15 Important Steps to Take if Your Car Was Stolen or Vandalized

Fran Majidi
November 4, 2019

In 2018, 228.9 per 100,000 vehicles were stolen. The average dollar loss per theft was $8,407, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Unlike in the past, when hot-wiring to start-up and steal cars was common, today's tactics include acquiring smart keys; switching vehicle identification numbers; hacking; and using stolen identities to secure loans to "buy" expensive cars. Between January 1, 2016, and December 31, 2018, 229,339 vehicles were stolen because of keys or fobs left in the cars. That's over 31,000 stolen vehicles in California alone!

So, what should you do if your vehicle is stolen? We give you step-by-step tips on who to call and what to do in order to be reimbursed for your loss by your car insurance company. In most cases, the car insurance company will require that you file a police report so it's important not to skip any steps in the event of an auto theft. If your vehicle is vandalized and you have comprehensive coverage, you may also be covered.

Keep in mind that personal items, like a phone or other personal property, would only be covered by homeowners insurance or a renters insurance policy. Only property damage and repair costs will be covered by your auto insurance, and only after a car insurance adjuster examines the vehicle if it's recovered.

If your vehicle was stolen and your insurance company left you in a lurch, it's time to switch insurance companies.

1. Track a Stolen Car

If there was a baby or dog inside the car, call the police right away. Otherwise, spend a little time to make sure your vehicle was, in fact, stolen before you contact your auto insurance agent.

Most people aren't sure what to do about a stolen car. In fact, the impulse is often to call the police right away. It's better if the first thing you do is to make sure a a friend or family member has not borrowed it. The next thing you should do is track the vehicle with their Vehicle Tracking System (VTS), which will give you the location of the car. There are various GPS tracking devices that can also help you find your vehicle. You'll need your vehicle identification number (VIN) and the location of where it was before the motor vehicle theft.

Use the best car tracking devices, like LoJack, Spy Tec or OnStar. And if your vehicle returns damaged or was in an accident, you may be covered by comprehensive coverage.

2. Was the Car Towed?

Check with towing companies to make sure your vehicle wasn't removed and impounded. If your car was stolen, abandoned and towed, go to step 3. Or maybe you parked in a space not designated for public parking. See if you parked illegally and were towed.

3. Report Car Theft and Stolen Items to the Authorities

Call your local police to report a stolen car within a few hours of it going missing. You'll need to do the same if your car was vandalized. You'll need a report to file an insurance claim. Also, have your car listed on the stolen vehicle database.

Keep a copy of the police report for insurance purposes.

4. Stolen Vehicle VIN Check

Contact the National Insurance Crime Bureau to report the stolen vehicle. You'll need your VIN and license plate number to do this. Other information you'll need: the car model, make and color.

5. Take Photos of the Damage

If your car was vandalized, take photos of all of the damage, both interior, and exterior.

You'll need these photos for your insurance claim.

6. Call Your Auto Insurance Company After a Car Theft

If you have comprehensive coverage, you may get a pay-out for the worth of your car if it was stolen. Damages for vandalism should also be covered. Your transportation expenses may be covered too, so keep all receipts. If your car turns up after you've been paid a claim, the car belongs to the insurance company. You can always negotiate with your insurer to gain ownership of your car again.

When you call your agent, you'll need the following information

  • Vehicle identification number (VIN)
  • Your Title of Ownership
  • Where you last left your keys before the theft/vandalism
  • People who use the car
  • Description of car, contents or special equipment
  • Lienholder or leasing company (if you're still paying off the car)

7. How Long Before a Pay Out from an Auto Insurance Company?

Claims take time so you'll need to be patient for a claim on a missing vehicle to be paid any money by the insurer. In fact, most insurers will probably wait to see if the authorities find it or if the car turns up. They may even contact you for more information of when you last used the vehicle.

On average, the wait time is 30 days, sometimes more, sometimes less. If you have comprehensive insurance, you will be paid out for the value of the car on the day it was stolen. Otherwise, you will see no pay-out from your auto insurance company.

