What to Do If Your Car Is Broken Into

Warding off future break-ins is just as important as recovering from the initial event.

Taylor Milam-Samuel
Taylor Milam-Samuel
  • 8+ years writing for major outlets, including MarketWatch and Business Insider

  • Master’s in Education

Taylor Mlam-Samuel is a personal finance writer and credentialed educator. When she’s not helping readers better save and spend money, she can be found teaching.

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Chris Schafer
Edited byChris Schafer
Chris Schafer
Chris SchaferSenior Editor
  • 15+ years in content creation

  • 7+ years in business and financial services content

Chris is a seasoned writer/editor with past experience across myriad industries, including insurance, SAS, finance, Medicare, logistics, marketing/advertising, and many more.

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Updated April 18, 2024

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A car break-in can be a traumatic experience, and if you’re the victim of such an incident, you may have feelings of anger or distrust afterward. In addition, you may also need to file a police report, navigate car repairs, and connect with your insurance company to start a claim.

The good news is that comprehensive auto coverage pays for car repairs due to theft or vandalism, and your homeowners or renters insurance will cover the personal belongings in your car. Whether you’ve been the victim of a past break-in or you’re trying to avoid your first, you can take steps to prevent one from occurring.

Here’s what you need to know to help you recognize, recover from, and prevent future car break-ins.

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Recognizing the signs of a break-in

Your car may or may not appear damaged after a break-in. It depends on how the break-in occurred. Look for these telltale signs as you assess the situation:[1]

  • Broken lock: Window or door locks can serve as entry points to the car. Check if these safety devices appear broken.

  • Shattered glass: Broken glass is an obvious sign of a break-in that could be visible on windows or windshields.

  • Missing items: Items aren’t always missing after a break-in. But if you notice something is gone, it’s a sign that someone broke into your car.

  • Car alarm: If your car alarm is activated, it could mean that someone tried to break in.

  • Scratches on vehicle: Damage to the exterior of your car can indicate that someone was trying to enter the vehicle.

What to do if your car is broken into

Once you realize there was a break-in, follow these steps to move forward with recovering items and ensuring your safety.[2]

Document the scene

Take pictures and video of the damage. Use your smartphone to capture each side of the car and any visible damage. Your phone utilizes geolocation services that allow police to view the exact location of each photo, which can be helpful if there’s further investigation.

Next, create a list of each missing item. As you document the scene, try to avoid touching the area and wait to move your car until you talk with the police.

Contact the police

The next step is to call 9-1-1 and file a police report. Insurance companies usually require a police report for insurance claims related to car damage or missing items. So this step is a must if you plan to file a claim with your insurer.

Helpful Information

Before you call, it’s helpful to have the following information accessible:

  • Your driver’s license

  • Current location

  • Insurance information

Contact your insurance company

The final step is to contact your insurance company. If you have homeowners or renters insurance, your policy can help pay for missing items from your car. These policies can cover the objects even when you’re not home. However, it’s important to read your policy so you know exactly what’s covered and where.

Your auto policy doesn’t protect personal belongings in your vehicle. But a comprehensive auto policy can help pay for repairs if your car is damaged. Liability-only auto insurance doesn’t provide coverage.

Start by calling the company’s claims department. The insurance claims representative can guide you through the process and answer questions.

Take steps to prevent future break-ins

After you deal with the aftermath of a car break-in, it’s wise to assess the security of your car. Repair broken windows, fix locks, and change keyless entry codes to ensure no one can access your vehicle without your permission.

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Preventing car break-ins

Whether you’ve been the victim of a past break-in or you’re guarding against your first, follow these easy steps to improve your vehicle’s security:[3]

  • Practice secure parking habits. Always park your car in well-lit areas visible to both pedestrians and drivers. When possible, park in public garages with security cameras.

  • Utilize car alarm systems. Car alarms are an effective deterrent. The alarm sounds if there’s an attempted break-in, but even the presence of an alarm can deter would-be thieves.

  • Consider window tinting and privacy glass. Privacy glass makes viewing items inside your car more difficult from the outside. This makes your vehicle a less enticing target for thieves because they don’t know if anything of value is inside.

