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- This happens to pretty much all the Gundams in Mobile Suit Gundam Wing (except for Heavyarms). OZ recovers Wing and Sandrock after they self-destruct, and when they're stolen back, they're in much better condition (Wing has an explanation, Sandrock not so much). Deathscythe and Shenlong get badly damaged and captured in space, but the Gundam Engineers (who have been captured by OZ) upgrade them in secret before handing them back to the boys.
- In an early episode of Pokémon, Team Rocket steals a Ditto belonging to the professional impersonator Duplica, only to discover that it cannot mimic faces properly. They promptly whip it into shape, and when Duplica and the protagonists show up to steal it back, Duplica gives them heartfelt thanks for helping Ditto overcome its problem.
- In Code Geass, after Kallen and her Guren are captured by Britannia, they strap a crapload of high-tech upgrades onto it only for her to break out and steal it right back. Rakshata, its creator, is surprisingly not happy about the Britannian's modifications, probably because they came from her principal scientific rival.
- The Lupin III movie Lupin III: Operation: Return the Treasure had a past rival of Lupin named Mark. Mark left a video will for Lupin, asking him to return some of the things he had stolen. For almost everything Mark asks Lupin to return, he left a replica, probably to prevent his targets from noticing the theft before he got away. The replicas Mark left after his thefts were good enough to fool most folks, but imagine how thrilled his former targets are to get the real things back! Poor Zenigata, however, is VERY confused at first.
- The old Marvel Comics series The New Warriors played with this a bit. The character Silhouette stole an Unstable Molecule costume from Reed Richards (she could meld into the shadows for teleportation but would always lose her clothes in the process since they can't meld with her, forcing her to find something with less Fanservice). She shed her old costume and stole the new one, feeling guilty about the situation afterwards. She tried to return it to Richards, but he was fine with the situation and ended up tweaking it slightly for her... and offering to make further costumes for her in the future.
- ElfQuest: In a variation on both this and Gone Swimming, Clothes Stolen, Leetah and Nightfall leave their clothes on a branch while dancing in the moonlight. While they do, the seamstress Moonshade surreptitiously removes their clothes from the branch and replaces them with new ones.
- In Batman '66: The Lost Episode (based off an unproduced script written by none other than Harlan Ellison), Two-Face steals a nearly complete set of ancient Chinese plates from a museum, only to return the set with the missing piece when his coin comes good-heads up.
- Back to the Future
- In Back to the Future, Marty McFly steals a kid's scooter, ripping off the handles so it's just the board. When he gives it back, it's the world's first skateboard.
- He does something similar in the future of Back to the Future Part II, ganking a Barbie-branded hoverboard from a little girl. When he goes to return it, she lets him keep it because she found Griff's high-end, rocket-propelled "Pit Bull" instead.
- In The Rocketeer, Cliff and Peevey don't steal the rocket from Howard Hughes, but Peevey's reverse engineering improves its acceleration. He also designs a helmet that improves flight—which greatly impresses Hughes.
- In Amélie, Amelie "borrows" her retired father's garden gnome and gives it to a stewardess friend of hers, with the instructions that the stewardess take photos of the gnome at famous landmarks and mailing them back to Amelie's father, in a effort to get him out of his doldrums. This is something that does happen in real life, and the movie helped popularize the practice.
- This happens to Woody in Toy Story 2. Not only does his arm get sewn up, but the antique toy detailer makes sure he looks absolutely brand new.
- A variant where something is stolen but replaced with something at least arguably better is done in The Sandlot. One day while his stepfather is away on business, Smalls is playing baseball with his friends and they lose the ball. Desperately wanting to keep playing, Smalls goes into his stepfather's bedroom and grabs a ball kept there, which was autographed by none other than Babe Ruth. Smalls, being a Naďve Newcomer to the game of baseball, doesn't realize who Babe Ruth is or the value in the ball when it too inevitably gets lost in the yard of a neighbor with a notorious (and huge) dog. All his friends go through enormous lengths to try to retrieve the ball, but it winds up destroyed. Fortunately, the owner of the house is kind enough to give Smalls his ball signed by not only Babe Ruth but the entire Yankees team to replace it, which does a lot to placate his stepfather when the business trip is over.
