Katie DiPaolo lives in a quiet, suburban neighborhood in Tampa, Florida. In her neighborhood, beautiful homes and lush, green grass line the roads. It’s common to see children out playing ball in the streets, even after dark.
While parked and turned off, DiPaolo never thought twice about leaving her car keys in her 2006 gray Honda Odyssey. But even in a neighborhood as nice and low-crime as hers, she found herself a victim of car theft.
“Kids were breaking into cars that night and stole my van,” DiPaolo says. “I panicked after I got off the phone with the police. As the days went on, I felt extremely violated.”
Although DiPaolo had car insurance, she only had the state minimum car insurance for Florida. And the minimum coverage requirements don’t include assistance with stolen vehicles.
Out of fear of her premium skyrocketing because she feared her insurance company would see her as an “irresponsible driver,” she kept the ordeal to herself. Found five days later was her abandoned car.
“It appears the kids took it out joyriding and dumped it for the night,” DiPaolo says. “A mailman turned in the car.”
Does car insurance cover theft?
Car theft is a serious matter, and it can happen to anyone. In 2017, there were 773,139 incidents of vehicle theft. That figure has dropped significantly since its almost 2 million high in 1991. But authorities say thieves are constantly coming up with sophisticated ways to steal vehicles.
Auto insurance can cover stolen cars. While DiPaolo only had her state’s minimum coverage, there are additional coverages that include vehicle theft. You can add them onto any policy.
In order to cover theft, policyholders should have comprehensive coverage, according to Tony Arevalo, auto insurance expert with Carsurance.net.
“With comprehensive insurance, you should be covered all the way up to the ACV – Actual Cash Value, which is why this type of insurance is recommended to anyone with a car worth over $3,000,” Arevalo says.
Insurance companies calculate the ACV as the replacement cost of an item, minus depreciation.
Comprehensive insurance will cover anything that happens to the vehicle that is outside of the driver’s control. These events are usually defined as an “acts of God or nature” in the fine print. The most common things covered by comprehensive insurance are: flooding, hail, fire, and vandalism.
What insurance covers items inside the stolen car?
If you have comprehensive insurance, this will cover the car, and the components and features that came pre-installed when you bought it.
In this situation, it’s important to file two claims: One with your auto insurance company and another with either your renters or homeowners insurance company.
What to do after an auto theft
Realizing your car is missing can be an anxiety-inducing event. But remaining calm will benefit you as you figure out what to do next.
Contact authorities right away and file a police report. Be sure to provide information such as the year, make, and model of your vehicle, along with its last known location and its VIN (vehicle identification number). Once the authorities have the necessary information, they will begin the search for the stolen car.
After contacting authorities, contact your auto insurance company. Even if your coverage doesn’t include vehicle theft, informing the insurance company that the car is missing can prevent you from being liable for any damages the car may incur by the thieves.
If you financed your car, meaning you make monthly payments on it, it is also recommended you call your lender and explain the situation.
How are you reimbursed for a stolen car?
Getting reimbursed for a stolen car can be a complicated process. Many insurance companies require a minimum waiting period of 30 days after the theft before finalizing the claim for the stolen vehicle, according to Arevalo.
If you experience car theft, you will have to deal with a total loss claim on your insurance. This means you will work with your insurance provider to agree on a figure (minus a deductible) to be paid out to you once the car is fully considered stolen.
To receive an accurate payout amount, provide any maintenance and repair receipts. This will help to justify upkeep and condition of your vehicle before it was stolen.
What happens if your car’s recovered after a claim
If your car is recovered after a claim, comprehensive coverage will still cover any damages incurred while it’s stolen.
When it comes to a total loss claim, however, things get more tricky. A total loss claim requires you to sign over the title of the missing vehicle to the insurance company — meaning if it’s eventually recovered, it won’t belong to you.
But if you haven’t spent the payout amount on a replacement vehicle, it might be as simple as returning the claim amount. Every situation is different, so you will have to work out something with your insurance provider.
Tips for preventing car theft
Car theft is frightening and can happen to anyone. But there are ways to prevent your vehicle from falling victim to theft.
“Besides the obvious tips on car theft prevention, such as keeping your doors locked and windows closed, and not leaving the car running, you should always park in well-lit areas,” Arevalo says.
Additionally, car owners should install anti-theft devices in their vehicles, like alarms. Some auto insurance companies even offer discounts for taking such preventative measure.
As for DiPaolo, she says the ordeal taught her more than just what her insurance covers. She no longer leaves her keys in her vehicle unattended.
“This incident made me more aware of my surroundings and not to be lazy or have excuses,” DiPaolo says. “I live in a nice and quiet neighborhood it could happen anywhere. Lesson learned — we got lucky!”