What to Do If Your Car Has Been Stolen

Motor vehicle theft is a common crime in America with hundreds of thousands of cars being stolen every year. If you're the victim of car theft, report your stolen car to law enforcement and file a claim with your car insurance company. You also may need to contact your financing or leasing company about the stolen vehicle. Doing so will 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, there are immediate steps you’ll need to take to ensure that you don’t face any repercussions. If you don’t take these steps within a reasonable time—ideally immediately—you’ll not only not have a car, but you could 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 are to recover the car. Below, we outline the steps you should follow if your vehicle has been stolen.

How to Report Your Car Stolen to the Police

If your car is stolen, 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 on the phone. If your car has a GPS device then you should notify the police as it can help track down the stolen car. Details about your car that will be helpful for the police include:

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

How to Report Your Car Stolen to Your Insurance Company

The next step is to contact your car insurance company and report your car stolen. 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. However—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 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 of 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
  • Title for the vehicle

It's important that everything in your claim is 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. An 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 so you should check with your insurance company to see what the maximum coverage per day is, and how many days they’ll cover. This benefit lasts until you reach your coverage limit, which depends on your specific policy.

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 be liable for payments. Have your financing or leasing company contact your insurer directly, so that the claims process moves quickly.

How to Find a Stolen Car

You can use your vehicle’s identification number (VIN) to look up your car on the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s (NICB) VINCheck, which functions as a stolen car database. The database can help you locate your stolen 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 After Your Car is Recovered or Determined to be Lost

If your car is stolen and then recovered, you’ll want to check and see if any personal property has been taken. Comprehensive coverage won’t cover stolen property that wasn’t a 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 any damage to the stolen vehicle while it was out of your custody. You won’t be liable for this damage so long as your insurance company was contacted after the vehicle was stolen.

Insurers typically have a waiting period of around 30 days before accepting a loss on a stolen vehicle. Once your insurer’s threshold is reached, you’ll receive a payment reflecting the value of your car minus the deductible and a determined depreciation amount. In the case that 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 for the vehicle can help with your negotiation. 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.

How to Prevent Your Car From Being Stolen in the Future

While it may be too late to protect your stolen car, there are several things you can do to ensure that your next vehicle is safer from thieves. Some of these measures will even help lower your auto insurance cost. Here are some simple tips to reduce the chances of your car being stolen:

  • 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 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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