Personal Finance

I lost my car. Will insurance pay?

Moments away from signing a contract

Question: If I can't find my car, can I file an auto insurance claim for it?  I went to an unfamiliar area at night for a party and ended up being in no condition to drive, so I got a ride home. I went back to pick up my car but can't remember exactly where I parked it. I have looked on many nearby streets with no luck. I also called the police and towing companies, but they have no record of my car being picked up. At this point, I believe it has been stolen. What should I do?

Answer: You should file a claim with your insurance company. They may not accept it, but you've made a good-faith effort to make sure the car isn't simply lost.

We've all seen people using their car key's panic button in a crowded parking lot to find their car, so forgetting where you've parked isn't unusual.  Not finding your car at all is unusual, but it does happen.

A German man was recently reunited with his vehicle two years after he reported it missing.  It was found three miles from where he thought he parked it.  It was determined that the car wasn't stolen since it was locked and still contained tools worth over $50,000.  A British man also had his car found after two years.  It was in the parking garage next to garage where he thought he had parked.

We're glad you made the right choice and found a ride home instead of operating your vehicle and putting yourself at risk for causing an accident or being cited for driving under the influence .   If you're still unable to find your vehicle, then you can file a claim with your car insurance company -- but it will be up to their guidelines if the claim will be accepted.

Is an empty parking space proof of theft?

In time your car may be found where you parked it -- or it may have been stolen as you suspect.  It sounds as if you've done your due diligence by looking for your car and calling to see if it were impounded.  So, if you truly think it has been stolen, then you should report it to the police.  Your car insurance company will require a police report for a stolen car claim.

To file a claim for your missing vehicle you need to have comprehensive insurance coverage as part of your car insurance policy.  If you only have state-minimum liability coverage, then you're unable to make a claim.

Once the claim is made, your insurance company will determine if, according to the terms of your policy and their internal rules, this situation can be categorized as covered peril (stolen car).

Speaking to a couple of different car insurance providers, we received different answers about this type of claim.

One insurer that said with a police report you could file a comprehensive claim.  This adjuster said after a very thorough investigation (don't be surprised if they ask for your phone records and other personal documents) a final determination would be made on if an insured would be paid out for a stolen vehicle.   (See "Why you're a suspect in your own car theft.")

The other auto insurance carrier said that, in this type of case, there is no proof that you have a loss, so it normally wouldn't accept your claim.  This auto insurance company said it would consider forgetting where you parked to be gross negligence on your part, which would negate your coverages under the terms of its car insurance policies.

Since guidelines and policy terms vary greatly from one car insurance company to another, you will have to discuss your situation and potential stolen car claim with your auto insurer.

Keep in mind that if your claim is accepted then as part of your settlement you'll have to sign over the title of the car to your insurer. This means once you've been paid out actual cash value for your vehicle (less your comprehensive deductible amount) if the car is later recovered, it will be the property of your car insurance company.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

Other Topics

Insurance is a leading provider of car insurance news and price comparisons for car insurance. Readers are provided with no-nonsense information about the way insurance rates are calculated and claims are handled. The site provides data that tracks premium trends, a quick way to compare rates online without obligation and publishes articles that explore both the basics and quirkier aspects of a bill that no one enjoys paying.

Learn More