What to Do if Your Car Is Stolen — and How to Prevent it in the Future

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Uh-oh. Your car isn’t where you left it, and every scenario starts running through your head. You haven’t loaned the car to a friend or parked it somewhere else, and you don’t think it’s been towed. Reality sets in: Your car was stolen. Let the headaches ensue. 

There were 873,080 car thefts reported in 2020, “the highest auto theft rate in the last 10 years,” says David Glawe, president and CEO of the National Insurance Crime Bureau. With soaring unemployment rates and a lack of social services services and outreach programs, “the COVID-19 environment has created a perfect storm for crimes,” he says.

Figuring out how to report a stolen car can be overwhelming and disorienting. But acting quickly can help law enforcement find your car and get it back to you safely. Then, you’ll have to find out whether your insurance will cover the loss, and for how much. Here’s what to do if your car is stolen — and how much it might cost you. 

What to Do if Your Car Is Stolen

Once you realize your car’s been stolen, you should start by notifying the police. From there, you’ll also need to report the theft to several other agencies. 

File a police report

Call your local police department and tell them you need to file a stolen vehicle report. Be prepared to provide these details:

  • Car make and model, license plate number, vehicle identification number (VIN), color, and year.
  • The date and time you last saw the car. 
  • Whether you parked the car near a security camera or a residential doorbell camera, which may help law enforcement find your car. 

Pro Tip

Take a picture of all four sides of your car, the license plate, the VIN (located on the driver’s side windshield on the left-hand corner), and your insurance cards. Save those pictures in a special folder on your phone labeled with the make, model, and year of the car, and you’ll have all the information you need to give the police after a car theft.

Ask for a copy of the police report and the case number, which you’ll need in the next step.

Contact your insurance agency

Now you’ll call your insurance company to report the stolen car and file a comprehensive claim — if you have that type of coverage. Give them a copy of the police report along with:

  • Contact information for your leasing or financing company (if any)
  • A description of your vehicle and where you last saw it
  • A list of personal items you had in the car
  • The location of spare keys to the vehicle
  • The title for the vehicle, if you have it

It’s important to report the theft to your insurer even if you don’t have comprehensive coverage. Why? Because if someone commits a crime or gets into an accident with the stolen car, the insurer won’t hold you liable for damage and injuries.

Check whether other parts of your insurance policy might come into play, too. For instance, rental reimbursement pays for a rental car while the insurance company processes your claim. And if you have homeowners insurance under a separate policy, you might be able to file a claim to pay for any stolen items in the car.

Some good news: While some types of claims cause car insurance rates to increase, “a comprehensive claim will typically not affect your premium,” says Carole Walker, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Insurance Association. “A comprehensive claim is if hail falls on your car, or you hit a deer, or your car is stolen. It isn’t something that is directly your fault, so it doesn’t present a higher risk.”

Contact your financing or leasing company

If you lease or finance your vehicle, keep the lender in the loop throughout the reporting process. They hold the title on the car, which means “any insurance settlement will go to them first,” Walker says. Once the insurance company processes your claim and disburses payment to the lender, any remaining funds go to you. 

Contact the DMV

You’ll also need to report the stolen vehicle to your local Department of Motor Vehicles. Every state handles this part differently, and you might need to file the report within a certain time frame, so don’t delay. Head to your state’s government website to find your DMV and information about its process. You may need to fill out a form with basic information on the stolen vehicle and submit a copy of the police report.

Try to track down your stolen car

You don’t have to be a detective to help the police track down your car — not if you have a GPS tracker installed. Or, you can also check the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s free VINCheck tool. Participating insurance companies use this database to report cars listed as salvage vehicles. 

Does Auto Insurance Cover Car Theft?

The comprehensive portion of an insurance policy covers stolen vehicles, but because this coverage is optional, you’ll need to check your policy and make sure you have it. “If you don’t have that coverage, you’ll end up having to replace your transportation out of pocket,” Walker says. 

According to the Insurance Information Institute, comprehensive insurance costs $134 per year on average, and you’ll usually need to pay a deductible before coverage kicks in. Call your insurer and ask for a quote before you need the coverage. You can’t use new insurance for a loss that already happened. 

What to Do After or if Your Car Is Recovered

Law enforcement usually recovers stolen cars “within a couple of days,” Glawe says. Here’s how it works: When law enforcement finds your vehicle, they’ll contact you, tell you where to pick up the car, provide a quote for any impound fees, and ask whether you want the car processed for evidence. 

Glawe suggests getting the car processed and then professionally inspected and cleaned. “Most vehicles are used in a subsequent crime, or there’s some kind of tomfoolery,” he says. “There will probably be damages that may have to go with your insurance claim.” 

How to Prevent Your Car From Being Stolen in the Future

A car theft can cause “chaos and anxiety,” Glawe says. “But prevention and a little planning will help you out.” Here’s what you can do now to prevent a car theft and prepare yourself if one happens: 

  • Remove valuables. Don’t keep expensive items, handguns, cash, keys or your ID in your car. “All of that is inviting to a thief,” says Janet Ruiz, director of strategic communication for the Insurance Information Institute. 
  • Always lock your vehicle. Keep your windows closed, too. And if you have an immobilizing device, car alarm, or a GPS tracking system, make sure you use it. That’s what it’s there for. 
  • Find a good parking space. Ruiz suggests parking “in safe, well-lit areas, and in your garage rather than your driveway.” In public areas, look around for security cameras and try to park near one, if possible. 
  • Don’t leave your car running in the driveway. Are you one of those people who start their cars and let them run unattended to heat up on winter mornings? Keep in mind that  “when you leave your keys in, it takes just seconds for someone to take that car,” Walker says.
  • Consider getting a newer car. Thieves typically target older vehicles because they’re easier to break into. Plus, there’s a market for older car parts. It sounds counterintuitive, but if you drive an older model, know that you’re a moving target.

Bottom Line

While dealing with a car theft can be frustrating, there are steps you can take to report, recover, and ease your stress. First, call the police and file a stolen vehicle report. You’ll need that report when you call the insurance company, your lender, and the DMV. 

Don’t forget to look at the big picture, too. Walker suggests changing the locks to your home and monitoring your credit reports. That’s because the thief may use something in your car to commit another crime. For example, they might find your name and address and open a credit card account, or they could use a garage door opener to enter your home. 

Just remember, the faster you deal with the stolen car, the faster you can put this drama in the rear-view mirror.