Most Americans tend to rely on personal vehicles, rather than public transportation, to get from point A to point B. With nearly 6 million cars sold each year in the United States, it’s no surprise that the majority of teens will obtain their driver’s licenses as soon as possible. More often than not, U.S. adults wouldn’t even consider forgoing vehicle ownership.
So it can be particularly devastating when you head out to leave for work, school, or a social engagement and discover that your car isn’t where you left it. It’s not that you’ve forgotten where you parked, either. Unfortunately, your car’s been stolen.
It might be your worst nightmare, particularly if you keep valuables or irreplaceable items in your car’s interior. While up to 20% of all insurance claims are related to water damage of some kind, vehicle theft is sometimes a problem that cannot be fixed. Worse yet, a purloined vehicle might be more common than you think — especially if you live in certain areas. Last year, there were an estimated 748,841 vehicle thefts throughout the United States.
The metro area with the most stolen vehicles in 2018 was Albuquerque, with a theft rate of 780.2 vehicles per 100,000 residents. Rounding out the top five cities with the highest vehicle rates were Anchorage, Alaska; Bakersfield, California; Pueblo, Colorado; and Modesto, California. By far, California had the greatest number of vehicle theft-ridden cities, with 15 metro areas within the top 40 list compiled by the National Insurance Crime Bureau. Nearly all of the metro areas listed are located in the southern or western portions of the United States — and, not surprisingly, most areas listed also have higher rates of other property crimes.
Although the average vehicle will have three owners in its lifetime, most of us don’t expect to give up ownership unwillingly. And while the Dodge Charger HEMI, Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat, Infiniti Q50 and QX80, and GMC Sierra 1500 top the list of most frequently stolen vehicles in the nation, the reality is that any car can be taken without your consent or knowledge. Of course, parking in well-lit areas, installing alarm systems and vehicle tracking devices, and locking your steering wheel can keep your car from being stolen in the first place. But failing that, there are a few steps you should always take.
First, you’ll want to call the police and file a report. You’ll need this stolen vehicle report in order to file any kind of insurance claim. It’s best to provide law enforcement with as much information as possible, including the car’s make and model, year, color, VIN and license plate number, any identifying characteristics, and GPS information, if applicable. You’ll then want to contact your car insurance company. If you have a comprehensive car insurance policy, you’ll be covered — but even if you don’t, you’ll still need to let your insurer know your vehicle was stolen. That way, you’ll be protected if property is damaged or someone becomes injured after your car has been taken. Make sure that all details are consistent between this insurance claim and your police report, as your insurer will likely launch an investigation to make sure everything lines up before paying out for a stolen vehicle. And if your car is leased or you have some sort of financing set up, you’ll also need to notify the company; in most cases, the insurer will pay the lender so that you won’t still be responsible for making payments on your stolen vehicle.
If you have any valuables in your car, you might want to file separate claims for these items. The three most-valuable commodities shipped in the U.S. include machinery, electronics, and other vehicles. While you’re probably not shipping warehouse materials, your laptop, GPS, and other electronic devices might be covered by insurance.
Although you have some control over where you park (and where you live), you may not always be able to stop vehicle theft despite your best efforts. To minimize loss, make it a habit to keep no valuable items in your car, purchase comprehensive car insurance, and invest in security features that could drive thieves away. And if your vehicle is stolen, make sure to follow the steps outlined above to make the process go as smoothly as possible. Although these events can feel violating, thinking ahead and being prepared can make them a bit less devastating.