“My Car Has Been Stolen! What Do I Do Now?”
Today, auto thefts are climbing and have been doing so for the last couple of years. According to NICB’s own data, auto thefts are up to a level not seen in more than a decade. Here’s a few questions and answers that may help should this occur to you.
Why do you need to report the stolen car to the law enforcement?
If you report your car as stolen immediately to police, there's a better chance it will be recovered. In fact, according to NICB data, 35% of recovered stolen vehicles are recovered on the same day as the theft, and 45% are recovered within two days. Reporting the theft to law enforcement also provides you with a record to show to your insurer -- another place you want to report your stolen vehicle to immediately -- providing information as to where it was located, what you found at the scene (broken glass on the ground for example) and approximate time it could have been stolen. Oftentimes insurers will need the police report before honoring a claim. They may also ask if you gave your key to anyone else, perhaps a repair shop.
What does this process look like?
You will provide information such as the make/model of the car, color, license plate number as well as the car's VIN. The VIN can be found with your insurance documents such as the policy or on the Proof of Insurance card (which could be a physical card or on an app on your smart phone). Also, let the police know if there is a GPS system on the car. The process for filing a stolen vehicle report to your insurer could be over the phone, online, or even direct to your insurance agent as companies and processes vary.
Please walk me through the process of reporting a stolen car to the insurance company, and the info you need.
As mentioned above, oftentimes an insurer will need a police report before filing a claim, so your first step is to start the claim process by contacting local law enforcement. At this point, the insurer will note the vehicle as stolen but will wait before completing the claim. Why? It's possible the vehicle will be recovered. But even if it is recovered, it may have suffered damage that requires repair or, if severe enough, written off as totaled. As a result, insurers will wait a bit before writing a car off as stolen and not recovered.
Does auto insurance cover car theft?
There are three basic parts to an insurance policy. There is liability, collision and comprehensive. Collision is as it sounds -- it covers losses/damages as the result of an accident. Liability covers damages to the other person in the event of an accident you caused. Comprehensive covers theft or damage not caused as the result of a traffic accident.
In all states, liability is mandatory, but collision and comprehensive are optional. If, for example you drive an older vehicle you may decide not to carry comprehensive coverage. As such you are doing what can be termed as "self-insuring" the vehicle.
Will your rates increase after you file this type of claim?
Having your car stolen can impact your rates, but it’s important to know that theft is one of many factors contributing to your insurance rate. Other factors include driving record, how many years you've been licensed, how many miles you drive, where your car is garaged -- essentially a fancy way of saying where it is most of the time -- what type of vehicle it is, the age of the vehicle, etc. Each insurer has differing ways of ranking these rating factors.
What should you do if your car is recovered?
It depends. First, was there any damage done to the vehicle? If so, how much? If just a window was broken, for example, you may decide to pay for repairs yourself. If more extensive, for example if the stolen vehicle was driven into a light post, you may file a claim with your insurer to repair the damage. As mentioned earlier, comprehensive policies cover damage because of theft, but it does come with a deductible. If your deductible is $1,000 -- you are responsible for the first $1,000 -- then you would need to know the estimate of the damage done to your vehicle. Realistically, given costs associated with auto body repairs, even low speed accidents -- such as what you could expect in a parking lot for example – repairs could easily exceed a $1,000 deductible.
If I have a loan on the vehicle, is there any difference in the process?
If you secured a loan for your car, the lender, sometimes referred to as the lienholder, is the true owner. The lienholder will require you to have comprehensive insurance on the vehicle in the event of theft or serious damage to protect their interest in the car. The lienholder has an interest in the vehicle and, should a car be stolen, they will need to know that their interest in the vehicle is protected.
What is the process if you’re a teenager and the stolen car is under your parent’s name?
The process will remain the same. As soon as you know your car is stolen report it to the police. However, before contacting police, check with your parents to see if they have moved the car or are using it first. Once you know it is indeed theft, then contact police and your insurer immediately.
What are some ways to prevent car theft in the future?
There are some basic things to do to keep cars from being stolen. First, remove valuables from the vehicle or lock them out of sight. Next, lock the doors, roll the windows all the way up, and don't leave your keys in the car. According to NICB data, theft with keys left in cars has been increasing. In 2017, there were 78,345 cars stolen with keys; 82,369 in 2018; and 84,131 stolen in 2019. By the end of 2020 there were 97,769 vehicle stolen with the keys left inside.
Additionally, there are aftermarket devices that can also work that disable the fuel system or cutoff the ignition system. Then there are more visibly obvious systems such as steering wheel locks or brake pedal locks. Because it provides another layer of protection and is plainly visible, thieves may decide to move along.