What to Do if Your Car Is Stolen

Here’s when to call the police, what your insurance covers and more.
May 9, 2022

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If you suspect your car has been stolen, you’re likely in disbelief and wondering what to do next. First, try not to panic.

You may have simply forgotten where you parked or a family member may have taken it for a spin without letting you know. A less pleasant but still possible scenario is that your car was towed. Check nearby signs for any towing information.

If you still can’t locate your vehicle, take a deep breath and follow the steps below. We’ll help take the stress out of the situation by guiding you through it.

1. Contact the police

Report the theft to the police as soon as possible. This gives you the best chance of finding your vehicle. According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, or NICB, 35% of stolen vehicles are recovered the day they were stolen, and 45% are found within two days.

When you call the police, be prepared to give the following information:

  • Car make, model and color.

  • License plate number.

  • Vehicle identification number, or VIN.

  • Where the car was parked at the time of theft and a description of the area.

  • Approximate time the vehicle was stolen.

  • Whether your car has a GPS system.

2. Call your car insurance company

After the police, your auto insurer should be your next call. Make sure to have a copy of your police report handy. Note that in some instances, you may not be able to make an insurance claim without a police report. An insurer may ask for additional details such as contact information for anyone who had access to the vehicle and the location of all car keys.

Be aware, not all auto insurance policies offer coverage for a stolen vehicle.

Only policies with comprehensive insurance, which pays out for most incidents except a car crash, will cover a stolen vehicle. If you have minimum coverage only, your carrier won’t reimburse you.

3. Contact your home or renters insurance provider

Chances are, it’s not only your vehicle that was stolen. You may have had valuable items in your car like jewelry, a laptop or a cell phone.

But car insurance doesn’t pay out for any personal items that were taken. Rather, your home or renters insurance is your best bet for reimbursement. This means you’ll need to contact your home or renters insurance provider to file a separate claim for your stolen belongings, even if you’ve already contacted your auto insurer.

4. Reach out to your financial institutions

If you have an auto loan or lease, contact your lender immediately to report the theft.

You’ll also need to figure out if you had documents in your car, like your vehicle registration, that contain personal information. If so, you should consider setting up a temporary fraud alert on your credit records by contacting one of the major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian or TransUnion. Whichever company you contact will alert the other two, so you won’t need to call all three.

Similarly, reach out to your lenders if you believe your credit or debit cards were stolen.

5. Prepare yourself, no matter the outcome

Generally, insurers wait about 72 hours after the theft to process an auto claim in case the vehicle is recovered. During that time, you are responsible for paying for your own alternative transportation, unless you have rental reimbursement coverage.

One thing you probably won’t have to worry about if you file a claim for a stolen car is a drastic increase in your auto insurance rates.

This is because, unlike with a DUI, you aren’t considered to be at fault for a stolen vehicle, explains Angela Ripley, president of VW Brown Insurance Service, an independent insurance agency in Maryland. However, there is a caveat. You may lose any discount you previously had for being claim-free, which could increase your rates.

If your car isn’t recovered

If your vehicle isn’t found and you have comprehensive insurance, your insurer will pay for the value of your car at the time it was stolen. Comprehensive claims also have a deductible (a dollar amount that gets subtracted from a claim payout). This means if your car was worth $15,000 at the time of the theft, and you have a $1,000 deductible, you’ll receive a payout of $14,000.

To figure out your car’s value, an insurance adjuster uses a variety of tools, including recent service records and receipts for any repair work. So make sure to share any evidence you have with your insurer to get the best estimate possible.

There are usually different categories a car can be put into based on an adjuster’s evaluation such as “fair,” “good” or “great.” “If you can show that the vehicle was maintained and in good shape — maybe a photo — [the adjuster] would probably go with ‘great,’” says Ripley.

If your car is found

According to the NICB, the police are usually the first to find a missing vehicle. The police will have it impounded and contact you so you can pick it up. If you happen to find your car first, let the police know.

No matter who finds your car, contact your insurance company immediately. When your car is found after a claim is paid, your insurer owns the car. However, you may get a chance to buy your car back if you haven’t bought a replacement yet.

If your recovered vehicle contains any personal items that you previously reported stolen to your home or renters insurance company, reach out to let it know you got your things back. This way it can update your claim and let you know the next steps.

If your car is found while your claim is still in process, get it inspected to make sure it is safe to drive in case any parts are missing. You’ll also want to use a flashlight to check for any items in your vehicle that aren’t yours. This could include illegal drugs or items linked to crimes. Report anything you find to the police.

Note, too, that if your car has damages associated with the theft, your comprehensive insurance will pay for those repairs, minus your deductible.

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