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How to Report a Stolen Car

how to report a stolen car

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Updated April 16, 2023

Getting your car stolen can be a jarring, traumatic experience. Feelings of overwhelming sadness or anger may impact your ability to manage the situation quickly and effectively—but it doesn’t have to be that way. 

There’s a way to deal with both the emotion and the logistics of auto theft. Here’s a quick guide on how to report a stolen car to the police. As a bonus, we’ll deal with some common issues you could face in this situation as well. 

General steps to follow when your car gets stolen

The process of reporting a stolen car can vary depending on where you are. Some municipalities have smaller staff teams and don’t have much capacity to handle incidents, so the process may be slightly different. Do a quick Google search for “report a stolen car in [city name]” to find out what is unique to your municipality when reporting a stolen car. 

You’ll need to act quickly to increase the likelihood of recovering your car or getting compensated for your loss. 

Here are some general steps to follow when your car gets stolen:

1. Is your car really stolen?

The first thing you must determine is whether your car was actually stolen. Make sure you weren’t parked in a tow zone or that the car wasn’t impounded by local police. Does someone else have a key to your vehicle? Did you let a family member use it? 

If you are confident that your car was stolen, keep reading. 

2. Find a helper.

This step may seem unnecessary. However, it can be extremely helpful when your emotions are running high to ask a friend or family member to help you remain calm and get through each step completely. 

3. Contact the local authorities.

Connect with your local police or sheriff’s department to report the crime. In some cases, you may be able to call. In others, you may have to go physically to the police department to complete an incident report. There are some districts where you can start the process online. 

4. Contact your insurance company.

Communicate with your auto insurance company to report the theft and file a claim. Have the police report number handy and any other required information.

If you have a separate insurer for your homeowners or renters insurance, you may want to call them as well. This helps if the stolen car had valuables in it during the theft. In most cases, your auto insurance coverage doesn’t cover personal property that was stolen while inside your vehicle. It could make sense to file a claim for expensive items like electronics or jewelry. 

5. Notify the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

Contact your state's Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to report the theft. This step is important because they’ll update the vehicle identification number (VIN) of your car in their records as stolen. If the thief gets parking tickets or other violations related to your car, you will not be held responsible. 

6. Wait for the outcome. 

Recovering stolen vehicles can take time, and sometimes stolen cars are never recovered, or if they are, they can be in pretty bad shape. Stay patient and continue to work with the police and your insurance company to increase the chances of recovering your vehicle or getting your insurance to pay your claim.

How to report a stolen car to the police

If your car has been stolen, you should report it to the police as soon as possible. Here are the steps you can follow:

  1. Call them. Dial your local police department’s non-emergency number, or 911 if it is an emergency.
  2. Share information about your car. Provide as much information about your car as possible, including the make, model, color, license plate number, and any other notable features.
  3. Provide any helpful media. Submit any available photos or surveillance footage showing the theft taking place. Ask neighbors or bystanders if they’ve captured anything that may help, too. 
  4. Describe the suspect. If you witnessed the thief in action, provide all the information you can about the suspect. That may include things like height, weight, and any other descriptive features.
  5. Provide your contact details. Give the police your contact information so they can reach you if they have any updates regarding your car.

How to report a stolen car to the leasing company

Even if your car was leased, you’ll follow the same steps outlined above. Essentially, you will file an incident report with the police and contact your insurer. Your insurance company will work with the entity responsible for the lease during the claims process.  Though you can contact the leasing company and inform them of the theft as well in case they have special instructions for you. 

How to report a stolen car to your insurance

Since your insurance company will have all of your vehicle's details on hand, you’ll really only need to give them the police report number to start the claims process. They’ll likely ask about the remaining balance on your car loan and some circumstances surrounding the theft. 

Many insurance companies allow you to complete this entire process online or via smartphone app. You can also speak with a customer service representative to start the claims process. 

