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A vehicle is being inspected for repair in this 2007 file photo.

Barbara Fernandez/The New York Times

My husband's vehicle was stolen out of the garage. He had a spare key hiding in his vehicle somewhere and the thieves found it. It was found about six days later by a hospital. It was on the ground with no wheels, the driver side window was smashed and the inside and outside are trashed — they cut the seat belts, kicked in the dash and wrecked the bumpers. We want it written off, but our insurance company is saying it can be fixed. I have heard that you can refuse your vehicle back if you can prove it has been trashed. Is that true? — Michelle, Saskatchewan

If thieves trash your Traverse, you have no right to a write-off. Generally, a car will only get written off if it costs more to repair than it's worth.

"Normally, you'd have to take it back — it depends on the amount of damage and whether it's a total loss or repairable," said Dennis Michayluk, senior director of urban claims with Saskatchewan Government Insurance (SGI). "We're not going to write off an $80,000 vehicle if there's $25,000 in damage."

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When deciding whether to write off a vehicle, SGI looks at the cost of repairs, the cost of a rental, what they could get for the vehicle as salvage and the market value before the damage, Michayluk said.

If you disagree with the insurance company's estimate of the repair costs or their estimate of the car's value, you can have both reviewed.

If, after that, you still don't agree with their decision, you can go to binding arbitration — where you and the insurance company will each have a report from an appraiser. A third appraiser will act as umpire and make a final decision. The umpire's decision is solely based on cost — the company then does whichever solution costs less.

Cars usually returned, but are often damaged

Between 2014 and 2016 in Saskatchewan, 91 per cent of stolen vehicles were recovered, SGI said. Just in Regina, so far, this year, 77 cars have been stolen and 68 have been recovered, police said.

But there's not much honour among thieves — they don't usually return those vehicles the way they found them, police said.

"[A] good number of recovered vehicles are damaged in some way," said Elizabeth Popowich, Regina police spokeswoman, in an e-mail. "The person who steals the vehicle often uses it as transportation to commit another offence; they obviously don't drive them with the same care as the owner."

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Police don't have exact numbers on the value of damage, but returned vehicles might be vandalized or there could have been other crimes committed in them — so there may be blood or other biological material inside.

Part of why stolen cars are often found is because they're stolen to commit crimes — a thief might take advantage of an unlocked car with keys inside. They're not usually being stolen to sell or ship overseas. The amount of damage typically depends on the thief's intentions, police said.

"If the thief happens to be someone who wants to drive into the front of a store to commit a break, enter and theft, there'd be lots of damage," Popowich said. "If it's a quick ride to a different location and abandoned, obviously there wouldn't be as much."

The worst police have seen?

"Vehicles set on fire, but it doesn't happen very much in the city," Popowich said. "It would draw attention too quickly and the car thief would risk getting caught."

Vehicle theft was down one per cent overall between 2015 and 2016 with about 79,000 stolen vehicles overall, according to Statistics Canada. But in Saskatchewan, thefts rose 15 per cent to 5,663 thefts. Thefts also went up 18 per cent in Nunavut and 20 per cent in the Yukon.

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In Saskatoon, police attribute the 21 per cent increase in vehicle thefts there to a rise in crystal meth use.

Rules similar across Canada

Across Canada, insurance companies generally do whichever costs less — repair or write-off — to settle any claim. And that's usually true even if unspeakable things have happened in a car.

"If the damage — which would include bad smells, biological stains, etc.— costs more to repair than the vehicle is worth on the market, we would repair it," said Joe Daly, spokesman for Desjardins General Insurance Group, in an e-mail. "The repairs would include clean up and elimination of smells and other necessary work to get the vehicle back in the condition it was before the theft."

In "exceptional situations," the company may review a claim and write off a vehicle even thought the cost is higher, Daly said.

Have a driving question? Send it to globedrive@globeandmail.com. Canada's a big place, so please let us know where you are so we can find the answer for your city and province.

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