Reporting a stolen car

The steps you need to take if your vehicle was stolen.

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It’s every driver’s worst fear: You’ve just returned to the spot where you parked your car and it’s gone. If you’ve checked to make sure it hasn’t been towed, and you’re sure you’re in the right place, then it’s time to treat it as a stolen vehicle.

Depending on your car insurance coverage, your policy may include coverage for theft, and if you have home, renters, or condo insurance, you may also be covered for any items that were in your vehicle when it was stolen. Here are the steps you need to take to ensure you correctly report your stolen car to your local authorities and to your insurance provider.

What do do immediately after your car is stolen

One of the first steps you should take if your car has been stolen is to report the theft as soon as you can. The sooner you report the theft to police, the sooner they can begin tracking it — and the sooner you’ll have a police report to send to your insurance carrier.

If you can, have information about your vehicle handy when you make the report, including your car’s make and model, your license plate number, your vehicle identification number (VIN), and any details about your GPS or tracking system (like OnStar or LoJack) if your car has one.

You should also report any items that were in your car when it was stolen. If you have renters, condo or homeowners insurance, you may be able to file a claim on those items too.

Be sure to report a stolen car to your auto insurance provider as soon as you can, regardless of your coverage — we’ll get to coverage details later, but whether or not your auto insurance covers theft depends on the specifics of your policy.

What are the odds of a stolen car being returned?

The odds of getting your stolen car back vary by location. In 2013, Progressive released statistics showing that, while the nationwide average recovery rate for a stolen vehicle was 46% in 2012, there was a huge range in the state-by-state recovery rate.

In Washington, for example, the recovery rate for stolen vehicles was 71%. In Utah, which had the second-highest recovery rate in the country, it was 63%. But at the other end of the spectrum, the stolen vehicle recovery rate in Pennsylvania was 26% and in Michigan it was a dismal 19%, the lowest in the country.

But even if your stolen vehicle is returned, it doesn’t mean all your problems are solved. It likely won’t come back in the same condition it was in when it disappeared. If whoever stole the car didn’t strip it for parts, they may have trashed the interior. And even if it looks fine, give your car a thorough, careful check to make sure that nothing dangerous or illegal has been left in it.

If you have a “smart” car that’s connected to wifi, either through a built-in system or a device you installed, that may increase your chances of finding a stolen car. It seems obvious, but if you can track your car through a GPS system, you’ll have a big leg up when it comes to recovering it. Teslas, for example, which have an app-accessible tracking tool, have an extremely high recovery rate in the U.S.

Will insurance cover a stolen car?

If your policy only covers what’s required in your state, your auto insurance might not cover a stolen vehicle. Liability coverage, the backbone of most auto insurance policies, doesn’t cover vehicle theft.

But comprehensive coverage, which covers damage that happens to your car when it’s not being driven, like damage from extreme weather, fire, and vandalism, does cover theft. If your vehicle is stolen and you have comp insurance, your insurance carrier will pay to replace the car.

But your insurer might not reimburse you for the full amount you paid for your vehicle — your insurance provider will usually pay out what’s called the actual cash value, or ACV, which is likely less than you paid for the car because it accounts for depreciation. This can be a problem if you lease your car or owe money on it, but something called gap insurance can help you make up the difference.

Replacement cost coverage is extra coverage you can purchase that will reimburse you for the cost of replacing your stolen car with an equivalent new one, but adding it to your policy can make your premiums prohibitively expensive. A Policygenius expert can help you figure out the best coverage to fit your auto needs and which extras, if any, are right for you.

What is gap insurance?

Gap insurance is an additional type of coverage that will pay out the difference between the ACV of your car and whatever you still owe on a lease or a loan. If you lease a car, you may already be required to have gap insurance, but if you owe money on your car and don’t have gap insurance already, then it may be a smart, and relatively affordable, addition to your policy.

What about items that were in the car when it was stolen?

Comprehensive insurance will cover your car itself if it’s stolen, but it likely won’t cover any items that were in the car at the time. The same is true if your car is broken-into. Comp will cover the damage that happened during the break-in, but it won’t cover the valuables that have been swiped.

That doesn’t mean there’s no hope. As we mentioned earlier, if you have renters, condo or homeowners insurance, you may be covered for property theft, even when it happens outside of your home. Just be sure to get the claims process started as quickly as you can and have relevant documents, like a police report, receipts, photos or serial numbers on hand.

You may have to file a separate claim with your home, condo or renters insurance provider, even if you’ve bundled that coverage with your auto insurance.

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When your car is missing but not actually stolen

It’s easy to jump to conclusions when you can’t find your car, but before you report it stolen, double check to make sure you’re actually in the right place — you’d be surprised how easy it is to forget where exactly you’ve parked in a crowded lot or a busy neighborhood.

There are even smartphone apps you can install that pair with your car and help you track it down — this could be useful whether your car is stolen or you’ve just forgotten where you parked it.

If you parked illegally, or if you owe money on parking tickets or other violations, it’s possible that your car was towed. Try contacting the local police in the area where you parked your car to see if your vehicle has been towed and taken to an impound lot. Depending on where you are, your city or town may have a hotline or an online tool that will let you look up a towed vehicle if you have the license plate number, and give you instructions to retrieve it.