- In the Wyatt novels by Garry Disher, whenever Wyatt steals a car, he always leaves it in a parking lot with a full tank of petrol.
- Harry Dresden of The Dresden Files once said that he got a note from a prospective carjacker offering to steal him something better. This is because his Blue Beetle is The Alleged Car; Harry can't drive anything more modern because of his magic, which shorts out anything that was invented after the integrated circuit.
- In How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, this is what the Grinch claims he's doing with the Christmas tree when Cindy Lou Who catches him, saying, "I'll fix it up there, and bring it back here." By the end, it's only half true, since he returns all the Christmas items, but hasn't really improved them.
- A variation in the Hercule Poirot novel Hickory Dickory Dock: a "kleptomaniac" has stolen a number of small objects from the students staying in a hostel. When she confesses, the thief admits that she destroyed most of what she stole, but she gives those she stole from enough money so they can buy new things. The students are pleased, both because she was generous in estimating how much their things were worth, and because most of them would rather have had the money anyway.
- The Sopranos: Dr. Melfi is having trouble with her car, and with the mechanics who are fixing it. When Tony learns this during one of his therapy sessions, he has her car stolen, fixed, and returned that night. She's grateful, but not happy about it.
- Played with in this segment from The Unpleasant World of Penn & Teller. Stephen Fry reluctantly parts with his expensive watch, which Penn & Teller proceed to improve. Specifically (and in order), the watch becomes waterproof, shock-resistant, smashed to bits, capable of holding 50 phone numbers, and fish-proof.
- An episode of Las Vegas has Mike borrow his boss Big Ed's convertible to take on a date. While out, the car gets stolen by Mike's date, and Mike tracks it down to a chop shop. When they tell the man in charge whose car it is, he apologizes, has it put back together, detailed, and returned, except the radio favorites which Ed yelled at Mike about.
- In an episode of Michael Bentine's Potty Time, a thief steals Nelson's Column, the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty. It turns out the thief was actually having them cleaned as a gift to the governments of the United Kingdom, France and the USA and returned them in 'as-new' condition.
- In an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Nog "borrows" General Martok's supply of bloodwine to complete a trade for needed starship parts. Martok is understandably pissed, but is mollified when he gets back bloodwine of a much finer vintage.
- An episode of Castle has a variation involving a squatter: He breaks into people's apartments while they're on vacation so he can live there for a while, but always leaves the place exactly as he found it except for general repairs about the place and an appreciative bottle of wine in the fridge.
- Michael and the rest of his True Companions from Burn Notice often have to steal cars as part of their various plans to help their Client of the week. While those cars aren't always improved by the crew using them, it is revealed several seasons into the show that they've been having Michael's mother Madeline "find" all these missing cars and report their location to the police in order to make sure they get returned to their owners, usually no more than a day or two after taking them.
- A variant occurs in Leverage. The team is hired by a charity who discovers that their investment broker has stolen from them and gone into hiding. When they find him, they discover he's actually a pretty decent guy and he had stolen the money because he knew he could quadruple it if he used tricks and back-channels.
- In In Nomine, this is the modus operandi of Kyriotates, angels who manifest by possessing human bodies. (And animals, and in some cases plants and machines.) They suffer dissonance if they leave the host in a worse condition than when they "borrowed" it, so they'd rather be safe than sorry and put in some extra effort. Their demonic counterparts, the Shedim, couldn't care less about their host and take pleasure in corrupting it.
- In Chrono Trigger, Dalton steals the Epoch. But when the heroes steal it back, it can fly.
- In Dragon Quest V, your sword can be "stolen" by a creepy old lady who lives in one of the dungeons of the game and offers to let you and your new bride spend the night. While your wife does have doubts as to whether or not it's a good idea to take up the old hermit on her offer, doing so results in a special cutscene. You wake up in the middle of the night unable to move due to a magical spell, and you and your wife hear ominous grinding sounds from the next room. It turns out the old woman had used magic on you to ensure you have a good nights sleep and spent hours sharpening your sword.
