5 Steps to Take When Your Car Is Stolen

A burglar lock picks a car door while wearing a black jacket and gloves.

If your vehicle is stolen, the steps you take in the immediate aftermath can help increase the likelihood that it can be recovered or help minimize the hassle and financial hit if it isn't. Follow these five steps in the immediate aftermath of a car theft.

1. Gather Your Vehicle Information

When your vehicle is stolen, your first step should be to quickly gather information and documentation related to your vehicle and auto loan. This will ease the process going forward as you speak with law enforcement and your insurer. They'll need your vehicle's information to get started looking for it or compensating you for its loss. You'll need:

  • Your title: The title is a document you signed when purchasing the vehicle. It's how you'll prove you're the legal owner of the vehicle. You may not have access to your title, however, if your vehicle is leased or financed.
  • Your vehicle identification number (VIN): The unique number used to identify your vehicle can be found on your title or registration card.
  • Your license plate number: The police will need to know your license plate number so they can watch for your vehicle.
  • Most recent mileage and service records: If you don't have copies of your recent mileage or service records, check with your mechanic.
  • Information about custom parts: If you installed any custom parts or modified your car, your insurance will need to know about this to value your car correctly.
  • Any recent photos you have of the vehicle: Recent photos can help prove that any damage is related to the theft if your vehicle is recovered.
  • Information about belongings in the car: Make a list of items in the car, such as tools or electronic devices, and their value.
  • Your lienholder's or lessor's information: If you still have a loan on the car or are leasing the vehicle, you're going to need to notify them as well as have their info available for your insurance company who will need to connect with them for any payouts.
  • The vehicle's last-known whereabouts, where keys were kept and who had access to the vehicle: This will help police determine who might have stolen the vehicle—or if a friend might have borrowed it without your knowledge.

2. File a Report With the Police

As soon as you realize your car may have been stolen, it's important to file a report with the police. You can file a police report by calling your local department's non-emergency number. Some police departments have an online crime-reporting portal.

Acting quickly to report the theft can get the ball rolling with other processes, such as your insurance company opening a claim. Your insurance company may not be able to help you until after the theft is reported to law enforcement.

3. Let Your Insurance Know

It's important to let your car insurer know your vehicle has been stolen right away, whether you think you'll have coverage for it or not. This is to protect you from being liable for any actions the thief may take while your car is in their possession.

If you carry comprehensive coverage, you can begin a claim to get compensated for the loss of your vehicle. Filing this claim starts the process of getting compensated for the car if it is never returned or paying for repairs if it is recovered. Comprehensive coverage could help pay for a window that was broken when the thief was gaining access or a compromised ignition system if the vehicle is recovered, for example.

If you had personal items in your vehicle at the time of the theft, you may also need to file a claim with your renters or homeowners insurance company. Check to see if your policy covers items stolen from your vehicle.

Alternatively, if you don't have a renters or homeowners policy to cover your personal items, you may have some protection from your credit card. For example, if your cellphone was in your car when it was stolen, check if the credit card you used to pay your bill provides cellphone protection.

4. Contact Your Lienholder or Lessor

If you're still paying off your vehicle or are leasing the car, you need to let your lender or lessor know that it has been stolen. As parties with a financial interest or ownership of the vehicle, they'll need to know immediately about a theft.

You can then connect them to your insurer to work out further details. Insurance payouts for the loss of the vehicle will go to them to cover whatever you may still owe. In the case of leased vehicles, full coverage auto insurance will pay out the value of the vehicle as well the lease balance.

5. Alert the DMV

Let your state's department of motor vehicles know that your car has been stolen. The department will cancel your registration and mark your plates as stolen. This can help you avoid charges for registration renewals or past-due emissions tests on the missing vehicle.

How Comprehensive Coverage Can Help After Theft

Comprehensive coverage on your vehicle can help minimize costs in the event of vehicle theft. Comprehensive coverage may entitle you to a rental vehicle depending on your policy details, but you likely need rental reimbursement coverage to have access to a rental car while the police look for your vehicle. A typical rental reimbursement policy only lasts for 30 days, however, so you'll want to come up with alternative plans in case your vehicle is never recovered.

As noted above, when you carry comprehensive coverage, you may be able to collect money from your insurer for the value of your vehicle if your car is stolen. Having a comprehensive policy is generally your best option for recouping money from a stolen vehicle. You may be able to find cheaper insurance coverage when you compare your rates with Experian's auto insurance comparison tool.