What to Do If Your Car Has Been Stolen

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Motor vehicle theft is a common crime in America, with hundreds of thousands of cars stolen every year.

If you're the victim of car theft, report your stolen car to the police and file a claim with your car insurance company as soon as possible.

You may also need to contact your financing or leasing company about the stolen vehicle to help you avoid legal issues and ensure a smooth claims process with your insurance policy.

What to do if your car is stolen

While getting your car stolen can be overwhelming, you need to act quickly to ensure you don’t face further repercussions from the theft. If you don’t take these steps within a reasonable time frame — ideally immediately — you will not only be missing a car, but could also be accused of crimes that were committed with your vehicle, even if it was stolen.

The longer you wait to report the car stolen to the police and your insurer, the lower your chances of recovering the car.

police officer

Report your car as stolen to the police

You need to contact law enforcement and file a stolen vehicle report first. Insurers won’t honor an auto theft claim unless a police report has been filed.

You should be prepared to tell the police everything you know about your stolen vehicle. Police departments have different procedures, meaning you may be required to file your police report online or over the phone.

Let the police know if your car has a GPS device, as it can help with tracking down the stolen car. Details about your car that will be helpful for the police include:

  • Any distinct features
  • Color
  • License plate number
  • Make, model and year
  • Vehicle identification number

insurance policy

Report your car as stolen to your insurance company

The next step is to contact your car insurance company and report your stolen car. While there is no such thing as "stolen car insurance", if you have a comprehensive car insurance policy, you're covered for the stolen vehicle.

Even if you don’t have comprehensive car insurance, you should notify your insurer about the theft. This will protect you if someone is hurt or if property is damaged while the vehicle is out of your possession.

Having the following information ready will help expedite the claims process with your insurer:

  • Contact information for your leasing or financing company, if any
  • Description of your vehicle
  • Information on the last known whereabouts of your vehicle
  • List of personal items that were in the car at the time of the theft
  • Location of all of the keys to the vehicle
  • Vehicle title

It's important that everything in your claim be consistent and truthful. It's very costly for insurers to pay out the cost of a stolen vehicle. Before incurring such a large expense, the insurer will usually launch an investigation.

Any inconsistency between your police report and auto insurance claim can be a red flag, even if it was unintentional. Filing a police report quickly will prevent insurance companies from being skeptical about a delayed report.

You’ll likely need another method of transportation if your vehicle is stolen. If you have rental reimbursement coverage, then your insurer will cover some of the cost of a rental car.

Reimbursement coverage varies by insurer. Check with your insurance company to see what the maximum coverage per day is and how many days they’ll cover.


Report your stolen car to your leasing or financing company

If your stolen vehicle is financed or leased, you’ll need to contact the financing or leasing company. In this scenario, the insurance company pays a claim out to the financing or leasing company, and you're no longer liable for payments.

Have your financing or leasing company contact your insurer directly, so the claims process moves quickly.

police sirens

How to find a stolen car

You can use the vehicle identification number (VIN) to look up your car on the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s (NICB) VINCheck, which functions as a stolen car database and can help you locate your vehicle.

If any partner of the NICB — including insurance companies and law enforcement agencies — finds your missing vehicle, it will be reported on VINCheck.

Steps to take after your car is recovered

If your car is stolen and then recovered, you’ll want to check if any personal property has been taken. Comprehensive coverage won’t cover stolen property that wasn’t part of the car, such as a phone or a laptop. However, if you have renters insurance or a homeowners policy, you may be covered.

Next, you should have your car examined by a claims adjuster to determine if any damage was done to the vehicle while it was out of your custody. You won’t be liable for this damage, as long as you contacted the insurance company after the vehicle was stolen.

Once your insurer’s deductible is reached, you’ll receive a payment reflecting the cost of the damage, minus the deductible. If the car is financed or leased, this amount will be paid to the financing or leasing company. If you own the car, you can negotiate with your insurer for a higher value than the initial offer.

Having a third-party assessment record of the vehicle can help with your negotiations. You should get assessments regularly, but in the event that you don’t have one, you can find comparable cars online to determine the value of your stolen vehicle.

If your car is not recovered

Insurers typically have a waiting period of around 30 days before accepting a loss on a stolen vehicle. Once that's passed, you'll be reimbursed for the full cost of your vehicle, minus your deductible.

How to prevent your car from being stolen in the future

It may be too late to protect your stolen car, but there are several things you can do to ensure your next vehicle is safer from thieves. Some of these measures can even help lower your auto insurance cost.

  • Close your windows
  • Install a car alarm system
  • Install a GPS tracking system
  • Keep valuables out of sight
  • Lock your vehicle
  • Park your vehicle in safe areas
  • Store the keys in a safe area, away from your vehicle
  • Turn off the ignition when not operating the vehicle
  • Use a physical anti-theft device

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