- In Fallout 2, your car may be stolen in Reno, but if you find it in the chop shop, the guys who stole it will helpfully return it to you better than before.
- In the classic text-adventure game Zork, one of the treasures you find is a jeweled egg... but if you let the thief (i.e., Lucien Kaine) steal it, when you find his lair later, you find that the egg has been opened, and it contains a golden singing bird—much more valuable!
- In Shadows of the Servants, a dark creature snatches a voodoo doll from you, tearing its neck in the process. The same doll turns up later in another room, and removing its now-loosened head reveals a key you need.
- It is very possible to do this to NPCs in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim with enough ranks in Pickpocket, Smithing and Enchanting.
- In Grand Theft Auto V, one of the properties you can buy as Franklin (and only Franklin) is an auto repair shop that will let you get all your vehicle customizations free of charge. However, this deal only applies to Franklin, so if you want to upgrade the other character's vehicles without paying for them, you have to invoke this trope.
- At the end of Half-Life 2, the Citadel's automated Confiscating Field takes and disintegrated all of Gordon's weapons...just to accidentally power up the Gravity Gun when it tries to destroy it, turning it into the weapon Gordon cleans up the entier Citadel with.
- A strange variation in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild: if you hurl a rusty sword or shield at an inhaling octorok, then when the octorok spits the sword or shield out, it'll no longer be rusty; it'll be good as new.
- In Teen Titans, the Hive takes over the Titans' (filthy) Tower. By the time the Titans retake it, the Hive have cleaned it up and alphabetized their CDs. Beast Boy and Cyborg are appalled, since now they can't find anything, and they were saving that blue mold.
- Played for Laughs in a Futurama movie. Bender swaps Leela's engagement ring with a fake, but after examining the stolen ring, he realizes that the replacement he made is actually more valuable. He shrugs it off, considering it his gift to Leela.
- And again when Fry gets his hands back from the Robot Devil.
Fry: And what did you do to my nails?Robot Devil: I cleaned them.
- And again when Fry gets his hands back from the Robot Devil.
- In Hanna-Barbera's The Little Rascals episode "The Case of the Puzzled Pals", Darla asks Alfalfa to help her find her missing doll. It turned out that Spanky had taken Darla's doll so he could put a new dress on it.
- In Transformers Animated, the Headmaster steals Sentinel Prime's body and, while he has his hands on it, upgrades it.
- In A Pup Named Scooby-Doo Episode 22, "Night of the Boogey Biker" (the first episode of Season 3), Scooby and the gang try to find out who stole Red Herring's aunt's bike. They discovered that Red took it to add a sidecar to it as a gift for her.
- This is the M.O. of the 'Midnight Mender' in the Sally Bollywood episode "The Midnight Stitch-Up".
- There is an Urban Legend that says Fred Rogers' car was once stolen. When the thieves discovered whose car it was, they returned it with an apology note and all the damage they had done repaired. Some variations of the legend also say that the car was detailed upon return with a few coats of car wax. Snopes covered it here.
- There have been incidents of stolen lawn ornaments like gnomes, eventually returned to the owner with a book of photographs showing the gnome in distant and exotic locations, if the photographs aren't sent from the location itself. The practice was a key part of the movie Amélie, as described above, which helped popularize it.
- In the mid 1990s, a disillusioned mid-level bank employee staged a real life Bavarian Fire Drill caper which led to him walking out the front door of his former place of employment with over $1,000,000 in a duffelbag. When tracked down several years later thanks to the Improbably Cool Car he bought as his one splurge, however, he was ultimately able to gain a reduced sentence and make a settlement with the bank allowing his family to keep some of the money and much of the property he had purchased: Through otherwise conservative spending and some savvy investing, he had actually turned his bloodless $1 million dollar caper into a $12 million dollar diversified portfolio, allowing him to make full recompense for his single crime, plus interest.