  • Employ steering wheel locks and other security devices. Safety devices like steering wheel locks, brake locks, and car wheel clamps are valuable tools to prevent break-ins and car theft. The more unappealing you can make your car to thieves, the more likely they are to move on.

  • Get the right insurance coverage. Homeowners and renters insurance cover the belongings in your car. Comprehensive car insurance, an optional coverage, pays for the cost of repairs caused by damage from a break-in. Comprehensive is included in a full-coverage auto policy.

The rising concern of car break-ins

The year 2022 saw a 7% increase in car thefts.[4] Even though a break-in doesn’t always lead to car theft, this rise in crime highlights that vehicle incidents are more frequent than expected.

Thieves can steal any car, but Chevrolet and Ford full-size pickup trucks are the most commonly stolen vehicles among older models.[4] For newer models, vehicles from Hyundai and Kia account for more vehicle thefts than cars from other manufacturers.[5]

No matter what type of car you drive, the best way to prevent theft is to lock your vehicle, park near other people, store valuables out of sight, and keep your keys nearby.

Common reasons behind car break-ins

Here are the most common reasons for break-ins and what you can do differently:[3]

  • Keys left in the car: The easiest way to prevent break-ins is never to leave your keys in the car, even briefly. This is particularly true with newer vehicles when doors can be opened and vehicles started simply by having the key located somewhere in the vehicle.

  • Valuables on display: Store valuables, like phones, purses, money, or other electronics, out of sight. Leaving these items out in the open increases your risk of being the victim of a smash-and-grab crime.

  • Deserted location: If your vehicle is in an area with little foot traffic or visibility, the risk of someone breaking into your car rises. Park your car in a well-lit, highly trafficked area whenever possible. Having a few extra people around can be a huge deterrent.

Car broken into FAQs

Car break-ins are stressful, both practically and emotionally. Here’s what you need to know about why break-ins occur and how to respond.

  • What if someone broke into your car but left no damage?

    If you experience a break-in without damage, it’s still important to document any missing items and file a police report. You should also consider filing an insurance claim with your homeowners or renters insurance if the items taken were of high value.

  • Are you covered if your car was broken into while it was unlocked?

    As long as you have comprehensive coverage, your insurance policy covers break-ins regardless of the circumstances. But if you don’t have comprehensive coverage, your auto policy won’t cover car break-ins or theft.

  • What cars are most commonly broken into?

    Full-size pickup trucks from Chevrolet and Ford are the most commonly stolen cars among older models. For newer models, vehicles from Hyundai and Kia account for more vehicle thefts than cars from other manufacturers.[5]

  • Your car was broken into and you suspect ID theft. Should you report it or wait to see if something happens?

    If you suspect identity theft, it’s best to take immediate action. Contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at IdentityTheft.gov or 1 (877) 438-4338. You can also contact the three credit bureaus to place fraud alerts and credit freezes on your accounts.

  • Can a car be broken into with no sign of forced entry?

    Yes. Your car can be broken into without any sign of forced entry. If this happens to you, document the scene, file a police report, and contact your insurer.

Sources

  1. California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training. "Property Crimes."
  2. City of Woodbury. "Car Theft Prevention."
  3. California Highway Patrol. "Avoiding Vehicle Theft."
  4. Insurance Information Institute. "Facts + Statistics: Auto theft."
  5. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. "Hyundais, Kias are easy targets amid boom in vehicle thefts."
Taylor Milam-Samuel
Taylor Milam-Samuel

Taylor Milam-Samuel is a writer and credentialed educator who is fascinated by how people earn, save, and spend their money. When she's not researching financial terms and conditions, she can be found in the classroom teaching.

Chris Schafer
Edited byChris SchaferSenior Editor
Chris Schafer
Chris SchaferSenior Editor
  • 15+ years in content creation

  • 7+ years in business and financial services content

Chris is a seasoned writer/editor with past experience across myriad industries, including insurance, SAS, finance, Medicare, logistics, marketing/advertising, and many more.

Featured in

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