Why Car Insurance Doesn’t Cover Personal Items Stolen From Your Car – And What to Do About It

what to do when you've paid off your car

Do you push your purse well underneath the glove compartment before leaving your car? Do you stretch the privacy cover across your windowed trunk when you leave your golf clubs inside? In populated areas, would you never leave a car full of shopping bags out in the open on your back seat? Most of us follow the rule: “Don’t leave anything valuable in your car in plain sight, and if you must leave it, hide it well.” You may take the proper precautions, but in the scenarios where there are items stolen from your car, what do you do about it?

Though most of us practice these behaviors to avoid tempting would-be thieves, we might not fully understand the auto insurance mechanisms behind what would happen if those items were stolen from our cars. After all, we don’t cover up our car radios or navigation systems before locking the car doors, right? And if either was stolen (and you have comprehensive and collision coverage) you’d be reimbursed, so why all the extra caution for other personal items left in the car?

Wouldn’t an auto insurance policy with comprehensive coverage reimburse for personal property loss, too?

The answer: no.

does insurance cover items stolen from your car

Auto insurance only covers items that are part of your car — that is, physically bolted to your car. That can include aftermarket items like expensive stereos you’ve had installed, but only if you’ve specifically claimed them on your policy (and thus are paying a little more toward your insurance premium to insure them).

But other types of personal property are not covered by your car insurance policy, even if the items were in the vehicle at the time of the loss or damage.

But don’t worry — you don’t have to fear ever transporting items of value in your car. There is a way to make sure they’re covered. With expertise from The Zebra’s own licensed insurance agent and advisor Neil Richardson, we’ll explain.

What Insurance Does Cover Items Stolen from Your Car?

Though the system might seem somewhat roundabout, you can cover personal property (like a laptop, golf clubs, or your purse) with renters or homeowners insurance. These and other similar items will be covered even if they’re stolen from your vehicle or damaged in a crash. Even if you’re on vacation in a rental car. Even outside of the country.

Great news, right? We think so.

Renters or homeowners insurance should cover items stolen from your car – not auto insurance.

Renters and Homeowners Insurance: The Coverage Details

If we’ve said it once, we’ve said it a hundred times: auto insurance coverage and policy details vary state to state and insurer to insurer, so you must check with your insurance company about the specifics. (It’s complicated, folks!) That said, if you have personal property coverage that protects against theft on your renters or homeowners insurance policy, items like those we mentioned above (personal property items that aren’t part of the car) will likely be covered. (Again, you must talk with your insurance agent about specifics or read the fine print, but this is the general gist.)

Some of the fine print you should be aware of:

  • Personal property coverage against theft on your renters or homeowners policy usually comes with a deductible if you make a claim. In general, higher deductibles come with lower monthly payments, and you’ll pay more each month for a policy with a lower deductible.
  • For many renters and homeowners policies, you have to “line itemize” bigger ticket items like expensive bicycles, jewelry, or other objects. When you set up your policy, tell your agent how much the items are worth and build them into your policy. You’ll pay a little more on your premium, but then if those items are stolen or damaged (in your house or car) they’ll be covered.
  • Another great thing about renters and homeowners insurance policies is that they cover you in the event that you damage someone else’s personal property.

This brings us to the next issue: what happens if personal property within your car is damaged in a car crash caused by someone else?

items stolen from your car through smashed window

Personal Property in a Car Damaged By Another Party

In the event that personal property you have inside your car is damaged in a crash caused by someone else, you’ll need to file a property damage claim with the guilty party’s auto insurance company. (We’re assuming your vehicle was also damaged in this hypothetical wreck that was someone else’s fault, and for that you’ll also file a claim with the other party’s auto insurance.)

You may have noticed that the particulars are getting a little confusing, so we’ll recap:

  • When personal property is stolen or damaged while it’s in your vehicle and whatever caused the damage is your fault or you cannot find the person responsible: File a personal property damage claim with your renters or homeowners insurance company.
  • When personal property is damaged while it’s in your vehicle and it is not your fault: File a property damage claim with the responsible party’s auto insurance company.

Note: you’ll need evidence for your personal property damage claim, and you’ll also want to follow these post-crash steps:

  • Call the police
  • Assess the damage
  • Exchange information with the other party
  • Document the damage with photos and detailed notes
  • Call your insurance company

If the person who caused the crash you doesn’t have car insurance, you’ll file a claim with your own car insurance company for damage to your vehicle and you’ll file a separate claim with your renters or homeowners insurance company for damage to your personal property.

If all this talk of the importance of renters and homeowners insurance has you ready to set up a policy, you might be wondering about insurance bundling (that is, combining different insurance policies into one). Don’t worry: we’ve got all the bundling details.