What car insurance coverage do you need to ensure you're covered if your car is stolen?
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The prevalence of vehicle theft has trended downward over the past decade, but it's still very much on every driver's radar as a risk of car ownership. Learn about how your auto insurance policy works to help you recover from the loss of a stolen car, what coverage you need to sufficiently protect your vehicle and make sure the auto theft doesn't leave you financially underwater.
1. Does car insurance cover theft of a vehicle?
2. The claims process for a stolen vehicle
3. Does car insurance cover the contents of a stolen car?
4. What if your stolen car is recovered?
5. What to do if your car is stolen
If you have comprehensive coverage as part of your policy — yes. This coverage also replaces certain car parts if they're stolen. However, comprehensive insurance coverage does not cover the contents of your car.
Most insurance policies that only meet state minimum requirements don’t include reimbursement for a stolen vehicle. State insurance minimums (which vary by state — check yours for further details) almost always only cover expenses that you, as the driver, would be responsible for in the event that you caused a wreck: if you’re at fault, your state minimum liability insurance covers medical expenses and repair costs for the other party — and that’s pretty much it. If you want insurance coverage for your vehicle if you’re at fault, or if your car is stolen, vandalized or damaged by “acts of God” or weather, you’ll need comprehensive auto insurance.
As we’ve discussed, comprehensive insurance covers vehicle damage caused by non-collision events, like the ones listed above. Different policies from different insurance companies will, of course, have different levels of coverage, so you’ll need to check yours to know exactly what to expect in the unfortunate event your vehicle is stolen. How much coverage you need depends on how much your vehicle is worth, and how much of that value you want to be replaced.
Having comprehensive insurance doesn’t guarantee an immediate payout, so be prepared for delays. First, your car insurance company will investigate once you report the theft and file a claim with your insurer. The hard truth is that the vehicle owner is the number one suspect when a car is stolen, so the insurance provider will need to rule out fraud before paying out a claim. Second, most insurers impose a waiting period (anywhere from two to eight weeks) to see whether the stolen vehicle is recovered before fulfilling your claim.
If everything checks out, you’re looking at a total loss claim — and your auto insurance company will reimburse you for the actual cash value (ACV) of the car: how much you paid, minus depreciation. You’ll then receive payment for the ACV minus your deductible. Keep in mind that the ACV is negotiable — insurance adjusters usually begin at the low end of a vehicle’s value, so arm yourself with research (you can find good ACV calculators at Kelley Blue Book and Edmunds) and don’t be afraid to negotiate.
No. While comprehensive coverage covers the damage done to your car in the break-in, it does not reimburse the value of the personal property stolen from your vehicle.
Instead, it would be your renters or homeowners insurance policy that would cover stolen personal items. Also known as off-premises coverage, renters and homeowners insurance cover you and your property even if you're not at home. You would need to meet your deductible, and your specific policy may dictate coverage limits on certain items, like jewelry and electronics.
There's always a chance your car will be recovered after being reported stolen. Here's how your insurance company would handle it:
Contact your insurance company immediately if your stolen vehicle is recovered during the claims process so the company can assess it for damage. The insurer will follow the standard procedure of handling a comprehensive claim — either reimbursing you for the cost of the repairs if you choose that route, or paying out the actual cash value of your car if it's deemed to be a total loss. Either way, your deductible would apply and be deducted from your payout.
Even if you were already paid out for the total loss of your stolen car, you need to contact your insurance company if it's found. Because your insurer already paid you, they will consider the recovered car to be their property, designating the car as a salvage title. You might have the option of buying back the car if you haven't purchased a replacement vehicle yet. These situations are handled on a case-by-case basis, so you'll need to consult your insurance company.
It sounds silly, but we’ve been there: standing in the spot you’re sure you parked in, panicking, feeling the cold sweat of dread, then remembering you actually parked on the next block, or one level up in the parking garage. So take a minute, breathe, and think. Another possibility: your car’s been towed. You might save yourself some heartache (and paperwork) if you check the police impound before making a stolen vehicle report.
If you haven’t misplaced your ride and you haven’t been towed, you might actually be in the stolen-car boat. In that case, call the police ASAP. The sooner you call, the more likely your car is to be recovered. You’ll need to file a police report in which you tell them everything about your car: the VIN number (now would be a good time to write it down and keep the info anyplace but in your car), your car’s make and model, and where you last parked your vehicle. If you have a tracking device, like LoJack or OnStar, give the police that information as well. Once you’ve filed the police report, be sure to keep a copy on file — you’ll need it for your insurance claim.
Report your car stolen no matter what type of auto insurance policy you have: your insurance company will need to know you are no longer in possession of your vehicle. What happens after you report the car stolen to your insurer depends on what kind of auto policy you carry — if you have comprehensive coverage, you're in luck.
The DMV maintains a database of stolen cars and often works with the police to reunite a recovered vehicle with its rightful owner.
If waiting for the police proves too difficult, you can try searching for your car online, in places like Craigslist and other aftermarket car sales forums. It might be a long shot — especially if your car is a common make and model — but finding your stolen car for sale online isn’t outside the realm of possibility.