Last updated: June 2023
If you've never been the victim of automobile theft, you might assume your car is safe. After all, many thieves now target specific parts or valuables inside the vehicle rather than the car itself. However, motor vehicle theft is still a common occurrence. In fact, more than one million vehicles were stolen in 2022 for the first time since 2008, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau. While we hope it never happens to you, here's what to do if your car is stolen and some tips to help prevent car theft.
5 Steps to Follow If Your Car is Stolen
You walk outside and your car isn't where you parked it. Here's what to do next.
1. Don't panic.
While we recognize this is a stressful situation, it's always a good idea to remain calm. If you park your vehicle on the street or in assigned parking spaces at your residence, look around for posted signs that may indicate your car could have been towed. Maybe you got home very late and misremembered where you parked. By remaining calm and running through the possible scenarios, you might realize you need to call the towing company, not the police.
2. Contact the police.
If you're sure your car was stolen, call the police immediately. You'll almost certainly need a police report to file a claim with your insurance company (more on that below), and the police will use any information you can give them to try to track down your vehicle. And if it turns out your vehicle was towed, your local police department should be able to help you locate it.
How to Report a Stolen Vehicle
The recovery rate for stolen vehicles was 59.3% in 2018, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau's (NICB) analysis of FBI data, but the sooner the police can get to work, the better chance you have of getting your car back. To report a stolen vehicle, the NICB says you provide the following information to police online, over the phone, or in person depending on your situation:
- The year, make, and model of the car
- The car's color
- The license plate number
- The vehicle identification number (VIN)
- Any identifying features, like bumper stickers, dents, scratches, windshield cracks, etc.
If your car has a GPS system, you might be in luck. Let the police know immediately, and they might be able to use this technology to track your car.
3. Get in touch with your insurer.
As soon as you've finished talking to the police, it's time to contact your insurer and let them know the unfortunate news, regardless of the types of coverage you have.
Does car insurance cover a stolen car?
While there's no such thing as “stolen car insurance,” comprehensive coverage can be your saving grace in this scenario. Sometimes known as “other than collision coverage,” comprehensive coverage will pay to repair or replace your vehicle if it's stolen, vandalized, damaged in a natural disaster, or strikes an animal. Comprehensive coverage isn't required by law, but if you've taken out a loan to pay for your vehicle, there's a good chance the lending institution requires you to have collision and comprehensive coverage. If you have comprehensive coverage, your insurer can walk you through the claims process.
What if you don't have comprehensive coverage?
Even if you only carry liability coverage, you still need to get in touch with your insurer. Your liability insurance won't cover your vehicle for theft. However, if the thief gets into an accident and causes property damage or bodily harm, you don't want to be held responsible. Notifying your insurance company of the theft can help protect you if someone else is hurt by the person in control of your vehicle.
4. Contact your lender.
If you took out a loan to buy the now-stolen vehicle or if you lease it, you need to contact the company you're borrowing from. They still have a financial stake in the vehicle, and there's a good chance your insurer will being paying your claim directly to the lending company if you have comprehensive coverage.
5. Do some online sleuthing.
While there's a good chance your car will be stripped down for parts, it's not completely impossible that a thief would attempt to resell your vehicle. Check online marketplaces and see if you recognize your car in any of the postings. If you find your vehicle in this manner, do not confront the thief. There's no need to put yourself in unnecessary danger. Get back in touch with the police and let them do their job.
Doing this detective work might really be worth your time if you don't have insurance to help pay for the stolen vehicle.
What happens if your car is stolen then found?
If your stolen vehicle is located, what happens next? Well, it depends on the exact circumstances and where you are in the insurance claim process.
What if your vehicle is recovered by police?
While it doesn't always happen, there is a chance that the police will track down your car and return it to you.
Generally speaking, if you get your car back and have comprehensive coverage, it's important to contact your insurer immediately. They should send a claims adjuster to inspect it. They'll make note of damage done to the vehicle while it was out of your possession, and your policy should have it covered after you meet your deductible.
If the damage to your vehicle is extensive and over a certain dollar amount, your insurer might declare the car a total loss and pay you the value of the car. If you still owe a financial institution for the car, this payment would likely be sent to them.
What if your vehicle is recovered after an insurance settlement?
Typically, there's some time that passes before your car is considered a lost cause and your insurer pays out a settlement. And while it's rare that a stolen vehicle is recovered after a significant time passes, it can happen.
So, what should you do if you're reunited with your car after everything is settled with the insurance company? Well, your insurer paid you (or the lender) for the lost vehicle, so they have a right to know if it turns up. They will consider it their own property at this point. Be sure to contact your insurer immediately if the stolen vehicle turns up, even if it's at a much later date.
How to Prevent Car Theft
You can't control what thieves do, but car theft prevention is possible. Deter them from targeting your vehicle entirely or make it easier for the police to track thieves by following these tips from the NICB:
- Park in a garage or in well-lit, highly trafficked areas. If your house has a garage, use it. It's an extra layer of protection. If you must park on the street or in a city parking lot, try to find an area with lots of visibility and a lot of light. Thieves don't want to be seen, so if your car is visible to plenty of pedestrians and vehicles passing by, a thief will be more likely to choose another target.
- Always lock your car and roll up windows. Don't make your car an easy target. Sometimes thieves simply look for vehicles that are left unlocked.
- Install a GPS system. If your car has technology that makes it easy to track, the police have a much greater chance of recovering it.
- Never leave the engine running. Even if you're just grabbing one item at the store or stopping to use a gas station restroom, don't take the risk. Thieves can act quickly.
- Never leave valuables in your car and don't leave anything of interest in plain sight. If you don't want it stolen, don't leave it in your car. Also, if you are forced to leave luggage or something valuable in your car, always put it out of sight.
Other Situations Involving Stolen Cars
Even if they're less common, here are some other things to be aware of regarding vehicle theft.
What if your rental car is stolen?
Having your rental car stolen can ruin your vacation or trip, especially if your luggage and personal items were in the vehicle. But what does it mean for you and your insurance?
You'll need to report the rental car as stolen to the police, the rental car company, and your insurer if the rental is through them. If you purchased a protection plan from the rental car company, WHYY reports the stolen vehicle is often covered by that. If you didn't purchase coverage through the rental company, they might attempt to go through your personal insurance.
What if you're the victim of a carjacking?
You may think it could never happen to you, but carjackings can occur to anyone. It's important to know how to respond because in this situation, it isn't just the car in danger. If you're the victim of a carjacking, the Chicago Police Department recommends you:
- Give up your car. A vehicle can be replaced, but you and your passengers can't be.
- Avoid physical and verbal confrontations. Don't escalate the situation.
- Make the carjacker aware of passengers. For example, make sure to let them know if you have kids in the car. Most carjackers are only interested in the vehicle.
- Remember what the criminal looks like. Have a description of them (and their other vehicle if they have one) ready to give to law enforcement.
How to check if a car is stolen when buying a vehicle?
When buying a vehicle, it's important to make sure you're getting a good deal from an honest seller. Therefore, it's always smart to run a free VINCheck through the NICB. This will let you know if the vehicle was stolen and never recovered or if it has been reported as salvaged. You don't want to purchase a stolen car or vehicle with significant safety risks and face the potential consequences later.
Protect yourself from theft with comprehensive coverage from Direct Auto!
The best way to deal with theft is to be proactive and get the right coverage before you become a victim. Call Direct Auto or visit one of our nearby locations to talk about comprehensive coverage today!