance laws and regulations.

As for those “applicable insurance laws and regulations,” according to a representative of Georgia’s Office of Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner when contacted by Consumerist, under state code, yes, it must be sold for salvage.

We also reached out to Florida officials, thought it would seem that the laws of the state where the insurance policy was purchased, Georgia, would apply in this situation.

“Even still, I feel like State Farm could request that the salvage yard work with me; I don’t want it back for free but I’m also not a car dealer and it would be heartbreaking to see it go up for auction and me not be able to afford it,” Jeff explains.

So is there any hope for Jeff that State Farm might intercede for him? That remains to be seen.

For now, Jeff is still waiting to hear back from both the local police in Miami and in Georgia, where he lives. Let’s all cross our fingers and hope that if it does turn out to be his car, that State Farm finds a way to reunite him with it. You know, out of the goodness of their hearts.

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