Once your insurance company has all the necessary information, they will open a claim and assign a claims adjuster to investigate the theft. The adjuster may require additional documentation or information from you during the claims process.

Is it necessary for me to report a stolen car to the DMV? 

Yes. It’s important to report a stolen car to the DMV as soon as possible. This will protect you from any liability associated with the car if it’s used in any criminal activity, accidents or violations while it’s not in your possession. 

Reporting the theft to the DMV allows authorities to be on the lookout increasing the chances of it being recovered. This can also help to prevent the thief from registering the vehicle or using it for illegal purposes.

Does auto insurance cover car thefts? 

Auto insurance policies typically include coverage for car theft, provided it's a covered incident according to your policy. This coverage, known as comprehensive coverage, is an optional coverage plan that protects your car from damage or loss due to events unrelated to a collision. Such events include theft, fire, vandalism, or natural disasters. 

It's important to note that insurance policies and coverage can vary depending on the insurance company and the specific policy. You should review your policy with your insurer to ensure that you have the maximum coverage necessary for your vehicle.

What happens when your car doesn’t have insurance?

Without auto insurance, you may face some challenges in recovering anything of value from the incident. Supposing your car is not recovered, you’d be on the hook for an outstanding loan balance, and you’d also be without a car. Even if you own your car outright, you could be negatively impacted by being out of a car with no means to get a new one. 

Why do you need to report the stolen car to law enforcement?

Reporting a stolen car to law enforcement is important for several reasons:

  • To help in recovering your car
  • To prevent criminal activity using your stolen car
  • For insurance purposes
  • To give yourself legal protection

Will your rates increase after filing a police report? 

Because your car getting stolen is not considered your fault, your insurance premiums may not increase. However, you could lose certain discounts that were in place for being claim-free, which could slightly increase your premiums. 

What to do after your car is recovered?  

The police are the most likely to find your car and have it impounded. If that happens, they will contact you so you can retrieve it. In the case that you find your car, contact both the police and your insurer. Have your car inspected for damages and inform your insurance company if you find any. 

If I have a loan on the vehicle, is there any difference in the process?

The process is essentially the same as outlined above. Typically, your insurer will sort out issues with your lender since they are the lienholder on your car’s title. If a claim results in a check payment, you and your auto lender will likely be named on that check. 

What is the process if you’re a teenager and the stolen car is under your parent’s name?

If you’re a teenager and the stolen car is under your parent's name, you should notify your parents immediately. As a minor, you will not be able to do many of the steps above without your parent’s help. 

At the age of majority (18 in most states), you may be able to do some things, such as contacting the police. However, at some point, you will need their cooperation and input because they are the vehicle’s owners. 

What are some ways to prevent car theft in the future? 

There are several ways to prevent car theft in the future:

  • Keep your car secure by locking doors and rolling up windows. 
  • Install an anti-theft device, such as an alarm system or GPS tracker.
  • Park in safe locations.
  • Avoid leaving valuables in the car.
  • Keep your keys secure.

Remaining calm and keeping your wits during a traumatic event like a car theft is not easy.  But, if you know what to do, step by step, you’ll be much better off. As mentioned, grab a helper and start the reporting process immediately. In this scenario, time is ticking, and the quicker you act, the better your outcome could be.  

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

How long does it take for the insurance company to process a car theft claim?

This will depend entirely on the circumstances surrounding the theft. Processing can be anywhere from four to six weeks. In some states, the state regulates claims processing times to 30 or 45 days, depending on the state. 

How much will I get for my stolen car from my insurance company?

The insurance company will pay you the amount your car was worth at the time of the theft minus your policy’s deductible. If you owe more on your car than the payout, you must continue to pay your car loan until it’s paid off. Ask your insurer about gap insurance to protect against this risk.

What happens when a stolen car is recovered before settlement?

The insurance company will stop the claims process. If the car was damaged in any way, you could resubmit your claim for damage instead of theft. The insurance company may reorient the claim for you, but it’s best to contact them for the next steps if you are unsure.

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