You walk out to the parking lot, and you can’t find your car.

You know you parked it in the lot on the left, but it’s nowhere to be found. Was your car stolen? A hundred scenarios may be going through your head when you realize your car is missing; the situation can be both distressing and upsetting.

And when you find yourself in this circumstance, the last thing you want is a vehicle that is both stolen and uninsured. Online car insurance quote comparison websites like Insurify are quick and free resources if you’re interested in switching or increasing coverage.

Right now, though, you might have slightly more significant concerns. Here’s what you need to do when you think your car is stolen:

1. Make sure you’re actually reporting a stolen car.

Sometimes the most crucial steps are also the most overlooked. You’d be surprised at how many people report stolen cars when the car is still in their possession. In many states, filing a false police report about a stolen car is a crime and can have criminal consequences—you need to be absolutely sure your car was stolen before you call the police.

Even though it can be challenging to keep a clear head when you think your car has been stolen, you need to do a quick sanity check. Make sure the car wasn’t moved by mistake, or you parked somewhere and forgot where it was.

Think about where your car was parked. Could the car have been towed because you overparked in an area with a time limit? Did you leave the vehicle unattended in an area where cars aren’t allowed to park? If there’s a chance the vehicle was taken away by a tow truck, the best thing you can do is check the impound first. A quick call to the impound will prevent you from filing a stolen vehicle report when your car is technically still in your possession.

2. Get ready to file a police report.

Over 773,000 motor vehicles were reported stolen in 2017 alone, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting. If you think someone took your car, you’ll need to report the situation to your local police department and provide as much information as possible about the stolen vehicle. The police will ask you about when you last saw the car and when you last drove it. They’ll also ask you whether you have a tracking device on it and for details about the make, model, and year of the vehicle. You’ll need a copy of this police report when you file a claim with your insurance company, so make sure to ask the police officer where you can get a copy after the report is filed.

The police can then move forward to investigate the case further if it’s warranted. They will run your license plate number, and your car’s details will be entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database. This allows all law enforcement officials to track the vehicle in the event the car is found somewhere else, or someone gets pulled over while driving it.

3. Talk to your insurance company.

You may be surprised to know that not all auto insurance providers insure vehicles for car theft. Once you have a police case number, you’ll need to share that with your insurance provider and explain what happened. You can provide the same details you shared in the police report, and the insurance company will ask for a copy of the police report to support your insurance claim.

How much you will be reimbursed for the stolen vehicle will depend on your insurance policy’s coverage. Most insurance companies will provide up to the state minimum, and this varies from state to state. You’ll need comprehensive coverage to qualify for reimbursement of a stolen vehicle, and how much you receive will depend on the value of the car and other factors.

If your insurance company does provide coverage for a stolen car, they will investigate the situation on their own. They will take steps to rule out all possibilities of fraud—they want to make sure you’re not hiding the vehicle or attempting to file a claim when the car hasn’t really been stolen. The adjuster might ask you questions, such as where you last parked your car, if there were any security and/or anti-theft devices in the vehicle, and details from your police report. There may be a waiting period to confirm that you don’t have the car anymore, and this can be as long as 7 days to 2 weeks, depending on the carrier.

If the insurance company determines that your car was stolen, they will reimburse you for the total cash value of your vehicle: the total you paid for the vehicle minus depreciation, as of the day the car was reported stolen. You’ll receive a check minus your deductible as your reimbursement.

If you don’t think the amount they valued for your vehicle is fair, you can file a dispute, so they adjust the amount. You will need to provide proof that the car is worth more than the car insurance company says it is in the form of blue book values, any photos of the vehicle in good condition, and features that the insurance adjuster might have left out.

4. File a stolen vehicle report with the DMV.

Even though you’ve filed a police report, once your insurance company has officially declared the car to be a total loss and a stolen vehicle, there’s one more step. Now, you’ll need to report the situation to your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

The DMV maintains a database of stolen cars and can help the police recover the vehicle faster if somebody comes in to register the car under their name. The car is now no longer in your possession, but there’s still a chance it could show up later. Making sure the DMV knows about the change in ownership will help you stay free of any future issues related to the vehicle.

5. Do a stolen car check yourself.

Call it DIY sleuthing. You might want to search for cars in your area for sale to see if someone is trying to sell your stolen car on Craigslist, eBay, or other listing sites.

This is the last resort if you don’t feel like you are getting the help you need when your car is stolen or if your insurance company can’t reimburse you for the vehicle. Still, this strategy could work in your favor if you’re determined to find your vehicle and locate the car thief for good.

This approach might be a stretch, but could help you locate your car without outside help. Once you find it, you can get back in touch with the police to share your evidence and wait for the vehicle to be recovered.

Having your car stolen can be stressful, and sometimes there is only so much you can do to prevent auto theft. However, knowing what steps to take when you realize your car has disappeared and acting quickly can help you remedy the situation.

Insurify can help you to make sure you have adequate insurance coverage. It’s a necessary step to protect yourself from auto theft in the future, so it pays to shop around and compare rates on comprehensive coverage.

You’ve got this!

Updated April 29, 2021

Sabah Karimi is a freelance writer and copywriter based in Florida. She covers auto insurance trends, tips, and personal finance advice for Insurify so readers can make informed decisions about car insurance and budgeting.