5 Things to Do Immediately If Your Car Is Stolen

What do you do if your car is stolen

When we experience traumatic events, it can be difficult to think clearly and logically. Having guidelines and sets of steps can help immensely. A suddenly absent car certainly qualifies as traumatic, and victims often feel lucky if they remember where they keep their auto insurance card. We hope you never have to use the following checklist, but if your car is stolen, we hope it helps:

If your car is stolen – Quoted’s Checklist:

1. Make sure your car has really been stolen.

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.

2. Call the police.

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 will 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 had your vehicle. If you have a tracking device, like LoJack or OnStar, give the police that information as well. Once you’ve made the police report, be sure to keep a copy on file (you’ll need for your insurance claim).

A small comfort: More than 85% of stolen vehicles are recovered.

3. Call your car insurance carrier and report your car stolen.

Report your car stolen no matter what type of auto insurance policy you have: your insurance company will need to know you aren’t in possession of your vehicle. What happens after you report the car stolen to your insurer depends on what kind of insurance policy you carry.

Most insurance policies that only cover the state minimum requirements won’t include reimbursement for a stolen vehicle. State minimums (which vary by state, so check yours for further details) almost always only cover expenses you as the driver would be responsible for in the event that you cause a wreck: if you’re at fault, your state minimum policy will cover medical expenses and repair expenses 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, 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 replaced. If you’re feeling underinsured, shop around and compare policies, making sure to speak directly with insurance agents to clarify coverage.

Having comprehensive insurance doesn’t guarantee an immediate payout, so be prepared for delays. First, the insurance company will investigate. The hard truth is that the vehicle owner is the number one suspect when a car is stolen, so the insurance company will have to rule out fraud before they pay a claim. Second, most insurers impose a waiting period (anywhere from two to eight weeks) to see if the stolen vehicle is recovered before paying your claim.

If everything checks out, you’re looking at a total loss claim, and your insurer 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.com) and don’t be afraid to negotiate.

4. Report the car stolen to your DMV.

The DMV keeps a database of stolen cars and often works with the police to reunite a recovered vehicle with its rightful owner.

5. Take matters into your own hands.

If waiting for the police proves too difficult, you can try searching for your car online, in places like Craigslist and other car selling forums. It might be a long shot (especially if you have a pretty common make and model), but finding your stolen car for sale online isn’t outside the realm of possibility.

Finally, if you haven’t already, take a moment to cry, yell, stomp the floor—it helped when you were a kid and something unfair happened, and it’ll help now, too. And keep this number in mind: 87.8 (the percentage of stolen vehicles that were recovered in 2012, as reported by Esurance).

Have any other tips or suggestions for victims of car theft? Tell us in the comments!