My Car Was Stolen… What Do I Do?

Man trying to break into a car using a screwdriver

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 773,139 cars were reported stolen in 2017—that’s one report every 40.9 seconds. On average 59.1% of locally-stolen vehicles are recovered, though their conditions can vary greatly. If your car was stolen, would you know what to do? Here are the general steps you should follow.

What Do I Do?

Your vehicle is a lifeline. It’s a terrible feeling to have that taken away, and it’s even worse if you’ve left something important in your car, like work materials or your luggage. Dealing with a stolen car can be a lengthy and difficult process, but these steps will get you closer to a solution.

Make Sure Your Vehicle Has Really Been Stolen

This may sound like a no-brainer, but before calling in the cavalry, double-check that your car has really been stolen. Maybe you were in a rush that day and didn’t park quite where you thought you did. Could the car have been towed? Look around for signs that you may have left it in a No Parking zone. Could a friend or spouse have borrowed it? Could someone be playing a prank on you? (It happens more than you’d think.) Once you’re absolutely sure that the vehicle has been stolen, it’s time to call the police.

Call the Cops

If possible, it’s best to have the police come to the location from which the vehicle has disappeared. There might be clues to the theft on scene. Provide them with as much detail as possible—even if you have to call them back later with some of it, the more information they have, the more likely they will be to recover your vehicle. They will want:

  • Make, model, year, and color
  • Registration/plate number
  • Vehicle Identification Number (VIN): Most people don’t have these memorized, so it might be a good idea to jot this down and keep it somewhere safe (like at home and NOT in your vehicle).
  • Location of theft
  • Distinct features (like custom work or bumper stickers)
  • Tracking devices, like LoJack or OnStar: The police will likely attempt to track the vehicle for you through these services, if you haven’t already done so yourself. Some services can even shut down your engine, but it’s probably best to have the police involved so the thief doesn’t simply get away on foot.

Be sure to hang onto the police report for when you make your insurance claim.

Call Your Insurance Company

Let your insurance carrier know about the vehicle theft, and make sure to include any valuables that may have been in the car, like a laptop, tools, or any aftermarket car parts you may have installed. (They will want receipts/proof of ownership, so don’t be tempted to embellish. Only items that are part of the vehicle will be covered by your auto insurance. All other items will have to be claimed under homeowners or renters insurance, or in the case of work materials, under your commercial insurance.) Because of the high rate of fraud, your insurance company will scrutinize your claim—as the owner, you will be the #1 suspect, and they will investigate thoroughly, so don’t expect a quick payout.

And you might not even be eligible for a payout, depending on your level of coverage. Those with only the state auto insurance minimums aren’t usually covered in the event of theft. You’d need a comprehensive policy, and even then the amount your policy covers depends on the worth of your car and what percentage of that worth you want recouped. If you’re unsure what your auto policy covers, it’s best to consult your insurance carrier.

Once the investigation is done, your insurance company may impose a waiting period to see if your car is recovered. Be sure to keep paying your insurance premiums until the case is resolved. When the insurance company is ready to settle the claim, they will offer to reimburse you the actual cash value (ACV) of your vehicle, which is what you paid for it minus depreciation. That amount is negotiable, so do your research online through reputable vehicle appraisal resources like Kelley Blue Book and Edmunds.

Contact Your Bank or Leasing Company

If you are financing your vehicle through a loan or leasing it, report the theft to your bank or leasing company. To make the claim process smoother, ask the financial institution to speak directly with your insurance carrier. Some companies may suspend your payments while the investigation is on-going, so be sure to ask about such policies. In some cases, however, you will need to keep up your car payments until the case is resolved. Even if you no longer have the vehicle, ultimately you’re still responsible for any outstanding loan or lease obligations, at least until the insurance company has paid them off.

Contact the Rental Company

If your stolen car is a rental, contact the rental agency. Let them know that you already filed a police report, but get the car’s identifying info (registration/plate number, VIN, etc.) so you can amend the police report. The rental agency likely has a specific protocol for stolen vehicles, so ask them for guidance. You may need to fill out an incident form, and you should definitely review your rental contract and liability insurance (both what you may have purchased through them and your own auto policy).

Do Your Own Research

While the police will enter your information into a national stolen vehicle database, it never hurts to take a little initiative of your own. Check sites like Craigslist or local “online yard sale” sites to see if your car turns up. Go to the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s (NICB) VINcheck site, which is a free service to help people locate stolen or salvaged vehicles, made possible through the partnership of over 100 companies across the country.

Contact the DMV

If your vehicle is still missing after 30 days, report it stolen to the DMV. You can’t report it any sooner than 30 days, and you MUST report it in under 60 days.

Vehicle Theft Prevention

Truly determined thieves will find their way around any deterrent you place in their paths, but most car thieves are opportunists. Don’t make it so easy for them! Doing the following will make it less likely that your vehicle will be targeted, and some of these might even lower your insurance premiums! (Contact your carrier for specifics.)

  • Close windows and lock doors.
  • Install an alarm system.
  • Install a GPS/tracking system.
  • Don’t leave valuables in plain sight.
  • Park in a well-lit area.
  • Take your keys with you! According to the NICB, every day from January 1, 2016, through December 31, 2018, an average of 209 vehicles were stolen in the US because drivers left their keys or fobs in their vehicles.

Plan Ahead

If you would like more information about potentially reducing your insurance premiums through vehicle safety measures or you would like a consultation about your auto insurance coverage, please contact us today!