What to Do If Your Car Has Been Stolen

You’ll need to file a police report, contact your insurance company, inform your leasing or financing company if you have one, and file a stolen vehicle report with your local DMV.

Courtney Washington
Courtney Washington

Courtney Washington is a Texas A&M University graduate. Her extensive knowledge and background in auto, home, and umbrella policies make her a one-stop shop for insurance advice and information. She loves to help her readers understand their insurance choices so they can make informed decisions about their coverage.

Katie Powers
Edited byKatie Powers
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Katie PowersAuto and Life Insurance Editor
  • Licensed auto and home insurance agent

  • 3+ years experience in insurance and personal finance editing

Katie uses her knowledge and expertise as a licensed property and casualty agent in Massachusetts to help readers understand the complexities of insurance shopping.

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Updated September 12, 2023 at 12:00 PM PDT

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Car theft happens in big cities, small towns, and everywhere in between. You’ve probably heard about motor vehicle theft in the news, though you might not know what to do if someone steals your car.

If you’re the victim of vehicle theft, try not to panic. Follow the steps below to help you through the process.

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1. Make sure your car was actually stolen

Many people mistakenly report their cars as stolen when they can’t find them, but often, the cars aren’t truly gone. That’s a waste of police time and resources. Plus, filing a false police report is a crime with severe consequences in many jurisdictions, including fines and jail time.

Here are some ways to make sure your car is really missing before calling the police:

  • Ask yourself if a partner or family member moved the car.

  • Think about where you parked. Was the vehicle in a parking lot and you forgot where?

  • Consider whether someone could have towed your car.

  • Check with family members who might have borrowed it without permission.

If you don’t know where your car is after considering these questions, don’t hesitate to contact the local police and your insurance company.

2. File a police report

From 2021 to 2022, the estimated number of motor vehicles stolen in the U.S. increased by 7%, from 937,976 to 1,001,967. The most frequently stolen cars include full-size pickup trucks and sedans.[1]

Before you report your vehicle as stolen, gather the necessary documentation to file a police report:

  • Your contact information

  • Car make and model

  • License plate number and VIN

  • Color and year of car

  • Date and time you last saw the car

Depending on where you live, you may need to file a report with either local or state law enforcement.

3. Talk to your insurance company

Once you receive your police report number, let your insurance company know that someone stole your vehicle. Unless you have comprehensive coverage on your policy, your car insurance company likely won’t cover motor vehicle theft.

To file a claim, you’ll need to submit your police report number and a copy of the report and answer any of the claims adjuster’s questions. The claims adjuster will give you a claim number and let you know what to expect next.

How much will your stolen car payout be?

The amount of your stolen car payout depends on whether law enforcement finds your vehicle. These scenarios only apply if you have comprehensive coverage:

  • Vehicle not found: You’ll usually get a reimbursement that covers the actual cash value (current market value of your car) minus any deductible.

  • Vehicle found with damage: The insurance company will cover the repair costs or declare it a total loss, according to your policy.

What happens if items are stolen from your car?

Your comprehensive insurance will only cover permanent parts of the car, like the stereo, parts of the engine, or a factory-installed navigation system. It doesn’t cover personal property inside the vehicle, like a wallet, tools in the trunk, or a dashboard-mounted GPS unit. If the thief stole your credit cards, make sure you cancel them as soon as possible.

You’ll need to file a claim with your homeowners or renters insurance company to see if it can cover any valuables stolen from your vehicle.

4. Alert your financing or leasing company

If you lease or finance your car, you need to inform your lender that someone stole the vehicle. Make sure you have the correct documentation, including the police report and insurance claim. Your insurer will send the claim payout to the financing or leasing company that holds the vehicle title. This amount typically equals the car’s actual cash value minus the deductible.

If the claim payout doesn’t cover the remaining car loan amount, you’re financially responsible for the rest. Some dealerships and auto insurers offer gap coverage, which pays off your loan if someone steals your vehicle or an accident totals your car and you still owe more than the car’s value. It covers the gap between what your insurer will pay and how much you still owe.

5. File a stolen vehicle report with the DMV and do a stolen-car check

Call the department of motor vehicles in your state to report your stolen vehicle. The DMV will update your car’s vehicle identification number (VIN) to reflect the new information. This helps prevent the thief from trying to apply for a new title or sell the vehicle, and the information should appear if the police pull someone over in your car.