8. Report a Stolen Vehicle to Lienholder

If you're still making payments on your car you'll need to contact your lienholder or leasing company. Ask for the car's identification numbers and tag if you don't have them. Make sure to give general information about what happened and the steps you've taken as the insured (i.e Did you file a claim?). Your lienholder will understand that claims require some time.

9. Check Security Cameras

The best way to do a stolen vehicle check is by checking security camera footage of where you left your car. Most public driveways have security camera systems set up and can help see a clear image of the thief. If your car was stolen from your own driveway and you don't have security cameras, you may want to invest in one or park in the garage.

10. Call the Cab Company

If you offer a reward, you are more likely to find your missing car if you announce this reward with every cab company in your area. It can be as little as a $100 reward, which is worth getting your car back. Think about who is on the road most often? A cab driver may end up being your hero.

11. Tell Everyone

Post fliers on trees and post pictures of your car on social media. The more people see the car, the higher the likelihood that you'll get it back after it's sighted.

12. Check the City's Transportation Website

You may be able to track down your stolen vehicle by checking parking violations. Often, thieves abandon stolen cars, which are then ticketed and placed in the parking violation database. All you need to do is log into your city's transportation website and enter your license plate to check. If anything comes up, contact the police.

13. Thieves Sell Car for Parts

Even though they can often tamper with the VIN and sell the car as one unit, often, it's less risky to sell a car for parts instead. Search the Internet to see if the thief is selling the car on the Internet and see if it's being sold for parts. Check junkyards and parts sellers in the area where you last left your car. Also, Craigslist checker tracks down stolen car parts. If you find any leads, contact the police and protect yourself by not reaching out to the criminal. Never confront or apprehend the thief before contacting the authorities.

Most Stolen Cars, according to the NICB 2017 Yearly Report:

Model Year Most Stolen / (# of Thefts)


Total Model Thefts

1998 (6,707)

Honda Civic


1997 (6,301)

Honda Accord


2006 (3,151)

Ford Pickup (Full Size)


2004 (1,970)

Chevrolet Pickup (Full Size)


2017 (1,100)

Toyota Camry


2016 (1,450)

Nissan Altima


2016 (1,012)

Toyota Corolla


2001 (1,242)

Dodge Pickup (Full Size)


2017 (957)

GMC Pickup (Full Size)


2008 (991)

Chevrolet Impala


14. Does Car Insurance Cover Vandalism?

Check your insurance policy to see which coverages you have. If the police recover your vehicle and its in bad shape, you'll need to file a police report before you file a claim. Was there a theft of wheels or rims? Did they break a window to break in? Was the car in an accident? You'll need this information to get coverage for your insurance claim. Also, don't forget your deductible.

Comprehensive coverage would pay for the cost to repair damages, like a broken window, minus your deductible. Search your policy online, if you have access, to see what your deductible amount is, or phone your agent if you're not sure how much you owe. Some companies even have a vanishing deductible, so you may owe nothing.

If you don't have comprehensive coverage on your insurance policy, you may have to pay for the cost of repairs yourself. If you don't have renters or home insurance, you may have to replace your own personal items too, if they are no longer in the vehicle.

Consider buying equipment to keep your car safe.

15. Insurance

If your vehicle is worth a few thousand dollars or tens of thousands of dollars, it may benefit you to carry comprehensive insurance, especially if you live in a high-crime area. Liability and collision coverage do not offer the protection for theft and vandalism. Claims are only paid out if you have the right coverage.

If you've only gotten really expensive auto insurance quotes, we have the cheapest car insurance rates around. The best part is you fill out one form and to access multiple car insurance quotes, all without speaking with anyone until you make a decision on what you want. Visit us here and begin by entering your zip code.

It's important to compare rates, which may save you hundreds of dollars a year.

Get a Free Auto Insurance Quote Online Now.

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