Picture the perfect day. You wake up refreshed and ready to bench press the world. You finish your breakfast and head out the door, prepared for your big presentation – and BAM! – your car is gone. It’s not there. While your mind is processing this new monkey wrench that could potentially ruin your beautiful day, you’re asking yourself:
You: Well, maybe my wife took it.
You: You’re not married!
You: Girlfriend took it for a spin?
You: Sorry, buddy, you guys broke up a week ago.
You: This can’t be happening!
Although your perfect day has been ruined by senseless car theft, now is not the time to panic. Keep your head on and consider your next move (which we’ll discuss in a bit). The unfortunate truth is that someone stole your car and not only caused you a great deal of inconvenience, but also rage that a thief dared to invade your privacy.
A Primer on Car Theft in the U.S
Motor vehicle theft is the attempted theft of scooters, motorcycles, snowmobiles, trucks, buses, automobiles, and other vehicles. According to the FBI, motor vehicle theft in 2018 was responsible for about $6 billion in losses, with the average loss per incident hovering over $8,000. Vehicles were stolen at a clip of 229 per 100,000 people in 2018, down from 238 in 2017. The Dodge HEMI Charger and the Challenger Hellcat were two of the most stolen cars in 2016 – 2018, according to the Highway Loss Data Institute.
The good news is that car theft numbers have been trending downward since it peaked at 1.7 million stolen cars in 1991 to 748,841 in 2018. The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) credits the downturn to new anti-theft technology, anti-theft programs, and law enforcement efforts. However, declining car theft numbers fail to address the evolution of carjacking. Thieves are adapting to the times, and devising more sophisticated ways to steal vehicles.
Thievery tactics include illegally acquiring smart keys or FOBs that forgo the need to hotwire the car and take care of the security alarm system. Another method is using stolen identities to apply for car loans, which is why monitoring personally identifiable information is critical to protect yourself from identity theft these days.
Your Step-by-Step Grand Theft Auto Action Plan (not the video game)
Thank you for keeping your head and not panicking. As promised, here’s a step-by-step real-life GTA plan you can put into action when someone drives off with your ride. A stolen car is a serious issue. You have to take immediate steps to ensure that you don’t get accused of crimes the perpetrators have committed while in possession of your stolen vehicle. The longer you wait to report the theft to the police and your insurer, the lower your chances are of recovering your car.
Step 1: Make Sure Your Car Was Stolen.
Your first step should always be to make sure your missing car wasn’t taken by a member of your household, a roommate, or anyone else with access to your keys. If your keys are also missing, the chances of someone in your inner circle using your car is enormous. Track your auto by its Vehicle Tracking System (VTS) or GPS if you have one, and call your loved ones first. You should also check with towing companies in the area, especially if you parked in a spot you weren’t supposed to.
Carjackers can also change a car’s vehicle identification number (VIN), so when you look up the owner by VIN, the system will cough up a false result.
Step 2: Go to The Police and File a Report.
Now that you’re 100% sure someone jacked your ride, it’s time to go to the police and file a stolen vehicle report. You’ll need a copy of this report for your insurer because they will not honor an auto theft claim that hasn’t been filed with law enforcement. Immediately filing a police report prevents insurance companies from being skeptical about why you delayed reporting the theft to the authorities.
Tell the cops everything you know about your car, including:
● GPS (so they can track it)
● Any distinct features, such as custom paint, decals, bumpers, and unrepaired damage
● Mode, make, and year
● License plate number
● Vehicle Identification Number or VIN
Step 3: Report the Theft to Your Insurance Company
Your next move is contacting your car insurance company to report the theft of your vehicle. A comprehensive insurance policy covers your stolen car, but even if you don’t, you still need to call your insurer and inform them about the incident. Reporting the car theft to your insurance company protects you when there’s property damage or if someone gets hurt while the thieves are driving around in your vehicle. If you have reimbursement coverage, your insurer will shoulder part of the expense in a rental car, which ends when you reach your coverage limit.
Be sure to have these ready to speed up the claims process:
● Vehicle description
● Information on the last known location of your car
● Contact information of your financing or leasing company, if any.
● A list of any personal items that were in the vehicle when it was stolen (laptops, phones, wallets, etc.)
● A list of all locations where the keys to the car are kept
● The vehicle’s title
Step 4: Ensure that Everything in Your Insurance Claim is Truthful and Consistent
We can’t stress this step enough: you have to tell the police and your insurer the truth because auto theft claims are costly for insurance companies. Because of the significant expenses tied to car theft claims, insurers often launch their investigation and any inconsistency between the police report you filed and your auto insurance claim may be viewed as a red flag.
Step 5: Call Your Financing or Leasing Company (if applicable)
If your stolen car is leased or financed, you need to contact the company where you got it from. You won’t be liable for payments because the insurance company will pay the claim to the leasing or financing company. The leasing company should call the insurance company directly to expedite the claims process.
Step 6: If Your Car Has Been Recovered
Check if the thieves took anything valuable that was in the vehicle, such as your laptop or phone. Your comprehensive insurance policy won’t cover personal items, but your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance might, so you may want to check that out with your insurer. Have your car examined by a claims adjuster to determine any damages while the vehicle wasn’t in your custody. Don’t worry; you won’t be liable for any costs incurred as long as you reported the theft to your insurer.
Tips to Lower the Risk of Getting Carjacked
Here are a few tips to keep your car safe from thieves.
● Close your windows and lock your car at all times.
● Install a GPS tracking system, car alarm, and the latest anti-theft device.
● Install security cameras aimed at your parking space when applicable.
● Never leave valuables inside your car or keep them hidden.
● Only park in safe, well-lit areas.
● Turn off your engine when the car isn’t in use.
The most important tip that can lower the risk of your next car getting stolen is never to leave your car keys or FOB inside the car. One of the more alarming statistics about vehicle theft is there were 229,339 vehicles stolen between January 1st, 2016, to December 31st, 2018, because the keys and FOBs were left inside like an open invitation. Please don’t leave your keys inside your car, no matter where you live. Keep it with you or in a safe place away from your vehicle.