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What to do if your car gets stolen

Stay calm and focus on getting your car back


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You came back to where you left your vehicle, but you can’t find it anywhere. Don’t panic if your car isn’t where you left it. Contact the right people to find your stolen car, or get a replacement car covered by insurance.

Steps to take if someone steals your car

Follow these steps to get your car theft reported and dealt with quickly.

1. Double check that it’s actually lost

Mistakes can be made, especially if you’ve had a long day or are feeling particularly tired.

When you go to where you’re sure you left your vehicle and it isn’t there, try to suppress that initial panic. Think back to when you parked it and ask yourself if you might’ve left it somewhere else, like in a different spot or parking garage.

Once you’re absolutely positive that it isn’t where it should be, look into whether it’s been towed away. Was it parked somewhere illegally or in a tow-away zone? Check for street signs and call the listed towing company or city if you’re in a no-parking zone. Think about if someone might have a reason to tow your car, like a neighbor who’s jealous of your parking spot.

If you still can’t find it and you were parked in a legal spot, it was likely theft and it’s time to move on to the next step.

2. Call the police

Inform the police as soon as possible. The earlier a theft is reported, the better chance they have of catching the thief and potentially returning your car to you. Let them know if you have a hunch about who might have taken it, like an angry ex-partner.

When reporting your theft, make sure you include all the important details:

  • Make and model
  • Model year
  • Color
  • Customizations or identifying features
  • License plate
  • Registration numbers
  • VIN

Let the police know what was inside the car at the time of theft, including any registration documents thieves could use to resell your car.

There’s one caveat to this step. In some states, including Texas and Michigan, you can be charged with a crime and fined if your car was stolen while the keys were in the ignition or the car was left unlocked. And if you make a car insurance claim for your stolen car, your claim will typically be rejected.

In this case, you’ll need to carefully weigh your options and decide if you want to report the theft and whether to make an insurance claim.

3. Call your insurance provider

After reporting the theft to the police, you should call your insurance provider and let them know your car is missing. Give them the police report number and check what coverage you’re eligible for based on your policy.

If you have a telematics device with GPS installed in your car, your insurer may be able to help locate it. Being able to find your car with it will depend on if the thief was able to remove the device or not.

Certain providers may require a brief waiting period before paying your claim so the police have a chance to find your car. In many cases, a comprehensive policy will provide you with a rental car in the meantime. While unlikely, it may also cover replacing any personal belongings that were in your car, such as a laptop.

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4. Try to remember what was in the car

Were your house keys in your car? How about your debit or credit cards or driver’s license?

Call up the appropriate organizations and people and let them know your items were stolen. Take any action you might need to ensure your own safety, such as changing the locks on your house.

If you had valuable items in your car, you should also contact your homeowners or renters insurance company to report the theft. If you have personal contents coverage, you should be able to make a claim and get reimbursed for any expensive items in your car.

5. Keep an eye out for your car

Look online and see if any cars have been put on the market recently that match your own vehicle’s description. You can also post a description of your car on social media and ask people to look out for it in your local area.

It’s not unheard of to spot your stolen vehicle. If you see it or have a lead on where your car might be, report it to the police — don’t go check for yourself. Trying to recover your vehicle on your own is dangerous.

6. Research a replacement car

If you made a comprehensive claim and have rental car coverage, take advantage of your coverage to drive around in a rental car while you look for a new ride.

While the police are out looking for your vehicle and your insurance company is processing your claim, it’s best to take your mind off worrying about your stolen car and focus on your next steps if it isn’t found.

If you have comprehensive car insurance, your insurer can give you the value of your car to put towards a new one. And if you want an upgrade, you can pay the difference and get something better.

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What if my stolen car was recovered?

  • Check if personal property was taken. Car insurance likely won’t cover a stolen phone or laptop, but you can file a renters or home insurance claim.
  • Get an inspection. Take your car to a repair shop or claims adjuster to find out if it has damages to add to your claim.
  • Salvage the car. If your car was recovered after your claim has already been paid out, you can choose to buy your car back from your insurer. If it’s been damaged and your insurer decides it’s not worth salvaging, you may be able to keep it with a salvage title.

How to prevent car theft

  • Lock car windows and doors
  • Install a car alarm or antitheft devices
  • Install GPS or a dashcam
  • Hide valuable items
  • Keep car keys away from the car
  • Park in safe, well-lit areas
  • Be strategic about street parking to avoid towing
  • Have the VIN etched into the windshield and windows

What are the most stolen car models?

According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s 2016 Hot Wheels report, the most stolen cars by state are the Chevrolet Pickup, Ford Pickup, Honda Civic, Honda Accord, Dodge Caravan, Chevrolet Impala and Toyota Camry. Your car model’s theft rates impact your insurance rates, so choosing a less stolen car will help you save on insurance.

Map of the most stolen car models by state

Bottom line

If your car isn’t where you left it, don’t panic. It might not even have been stolen. If it has been stolen, there’s a good chance police will find it. And even if they don’t, if you have a comprehensive car insurance policy, your insurer can cover the cost, and you might even get an upgrade.

Frequently asked questions about car theft

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