The teenaged vehicle theft – Oh really?

The insured’s daughter parked her vehicle at school and when she came out of class the vehicle was gone. Then she noticed that she had lost her key. The vehicle was later recovered by the police and returned to the owner. The owner then filed a claim with their insurance company for transmission damages and damage to both the exterior and interior surfaces. GEI was assigned to inspect the vehicle and determine if the claimed damages to the exterior, interior, and transmission were a result of the theft.

Our expert examined the vehicle and documented its condition with several photographs.

The interior of the vehicle was examined.

The normal (or expected) time and heat related wear-and-tear damages were found in the interior trim, panels, and seating areas. None of these damages were a result of a recent date-of-loss incident. A square hole was found in the driver’s seat and the worn edges of the hole indicated that this damage was not recent.

Fresh and minor scrape damages were found on the left side of the rear bumper cover. However, the majority of the exterior damages were not new and were therefore not related to the reported theft and recovery.

Old repaired scratches were found on the right front fender, and one of the scratches was covered with magic marker ink. Recent and old curb impact scrapes were found on the right front wheel and tire.

A significant amount of aged, rock-caused chips in the paint were found in the left and right front fenders. Minor rock chips were also found in the front area of the hood. The worn edges of the chip areas indicated they were aged and not fresh.

Old cracks and damage were found in the paint of the right side door. “Touch-up” paint was found on the right side of the rear bumper cover.

Minor old scratches were found on the trunk lid. One of the bolts securing the rear license plate was missing and the plate was off-kilter. The right taillight assembly was loose; a small hole was found in the clear plastic. The remainder of the trunk area appeared in good condition. No damages were found on the roof or the window glass.

These damages were common and expected in a vehicle of this age. They were the result of daily driving and normal parking lot occurrences. The various scratches, stone chips, and “door dings” had occurred at different times, as indicated by the condition of the edges, the underlying paint, and metal corrosion.

The hood was opened to access the engine compartment. No theft activity was found in the engine compartment. The battery needed to be replaced, as it had failed due to age. The engine oil dipstick was removed for examination; the engine oil was found at its proper level. The coolant was found at a slightly low level. A power steering hose was seeping fluid and nearing failure. This was also a wear-and-tear issue and not related to the reported theft.

The underside of the vehicle was examined. No apparent external damage or other indications of impact were found to the vehicle’s underside or its other suspension components.

The transmission was removed and disassembled prior to the vehicle inspection, so its internal condition was also observed.

The removed and disassembled components of the automatic transmission were severely damaged. Over time, the transmission generated sufficient heat to wear out many of the transmission’s internal components. Very recently a catastrophic failure occurred that fractured the rear of the shift drum. The vehicle’s operator would have been aware of the reduction in the automatic transmission’s performance prior to its ultimate failure.

The transmission catastrophically failed because of a lack of maintenance that accelerated the effects of age and wear-and-tear.

In conclusion, the observed damages were not recent and were not caused by the reported theft.