What Does Theft Recovery Mean? (All You Need To Know)

What Does Theft Recovery Mean

Theft recovery efforts are making headlines as this crime increases all over the United States. It’s an important component in helping victims recover goods stolen from them.

But what does theft recovery mean? Theft recovery refers to the act of obtaining previously stolen property. The term usually refers to vehicles but it can entail any theft of a high-ticket item. We’ll tell you all you need to know about theft recovery and how technology is advancing to deter it.

Defining Theft Recovery

Theft recovery” means a stolen vehicle that its owner eventually recovers. This can include individual owners or cars stolen from a sales lot. Oftentimes the car doesn’t return in the same condition as before thieves made off with it.

The reason why many cars get recovered is because of an accident or the vehicle thief ensued a police chase. However, modern technological advances provide real-time tracking devices installed into newer vehicles.

This is what allows police and owners better find stolen vehicles before anything can happen to them.

In other cases, the car returns to the owner but it’s chopped for parts and gutted. Plus, the resell value of theft-recovered vehicles is not nearly what the car is worth.

Even if it comes back in mint condition, it will still classify as a theft-recovered vehicle.

Broadening the Definition

But, this doesn’t necessarily have to relate to auto theft. Theft recovery can include any system or effort in retrieving stolen goods that are worth money or hold a lot of value.

This includes identification theft, computers, electronics, sound systems, furniture, and other such items.

Each of these subjects is vast. So, we’ll discuss in this article how theft recovery relates to only stolen vehicles.

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Can a theft recovery vehicle be registered and insured?

Yes, a theft recovery vehicle may be registered and insured. That’s because in order to get a valid title on it, the vehicle must be rebuilt to the point that it’s going to pass inspection based on local state laws. What getting insurance will entail is basically this (although it varies from state to state):

  • You’ll need to prove it’s in good condition. This may be done with photos and a mechanic’s assessment can also be useful for this.
  • You will need to get a history report on the vehicle to indicate what kind of work and damage it has been associated with in the past.
  • We should note that in many cases, the vendor of the vehicle can help you with this, as many may have a working relationship with local insurance vendors (though you should still check rates and compare what it would cost vs. a standard used and standard titled same model).

Is it worth it to purchase a vehicle advertised as a ‘theft recovery’ vehicle?

Purchasing a theft recovery vehicle can indeed save you a lot of money, but you’ll want to be very careful with your purchase to help ensure that you are getting exactly what is being advertised (and we’ll give you some tips on this in the next section).

If you don’t ‘do your homework’ and simply gamble on the purchase, then you might very well be disappointed. While some theft recovery vehicles will be in excellent condition, a lot of them will have been completely stripped, taken for joyrides, and possibly damaged and without taking steps to learn it’s history, you won’t know if it’s had a thorough rebuild or simply been ‘patched’ to the point that it will perform for now.

If we had to break it down into ‘pros’ and ‘cons’, it would look a little like this:


  • Branded theft recovery vehicles increase your chances of qualifying for a newer model, which is always a perk!
  • These vehicles are typically easier to afford, allowing you to get more ‘bells and whistle’s on your vehicle than you might otherwise be able to afford.


  • It is harder to get a loan on branded vehicles, so you may have to hunt a bit and you might get saddled with a higher interest rate.
  • While many insurance companies will work with you, not all of them will insure a branded title, so you might to work a little harder to get a theft recovery vehicle insured.
  • Without a history report, you’re also risking the chance that the vehicle sustained maor damage that you won’t be aware of and this could bite you later on down the line.
  • Resale value will likely be reduced with a branded title, as some potential purchasers will be aware of the pros and cons that we are sharing with you today.

Thankfully, we live in the information age, so there are quite a lot of things that you can do to protect yourself.

What can I do to ensure I won’t regret my purchase?

First and foremost, you want to get a history report on the vehicle. This is going to let you know if it is indeed a branded title, and it will also tell you how many ‘fender benders’ the vehicle has been in, and how much and what type of repair work it has had.

To learn a little about the history, you can get free information from the National Insurance Crime Bureau by asking for a VINCHECK. You’ll need your vin number and this will tell you if it was salvaged or stolen, just in case the salesperson seems a little dodgy when you ask about the title.

Before purchase, you should also spend around $40 to get a CARFAX report. While this can make car hunting expensive, these reports are invaluable. They can tell you exactly what kind of title is on the vehicle as well as it’s maintenance history, how many owners it has had, and more.

You should also ask the salesperson if you can get the vehicle inspected by a local mechanic before purchase and offer to pay for it. If there are any issues, you want to know about them NOW, so it’s worth saving a little extra so that you can do this.

Finally, if you confirm it’s a branded title from the VINSEARCH, we recommend taking a few hours calling local insurance companies or emailing them to ask what their policy is on insuring branded vehicles so that you know if they will insure your new vehicle, what it will cost, and so that you’ll have a list of insurance options.

