My car was what?

A step-by-step guide for how to proceed after an auto theft

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Susan Meyer

Senior Editorial Manager

  • Licensed Insurance Agent — Property and Casualty

Susan is a licensed insurance agent and has worked as a writer and editor for over 10 years across a number of industries. She has worked at The Zebr…

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Ross Martin

Insurance Writer

  • 4+ years in the Insurance Industry

Ross joined The Zebra as a writer and researcher in 2019. He specializes in writing insurance content to help shoppers make informed decisions.

Ross h…

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You parked your car overnight — or maybe just for a short errand — and you returned to find it…gone. Discovering that your car has been stolen is a distressing experience. And unfortunately, an increasingly common one. Over one million vehicles were stolen in a single year in 2022 according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau[1]

If this has just happened to you, it can be overwhelming and you may not know what to do next. But you’ve come to the right place.

Here’s a comprehensive guide on what to do if your car is stolen, including who to call, how to file a police report, steps to take with your insurance company and tips to prevent your car from being stolen in the future.

1. Call the police immediately

The moment you realize your car has been stolen, contact the police. Here’s some information you’ll need handy:

  • Your car’s make, model and color
  • License plate and VIN
  • Time and location the vehicle was last seen
  • Any distinctive features
  • Safety features like GPS tracking or dashcams

The quicker you report the theft, the higher the chances of recovering your vehicle. According to the Insurance Information Institute, cars reported stolen in the first 24 hours have a 34 percent same-day recovery rate. More than 85 percent of stolen vehicles are eventually recovered[2]

Once you’ve provided information to the police, they can create a report. Make sure to get a copy of the police report as you’ll need the info for the next step.

2. Contact your insurance company

After you’ve filed a report with the police, the next call you need to make is to your insurance company. They will guide you through the process of filing a claim. Be prepared to provide them with information such as your policy number, the police report number and any other relevant details they may require.

Be aware that your insurance company may not act right away. It is not uncommon for insurance companies to wait 72 hours to process auto theft claims in case the vehicle is recovered.

Will my insurance company cover car theft?

Whether or not your insurance company will cover a claim for car theft depends on what type of coverage you have. If you have comprehensive coverage, the answer is yes. However, if you only carry your state’s minimum coverage the answer is no.

3. Notify the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV)

Next on your list of calls: the DMV. The reason you need to report the theft to your state’s DMV is so they can update the vehicle identification number in their records to indicate it has been stolen. This helps prevent any potential fraudulent use of your vehicle’s registration and title. 

After all, if the thief runs red lights, gets parking tickets or commits other crimes in your vehicle, you don’t want to be responsible for those.

4. Contact your home or renters insurance companies

Did you know that home insurance or renters insurance policies often cover items in your vehicle? If you had anything of value in your car when it was stolen: say a laptop, cell phone or jewelry, your car insurance won’t reimburse you for those. Instead, you will need to file a second claim with your home or renters insurance policy to potentially cover your stolen belongings.

5. Reach out to your bank

If the car was financed or leased, you will need to contact the lender to let them know of the theft. 

If your car keys were stolen along with your vehicle, monitor your financial accounts closely for any suspicious activity. Thieves may attempt to use any personal information or documents they find in your car to commit fraud.

6. Keep an eye out

Keep an eye out for your stolen vehicle in your local area. Check nearby streets, parking lots and impound lots. Sometimes, thieves abandon stolen cars after using them for a short period. You may also want to post in local or neighborhood online groups in case anyone has seen your vehicle.

Steps to prevent car theft

If your car was stolen, it’s not your fault. However, there are steps you can take to potentially avoid it happening again.

  • Use anti-theft devices: Install a steering wheel lock, a car alarm, GPS tracker or a vehicle immobilizer to deter thieves. These devices can also potentially gain you discounts on auto insurance
  • Park in safe locations: Choose well-lit, secure parking spots and avoid leaving your car in isolated areas for long periods.
  • Keep valuables out of sight: Don’t leave valuables such as electronics, bags or shopping items in plain view, as they can attract thieves.
  • Use common sense: Always lock your car and take your keys with you, even if you’re just stepping away for a moment.
  • Keep abreast of security updates: This last one is particularly relevant to Kia and Hyundai owners, which are also some of the most frequently stolen vehicles. Keep an eye out for security updates and options available from these automakers.

Wrapping up

Experiencing a car theft can be a stressful and unsettling experience. However, by taking immediate action and following the steps outlined above, you can increase the likelihood of recovering your stolen vehicle and minimize the impact of the theft.