Never try to find the stolen vehicle yourself because this can be a potentially dangerous situation. However, you can help the police in their search by using apps and services that track stolen vehicles, like OnStar or LoJack.

6. Prepare yourself for any outcomes

A few different scenarios can occur with your stolen vehicle, so you should prepare yourself for any outcome. You may never see your car again. Sometimes, a recovered car just needs some repairs. Other times, someone may have stripped your car for parts so that, even if recovered, it won’t resemble your car anymore.

Either way, the theft was outside of your control, so your premiums shouldn’t increase.

Does car insurance cover auto theft?

Comprehensive insurance covers stolen cars. The car insurance company will write you a check for what the vehicle was worth when it disappeared, minus the deductible. If you find your vehicle with missing parts — like the catalytic converter or the stereo — or damage, your comprehensive coverage will also kick in.

Your car insurance won’t cover your vehicle theft if you don’t have sufficient coverage. For example, if you only have liability and collision insurance, your insurer won’t cover your stolen vehicle.

Important Information

Even if you have comprehensive coverage, your insurer won’t pay for your personal items stolen along with the car. You’ll have to recover the cost of the items through your homeowners or renters policy, if you have one.

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How to prevent future car theft

Though you don’t have control over whether someone attempts to steal your vehicle, you can take the following steps to make it harder for them to succeed:

  1. Exercise good judgment. If you need to step away from your vehicle briefly, turn off the ignition and take the keys with you. Always try to park in well-lit and highly trafficked areas. Roll your windows up completely. Keep your doors locked. Take any valuable personal property with you when you leave your vehicle.

  2. Install anti-theft devices and an alarm system. Many manufacturers include anti-theft devices and audible alarm systems as a part of standard vehicle packages, but older vehicles might not. If you don’t have them, you should look into installing them.

  3. Equip your car with a vehicle immobilizer. A vehicle immobilizer is an electronic device that fits on a motor and won’t allow the engine to turn over without the correct key. Most vehicles manufactured after 1998 come with immobilizers, but some don’t. If your car doesn’t have one, consider purchasing and installing one — or paying someone to do it for you.

  4. Install a tracking system. Cars that don’t have GPS tracking can easily become trackable by always keeping a mobile tracking device or chip in the car. You can pair the device to an app on your phone and get real-time updates if someone ever steals your car.[2]

Stolen car FAQs

Though having your car stolen is stressful, you should calmly follow the steps above to involve the police and your insurer.

  • Does car insurance cover auto theft?

    Comprehensive coverage pays drivers if they experience vehicle loss or damage due to circumstances other than a collision. Losses can include severe weather, falling objects, and vehicle theft. If you don’t have comprehensive insurance, your policy won’t cover the theft.

  • What happens if your car is stolen and you still owe money on it?

    Unfortunately, you’re still responsible for paying back the loan balance. If you have comprehensive coverage, your insurer will send the claim payout to the leasing or financing company. If you still owe money after your insurer pays the claim and don’t have gap insurance, you need to make the remaining payments out of pocket.

  • What happens when your car is stolen without insurance?

    You’re responsible for any unpaid balances, fees, fines, and penalties associated with the vehicle loss. You won’t have the benefit of insurance to help you recover any of the costs.

  • How can you track your stolen car?

    Short of a GPS program or system in your car, you’ll have to rely on local law enforcement to track your vehicle down. To help the process, you can look into apps and services that can track stolen vehicles, including OnStar or LoJack, and install them in your car today.

  • What happens if you find your stolen car?

    If you find your stolen car, call the police. It’s too dangerous for you to try to take the car back, especially because the thief could be nearby.

Sources

  1. Insurance Information Institute. "Facts + Statistics: Auto theft." Accessed September 1, 2023
  2. Insurance Information Institute. "How to prevent auto theft and carjacking." Accessed September 1, 2023
Courtney Washington
Courtney Washington

Courtney Washington is a Texas A&M University graduate. Her extensive knowledge and background in auto, home, and umbrella policies make her a one-stop shop for insurance advice and information. She loves to help her readers understand their insurance choices so they can make informed decisions about their coverage.

Katie Powers
Edited byKatie PowersAuto and Life Insurance Editor
Photo of an Insurify author
Katie PowersAuto and Life Insurance Editor
  • Licensed auto and home insurance agent

  • 3+ years experience in insurance and personal finance editing

Katie uses her knowledge and expertise as a licensed property and casualty agent in Massachusetts to help readers understand the complexities of insurance shopping.

Featured in

media logomedia logo

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