If you’ve been a victim of car theft, you’re not alone – having a vehicle stolen can be a very upsetting experience. And car thefts, which declined in recent years, are on the rise.

According to the most recent data from the Insurance Information Institute, 810,400 vehicles were stolen in 2020, which represents the highest annual number of vehicles stolen since 2008. Prior to 2020, vehicle thefts had been trending downward for two decades.

So what’s the best course of action if your car is stolen? And what should you do in the days and weeks following the theft to ensure your car insurance claim is handled properly?

Key Highlights
  • If your car is stolen then immediately contact the police and file a stolen vehicle report. Later report the theft to your car insurance company as well.
  • If the stolen vehicle is financed or leased, you will also need to report the theft to your finance or leasing company.
  • You should keep your liability insurance for at least 30 days after the car is stolen.
  • If your car is never found or is totaled by the car thief your car insurance company will pay out the actual cash value.
  • To avoid theft when a vehicle is purchased make sure that it has an anti-theft device or an alarm system if not present you can buy aftermarket anti-theft devices for your automobile.

What to do when your car is stolen?

Contact the police immediately and file a stolen vehicle report

Most insurance companies cannot process a claim for vehicle theft unless you first file a police report. Make sure you are diligent and proactive with your local law enforcement agency so you can try to recover your car.

Report the theft to your car insurance company

Even if you do not have comprehensive auto insurance, which covers vehicle thefts, you should still notify your carrier of any stolen vehicles immediately. Notifying your car insurance carrier of the vehicle theft could help protect you if the thief causes any damage using your car.

When you contact your insurance company, try to have as many of the following items available as possible:

  • Certificate of title for the vehicle and/or loan/lease paperwork.
  • Auto insurance policy number.
  • Location of all keys to the vehicle before and after the theft.
  • Names and contact information of everyone who had access to the vehicle.
  • A description of your vehicle, including mileage, options and service records — if you have receipts for any upgrades or maintenance, have these available as well.
  • A list of any personal property stolen with your vehicle. Coverage for personal items varies from state to state, and your homeowners or renters insurance policy may provide additional coverage for personal items that were stolen.
  • Any finance or leasing company contact information and your account number, if applicable.

A stolen vehicle is financed or leased

If the stolen vehicle is financed or leased, report the theft to your finance or leasing company. To expedite your claim process, inform your finance or leasing company to discuss the case directly with your insurance company.

Inform insurance claim adjuster

If the police recover your vehicle, make sure to notify your insurance company’s claims adjuster immediately. This will help in quickly resolving your claim.

Check your coverage

If you don’t have comprehensive coverage, you should see if your policy will cover you for rental car coverage.

Should I cancel my insurance policy when my car is stolen?

No, keep your liability insurance for at least 30 days after the car is stolen.

Here’s why:

  • The police may recover it and return it to you in the same condition it was in before and you won’t want to have to start a new policy just to drive it.
  • Most car insurance companies will extend your liability coverage to a rental car if you’ll be using one.
  • If you end up without a car for an extended period of time, you can transition your current policy to a non-owner car insurance policy (car insurance for licensed drivers who don’t own a car, but drive other cars occasionally). This means that you’d retain continuous coverage as a driver, avoiding a lapse in insurance, which could lead to lower rates down the road.

Am I liable for the stolen car?

Typically, you won’t be held liable for your car after it’s been stolen. If the thief gets in a wreck, for example, that damage won’t be attributed to your car insurance policy.

However, many states have laws in place that penalize you for negligence that led to the theft. You can be ticketed if you’re caught leaving your car unlocked, leaving it running or leaving keys inside the car.

Worse yet, it’s possible to have claims filed against you if your car was stolen due to your negligence and the thief caused damage while driving your car.

In cases such as this, the insurance company will pay our liability claims up to your limits, and you can expect to see higher car insurance rates in the future.

If the car is not recovered, how much will I receive for it?

Your car insurance company will pay out the actual cash value, or ACV, if your car is never found or is totaled by the car thief. The actual cash value is what your car would have sold for on the open market just before the theft.

This can be a controversial or upsetting part of having a car stolen because you may receive less than the Kelley Blue Book value and certainly won’t receive money back for recent repairs, upgrades or sentimental value.

How to avoid a theft?

Have an anti-theft device or alarm system on the car

When a vehicle is purchased make sure that it has an anti-theft device or an alarm system.

Always lock the car doors

Lock the doors even if you are entering your residence to grab that one item that you forgot to take on your way out the door. Theft can happen in a matter of seconds.

Keep your windows up

Your vehicle windows should always be up when no one is in the vehicle. Having the doors locked will not help you if the windows are left down. With the windows up and the doors locked, you will prevent personal belongings and even the car itself from being stolen.

Do not leave personal items in the car in plain sight

Never leave property inside of an unattended vehicle. Thieves will break into your automobile for purses, shopping bags, backpacks and any number of other items.

And once a thief is in the car for these items they might also find any important documents or credit cards you left in the vehicle. Once they have broken into the car, they may steal the car itself.

Do not leave the car keys in the ignition

Sometimes when we are in a hurry, we might forget and leave the keys in the ignition. If you do this, you are making it way too easy for the thief to steal your vehicle.

Get your windows tinted

If possible, have your vehicle windows tinted. With tinted windows, it should be more obvious to any bystander if a stranger is going to break into your car.

The thief will have to try and peer into the car to figure out how to break in and that is the normal stance of a person who owns a car. Also having tinted windows makes it harder for a possible thief to see which belongings you have in the car.

Get an aftermarket anti-theft device

To have extra protection, you can go to an auto parts store and buy an anti-theft device that you can use in your automobile. For these types of devices, you do not need professional installations. The most popular is the device that locks around your steering wheel.

Do not leave a vehicle running and unattended

Never leave a car running unattended – not even for a second. We sometimes stop at a gas station to grab something and pay for it real quick and that is making it extra easy for the thief to drive off in your car.

So, even if you are just running into a store for two minutes, turn off your car and take your keys with you.

Do not leave a spare key where a thief can find it

It is very common for one to have a spare key under the car, this is not recommended. Too many people have used this trick to prevent locking themselves out of their car. Thieves are smart and know where to look for that extra key.

So, you might get locked out of your car but if you leave that spare key under your car you could end up losing your whole vehicle.

Park in public places with plenty of light

Make sure to park your car in a lighted area if at all possible. Park in a place where your car is visual to the public. The more eyes that are on it, the more difficult it will be for a thief to do anything to it.

A car is more likely to get stolen if it is parked in a dark area where a thief can slink up to the car than if in a well-lit area that’s more visible.

– Michelle Megna contributed to this story.


  1. Insurance Information Institute represents the highest annual number of vehicles stolen in 2020
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Executive Editor

Laura is an award-winning editor with experience in content and communications covering auto insurance and personal finance. She has written for several media outlets, including the USA Today Network. She most recently worked in the public sector for the Nevada Department of Transportation.