By the end of September, more than 745,000 cars had been stolen in 2022, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NCIB). This shows an increase of 24 percent from the same timeframe in 2019 and the highest instance of stolen cars since 2008. The NCIB states that the holiday season in the last quarter of the year typically shows a rise in auto thefts, which could push the yearly total over 1 million.

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And because of the limitations car insurance has on vehicle theft relating to personal items stolen from a vehicle, these figures do not include car break-ins. Whether car insurance covers theft depends on your coverage and policy details. Knowing your coverage, understanding your options and learning what to do if you are a victim of theft may help you prevent this type of crime and know how you’re covered (or not covered) if it happens.

Does car insurance cover car theft?

Car insurance covers car theft, but only if you have comprehensive coverage in place before the vehicle is stolen. Comprehensive insurance pays for vandalism, vehicle theft, broken windows or windshields, weather events and encounters with an animal. The coverage typically has a deductible that the policyholder is responsible for paying, so it’s important to consider what out-of-pocket costs you are comfortable with if a claim were to happen.

It might be worthwhile to pay for comprehensive coverage, even if you carry a higher deductible, if you cannot afford to repair or replace your vehicle if a theft occurs. Although your cost of car insurance may be higher, the broader coverage can offset the out-of-pocket costs you could face if your car is stolen. You may also consider purchasing gap insurance if you have a new vehicle with a loan or lease. This coverage will pay the difference between your loan amount and the depreciated value of your car, which is determined at the time of a claim. It may be helpful coverage for you if your vehicle is stolen and unable to be found.

Does car insurance cover items stolen from your car?

The type of policy you have, the coverage you choose and your insurance company will determine if your car insurance will cover items stolen from your car. Typically, your comprehensive coverage covers permanently installed items if they are stolen from your car, such as:

  • Radios
  • TVs in the headrests
  • Navigation system
  • Custom wheels (additional limits may apply)
  • Vehicle battery
  • Catalytic converter

If you have aftermarket items installed in your car, like rims, a stereo or a custom paint job, you may want to consider custom parts and equipment coverage. Companies like Progressive offer this optional endorsement, but be prepared to provide details and receipts at the company’s request.

Items not permanently installed, like clothes, a laptop, a cell phone or a camera left in the vehicle, are not covered by your auto insurance, unless the company offers special coverage that you add to your policy before the incident occurs. For example, Erie offers personal items coverage, which will pay up to $350 for personal items stolen from the vehicle. Without this type of coverage — which is rarely offered — your home or renters insurance policy would cover these items stolen from your vehicle, subject to that policy’s deductible. It is worth noting that if someone damages your vehicle while breaking into it, like busting out a window to get to your personal items, damages to your vehicle would still be covered by comprehensive coverage in most scenarios.

What to do if you are a victim of theft

If you are a victim of theft, there are steps to take, whether your car has been stolen or your vehicle was broken into and personal items were stolen. Here’s what you should do in either scenario.

If your vehicle has been stolen

The first thing you should do if your vehicle has been stolen is rule out any of these possible scenarios first:

  • Is it possible the vehicle was towed after being parked illegally?
  • Could the car have been repossessed by a lienholder?
  • Could the vehicle have been impounded for another reason?

If none of these scenarios are relevant, call the police and report the theft. Be prepared to provide vehicle information, such as the VIN, license plate number, identifying characteristics like existing damage and the color, make and model of the car. If you have it available, you will want the police report number and a copy of the report when you file a claim with your car insurance company.

When you file the claim, you should have the report information, details on where and when the vehicle was stolen and any tracking device information handy, like OnStar or LoJack. Tracking information should also be reported to the police to aid in getting your vehicle recovered.

If your personal items have been stolen

If you’ve had personal items stolen, you may want to contact your auto insurer to see if you have coverage. If not, you might need to check your renters insurance or homeowners insurance to see about coverage. Remember, which policy would cover the claim depends on whether the stolen items were considered permanently installed or not, or if your auto insurance has extra personal property coverage built into your policy.

Discuss any deductible you must meet after filing a claim and if there are coverage limitations on specific items. Most property insurance policies have limitations depending on the items stolen, like jewelry or cameras. In cases where you have these items, considering scheduled personal property coverage may help further avoid coverage gaps.

How to prevent the theft of a vehicle or personal items

There are ways to help prevent the risk of theft of your vehicle or personal items, whether the car is parked in your driveway or a parking lot overnight. Besides not leaving items in plain sight (or in your car at all), here are some ways to prevent car theft:

  • Park in well-lit areas or under a street light
  • Park in a locked or security-manned garage
  • Place a spotlight or motion-activated light over your driveway
  • Buy a car with a vehicle recovery system or have one installed
  • Install an audible or visible alarm device
  • Keep the doors locked at all times and activate the alarm using your key fob, if applicable
  • Roll up windows and never leave the key or fob in or around the vehicle

Certain theft-prevention measures, like an anti-theft device or parking the vehicle in a locked garage, may also save you money on your car insurance policy. In addition to reducing the risk of filing a theft claim and increasing your premium, you may earn a discount for having these preventative measures. Ask your insurance agent or company what anti-theft discounts might be available to you.