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In 2021, more than 932,000 vehicles were reported stolen across the U.S., according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau. That works out to an average of more than 2,500 vehicle thefts per day.
Car theft can not only be a distressing experience, it can take a financial toll on the victim. Thankfully, your car insurance likely will cover your stolen car if you have comprehensive coverage. If you don't carry comprehensive coverage, you'll likely be left dealing with the financial fallout on your own.
When Does Car Insurance Cover Theft?
Most states require motorists to buy at least basic liability insurance. Liability coverage pays to repair another motorist's car when you cause an accident. It also pays medical bills and other expenses related to injuries suffered by another driver and their passengers. It does not, however, cover theft.
If you want to be protected from theft, you'll have to buy optional comprehensive coverage. This type of coverage not only pays if your car is stolen and not recovered, but also if car parts are taken (such as an airbag or a catalytic converter). In addition, comprehensive coverage typically pays for damage caused by thieves.
Aside from theft-related costs, comprehensive coverage generally pays for damage caused by things such as:
- Natural disasters like earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and tornadoes
- Fallen objects such as trees, tree branches and ice
Comprehensive coverage is optional if you own your car outright. However, if you financed your car with a loan or lease and still owe money, the lender will typically require comprehensive coverage and collision coverage.
Comprehensive coverage also might be advisable if you own a valuable car that you've paid off. In addition, if you drive a collector, classic or vintage car, you might want to consider a specialized policy that includes comprehensive coverage.
When Car Insurance Doesn't Cover Theft
A car insurance policy won't cover vehicle theft unless you've purchased comprehensive coverage. So, if you carry only state-mandated liability insurance, you won't be covered for vehicle theft.
Comprehensive coverage often is coupled with collision coverage, which normally pays for damage to your car caused by an accident or damage to another motorist's caused by an accident. In addition, it typically covers crash-related medical expenses for you or your passengers.
What happens if some of your belongings are stolen from your car? Neither liability, comprehensive nor collision coverage—or any other car insurance, for that matter—will pay for the stolen items. Instead, you'd need to rely on your homeowners or renters insurance to cover missing personal items, such as a laptop computer or a cellphone. Your homeowners or renters policy may cover those belongings.
Tips for Preventing Car Theft
To avoid the hassles associated with a stolen car, follow these tips for preventing car theft:
- Don't leave your keys in your car when it's parked.
- Don't hide a second set of keys on or in your car.
- Never leave your car running unattended. Vehicles can easily be stolen on cold mornings when a driver starts the car to warm it up and then leaves temporarily.
- Lock all doors and roll up all windows once you've parked your car. About half of all stolen cars are left unlocked.
- Park in well-lit spots, such as a public parking garage.
- Install anti-theft devices, such as alarms and steering wheel locks.
- Take valuables out of your car, such as cellphones and gift-wrapped packages, or obscure them from view to deter break-ins.
- If possible, park your car in a locked garage at home.
- Park on a well-trafficked street or in an attended parking lot rather than an unattended parking lot.
- When you park your car on a street, turn the wheels sharply toward the curb and use the emergency brake to help stop thieves from towing it.
Keep in mind that older cars are frequent targets of thieves because they tend to be easier to break into than newer cars. The National Insurance Crime Bureau says that in 2021, the most stolen vehicles in the U.S. were:
- 2004 full-size Chevrolet pickup truck
- 2006 full-size Ford pickup truck
- 2000 Honda Civic
- 1997 Honda Accord
- 2007 Toyota Camry
Cars stolen in this country are often chopped for parts or resold intact overseas, the crime bureau says.
Shopping for Car Insurance
If you need to buy comprehensive coverage and other types of auto insurance, be sure to shop around. The Insurance Information Institute suggests getting quotes from at three companies when you're hunting for car insurance. You should base your purchase decision on coverage options, price and the insurer's reputation and financial health.