If you don’t, 9 times out of 10 the salesperson will have an insurance company you can use, but you can BET your bottom dollar that there are better rates out there and you’ll be kicking yourself a little if you skip this step.

How Stolen Vehicle Recovery Works

Once someone discovers their car stolen, they file a police report and receive a case number. After that, it’s usually a waiting game.

Generally, it depends on if there’s a tracking system in the car or not. So, if there’s something like OnStar or GPS installed, then recovery of the vehicle should be quick.

However, it’s not uncommon that police and authorities never find the car. This is especially true of older vehicles that don’t have any systems installed.

Insurance Company Conduct

During the waiting period, the theft victim contacts insurance to notify them about the theft. If the car ends up gone for more than three weeks total, usually the insurance company will cover the cost of the vehicle.

In this case, they consider the vehicle a total loss, which puts it in the category of “salvage vehicle.”

The condition of how the car comes back will determine what the insurance company will pay out and if it’s repairable. If it’s totally destroyed, they will usually cover the cost of the vehicle for a new one.

But, if there are minor damages, they usually offer at least half of the repairs. Regardless of the amount they pay out, you can expect insurance rates to soar.

Anti-Theft Systems & Technology

Because vehicle theft is a decades-old problem endemic in the United States, there are several technological advances to deter thieves and recover vehicles quickly. There are quite a few devices available on the market and they include:

  • Remote shutdown: Automatically turns the car off from a remote location to stop the theft before it gets too far away. Sometimes this is through a recovery system company or via a smart device app by the owner.
  • Multi-Faceted Alarm Recovery Systems (i.e. OnStar or LoJack): This is an all-inclusive system using multiple anti-theft technologies for peace of mind and speedy recovery; more about this below.
  • GPS Tracking: Several devices available on the market allow real-time tracking of the car and its location. You can program this to send out an alert if the car goes beyond a specific boundary for which you set the parameters.
  • Alert Systems: These install directly into the vehicle and let out an ear-piercing sound to deter would-be thieves. Some of these come location-based while others have sensors to monitor unnatural shaking of the car. This tends to be the most inexpensive of all the ones available and mostly standard.

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What These Can & Can’t Do

Where prior to the 2000s, the most people were able to deter vehicle theft with an alarm system hooked up to the keychain.

But, today these systems have become very state-of-the-art and able to catch criminals and recover the car before any real damage occurs. However, they do not physically prevent or stop a thief.

While some thieves still get away with the theft, these systems increase the chances of seeing the car again. Any one of the systems mentioned above works differently in various ways to make this possibility more of a reality. Which one people use depends on affordability and what’s already installed.

These simply make it easier to find the vehicle by assisting police and other authorities with essential information.

The real-time monitoring this offer, especially alarm recovery systems and GPS tracking, means police can usually find the vehicle within hours of the theft.

All-Inclusive Recovery Systems

Because stopping criminals in their tracks is a difficult thing to pursue for police and victims alike, several recovery systems employ many types of anti-theft technology.

Two of the most popular are OnStar and LoJack. These systems have around an 80% to 90% success rate, so they’re worth it.

LoJack is the only security system that fully integrates with law enforcement. They distribute devices specific to police forces. The car system employs a hidden transceiver with a small radio frequency and this links to the car’s VIN. When the owner reports the car stolen, the police use their LoJack device to track the transceiver.

OnStar is a trusted name in vehicle security since 2007. Created by GM, you can find it in everyone of the vehicles they sell.

This usually employs GPS tracking and you can use their system to call for help in the event of an emergency. To have their service installed on a non-GM vehicle is hugely expensive.

Benefits of an Anti-Theft Recovery System

Aside from preventing the car from being gone forever, there are other benefits to having an anti-theft recovery system.

Not only will it provide a little peace of mind but it can also be a great way to lower your car insurance payments. Many companies look favorably on anti-theft recovery systems and offer a discount.

The following list contains some insurance companies that incentivize anti-theft and vehicle recovery by giving discounts to drivers who install such devices.

The percentage of the discount can be as little as 3% to as much as 25%. Regardless, always contact your insurance provider directly for details.

  • 21st Century
  • AAA
  • Allstate
  • American Family
  • Amica
  • Esurance
  • Farmers Insurance
  • Geico
  • Liberty Mutual
  • MetLife
  • Nationwide
  • Progressive
  • Safe Auto
  • The Hartford
  • Travelers Insurance
  • USAA


Theft recovery generally refers to any stolen vehicle that returned to its owner. There are many modern technologies to help deter criminals and recover the car more quickly.

While this definition can include things like personal identification and computers, it usually relates to vehicles.

It’s just that anti-theft systems don’t physically stop or prevent thieves. Even still, it’s a good idea to have one.

This is because it will deter theft to some degree while also making it easier for police to find the car once stolen. Besides, the discount car insurance offers can make it easier on your bank account!

Reference Sources


Steve P.

Steve is an automotive technician, technical writer, and Managing Editor. He has held a lifelong passion for cars, with a particular interest in cars like the Buick Riviera. Steve is based in Boise, Idaho.

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