Auto break-ins are distressingly common, so it’s important to know what do if your car is broken into.
More than 1.17 million thefts from motor vehicles were reported in 2014, with an average loss per incident of $835, according to the FBI. An additional 360,000 thefts of vehicle accessories were reported, with an average loss of $553. (Accessories include items such as hubcaps, wheel covers and radios as well as such vehicle essentials as motors, transmissions, side-view mirrors and even siphoned gasoline.)
Although many new cars today come with factory-equipped alarm systems, the perps are getting smarter too. Many now use electronic “scanner boxes” to override keyless entry systems.
“It just allows them to pop the lock and get in. Once inside, everything within is theirs for the taking,” says Frank Scafidi of the National Insurance Crime Bureau.
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Here’s what to do if your car is broken into, and some ways to improve vehicle security:
1. File a police report
If you discover your car has been broken into, don’t move the vehicle before you call the police. Document the scene as it is. A picture of your broken windows or jimmied door will be helpful when filing an insurance claim, says Richard Muñoz, who owns a State Farm agency in Austin, Texas.
In some cities a law enforcement officer might be sent over. If not, you’ll need to file a report yourself at the police station. Bring your driver’s license, vehicle registration and insurance information, plus a list of what was taken.
You’ll need the police report if you plan to file an insurance claim. Plus, if the thief is caught there will be a record of your loss, which means you might be able to get back what was stolen. Even if that doesn’t happen, having the theft on record could help a future prosecutor.
2. Protect your personal information
Was your credit or debit card taken? Get in touch with the card issuer or financial institution immediately. Block access to the accounts and ask about other recommended steps. Don’t delay, especially if it’s a debit card that was stolen: If you wait too long to report it you could face significant losses — up to all the money in your account.
Identity theft is also a potential problem. If anything you lost has sensitive personal information such as your name and birth date, you might want to place a fraud alert on your credit record to prevent someone from opening new accounts in your name. To do this, contact one of the three major credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian or TransUnion. Whichever one you call must contact the other two reporting agencies, so you don’t have to call all three.
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3. Evaluate the benefit of filing an insurance claim
Insurance for a car break-in can fall under two coverage types: Comprehensive coverage or homeowners and renters insurance. Comprehensive coverage is generally part of full coverage auto insurance and will pay for break-in damage to your car. But before you file a claim, remember that any insurance claim check will be reduced by the amount of your deductible. For example, if your car damage costs $700 to repair and your comprehensive coverage deductible is $1,000, you won’t get any money by making an insurance claim.
Renters or homeowners insurance will cover belongings stolen from the car as long as they are not permanently affixed. For example, it will cover your smartphone but not the vehicle entertainment system. Here, too, your deductible will apply if you make an insurance claim.
In addition, your insurance rates might go up after you file a claim. Michelle Morgan of the Gene Morgan Insurance Agency in Livermore, California, notes that repeated claims could prompt an insurer to not renew your policy — especially if claims are the result of your leaving valuable items in plain sight while the car is parked outside. Insurance companies take a dim view of these claims because they are so easily preventable, she says.
4. Get your car fixed
The easiest way into a locked car is by breaking the glass, although some robbers use sharp objects to punch out the door lock. No matter how it happened, get the damaged area repaired right away so that you’re not vulnerable to another theft. Remember, if you have comprehensive coverage the cost of the repair (minus your deductible) will be covered.
5. Find ways to prevent another theft
Here’s the best advice for avoiding repeat problems:
- Always lock your car doors.
- If you have an alarm system, activate it every time you leave the vehicle.
- Don’t leave valuables in your car. Take items like your smartphone with you, even if you’re just running into the supermarket. Ditto shopping bags: If you’re at the mall and get tired of carrying your purchases, put them in the trunk, not the back seat.
- If you do have to leave small items in the car, such as a GPS device, stash them in the glove compartment or under a seat. Yep, it’s a pain, but it can save you the expense and inconvenience of a break-in.
- Report suspicious activity such as someone walking down your street and peering into vehicles. Your call might help police catch someone who’s been breaking into cars all over town.
Having your car broken into can be nerve-wracking, but if you have comprehensive car insurance coverage and homeowners or renters insurance, you can limit your losses and recover more quickly. If you need car insurance, NerdWallet’s car insurance comparison tool can help you find the best deal.
Donna Freedman is a contributing writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website.