You went out to get into your car, keys in hand, and the space where you parked it was empty. You may feel helpless and outraged, but before you panic, gather all the information you have about your car so you can make a report immediately. Take a deep breath and try to stay calm. Report the theft to local police, your insurance company, and your finance company, if necessary. Convince yourself that stolen cars are recovered frequently. For example, the California Highway Patrol (CHP) reported that more than 95% of cars reported stolen in 2017, in that state, were recovered.
Method 1 of 3: Report to Local Police
Step 1. Find out if the car has been towed
Before reporting the theft of your car, make sure that it has actually been stolen. If you parked in a garage or parking lot, look for a sign that provides a number to call if the car has been towed.
- You can also call the local police depot to find out if your car is there.
- If you don't see any signs, ask the parking attendant, building manager, or an employee or resident of a nearby store if they saw your car being towed.
- If the car is being financed, check your payment history and contact the finance company to make sure the car has not been repossessed.
Step 2. Withdraw your permit if you lend the car to someone
If you loan someone the car and they don't return it as agreed, you usually can't immediately report the theft. You must first send the person a written notice stating that they no longer have a license to drive your car. You may not have to, as long as you both sign a document before lending the car, which indicates exactly when and where it should be returned by the person.
- Include a specific description of the car on the letter, indicating the make, model, year, color, license plate and vehicle identification number. Write: "Park the vehicle legally and notify me of its location so I can retrieve it." Don't tell them to give it back, as that implies a continuous license to drive the car.
- Add that if you do not recover your car on a specific date (for example, 24 hours from the receipt of the letter), you will report the theft of it. Some police departments have forms that you can use to make sure you have used the correct language and included all the necessary information.
- Send the letter by certified or registered mail with return receipt so you will know when the person received the letter. Only after that can you report the theft of the car.
- In some areas, you may have to wait up to 10 days after receiving the mail receipt to report the theft of the car, before law enforcement takes the report or investigates. You must also be willing to press charges against the person for auto theft.
Step 3. Gather information about your car
When you report the theft of the car, you will need the chassis number (VIN), the license plate number, and proof that you are the registered owner of the car, such as the vehicle title or a registration document. You will also need to provide your driver's license information.
- If you don't know the vehicle's chassis number, the insurance company can provide it. It can also appear on your insurance statement or in your online account information.
- Only a registered owner of a car can report its theft. If you routinely drive a car owned by someone else, contact that person to file the report.
Step 4. Take an inventory of the personal items you left in the car
If you had any personal items of value in your car when it was stolen, make a list of them. Even if the car is not recovered, some of these items can be found at pawn shops or thrift stores.
Include any personal items from the glove compartment, as well as anything that was in the trunk. If you have a roadside emergency kit, list that too. This one had tools that could be valuable to a thief
Step 5. Call the local police
In most cases, use a non-emergency police number to report a stolen car. If the robbery is in progress, or if you are stranded and feel like you are in immediate danger, use the emergency number instead.
- Tell the officer that your car has been stolen and provide the location where the car was last seen. Let the officer know of any efforts you have made to make sure the car was not towed or repossessed.
- Give the officer all the information you have about your car. Let him know if there are any distinctive features of the car, such as bumper stickers, tinted windows, or spare tires. If you have a GPS tracking system or other anti-theft device in your car, let the officer know.
Step 6. Get a copy of the written police report
The written report may not be immediately available, especially if you filed the report over the phone. The officer who took the report will let you know when and where to get a written copy. It will also give you a case number.
Bring your case number and photo ID with you when you go to pick up the police report. You may have to go to a local police station or central records office
Step 7. Follow up with additional information
If you learn anything about the car while the police are investigating, call the detective assigned to the case and let them know as soon as possible. They will update your police report and case file with the information.
For example, if a friend tells you they saw your car on the side of the road, find out the exact place where the car was seen and call the police. Do not try to go to the place and recover the car on your own, it may be a trap
Step 8. Contact the detective to check the status of the investigation
If the car is recovered, the detective will usually contact you and let you know where you can pick up the car. However, don't expect routine updates on the status of the case.
Don't overdo it and call the detective every day. Remember that you are likely working in many cases. Call him once or twice a week to verify the case. Be polite and be patient. Don't vent your frustrations on the detective, it won't do you any good
Method 2 of 3: Notify Insurance and Loan Companies
Step 1. Review the insurance policy
In most cases, auto insurance won't cover auto theft unless you have full coverage. If you haven't reviewed the policy in a long time, make sure you have comprehensive insurance and find out how much the deductible is.
- With full coverage, the insurance covers the full market value of the car, if it is not recovered, less the deductible. Some insurers offer replacement value. However, in most cases you will get the fair market value of your car on the date you made the claim, which will be less than what you paid for the car and may be less than what you currently owe (if you auto is financed).
- If your car is found, auto insurance will cover any damage it sustained during the theft, less the deductible.
Step 2. Report the theft to the auto insurance company immediately
Even if you have determined that the insurance policy does not cover theft, you should inform the insurance company that the car is no longer in your possession.
- If the car is involved in an accident, you may be liable for the damages if you do not report the stolen car to the insurance company.
- If you loan someone the car and they don't return it, call the insurance company even if you can't file a police report yet. Let them know that the person has detained your car without your permission and that it is no longer under your control. Explain why you cannot report it and the steps you have taken to get your car back.
Step 3. File a claim if you have full coverage
You can only file an insurance claim for a stolen car after the police report has been filed. Most auto insurers allow you to file a claim online or over the phone.
- If the insurance company has a mobile app, you may also be able to file a claim through the app.
- The claim adjuster will need a complete description of the car, as well as the names and contact information of anyone who has had access to the car. They will also want to know the location of all the car keys.
- Also, have the account and contact information for the finance company available. Some auto insurance companies will contact the finance company for you.
Step 4. Cooperate with the insurance company's investigation
If you file an insurance claim for a stolen car, don't be surprised if the insurance company transfers the claim to the fraud department and you become the number one suspect. Answer questions honestly and completely, and try not to be upset or offended by the appraisers who call.
- Keep a record of all the conversations you have with an insurance adjuster while your car is still missing. Write down the date and time of the call, as well as the name of the person you spoke to and what was said.
- If an appraiser asks for documents or information, provide them as soon as possible. Make a copy of each document you send to the insurance company and keep it with your records.
Step 5. File a claim with the renter's or homeowner's insurance company
If there were valuable personal items inside the car, such as a laptop, that loss may be covered by the renter's or homeowner's insurance policy.
Wait to file a claim until you are sure those items are missing. You will also need to check the policy. If the value of the stolen items is less than the deductible, it is best to replace them yourself
Step 6. Notify the finance company
If the car is financed or leased, notify the finance company that the car has been stolen. If you do not have comprehensive insurance, the insurance company cannot notify the finance company of the theft.
- When you first speak with the insurance company, ask them if you are responsible for notifying the finance company of the theft or if they will do it for you. Don't assume the insurance company is handling it, even if they take the information about your finance company.
- You may be struggling with the balance of payments if the car is not recovered and insurance does not cover it.
Method 3 of 3: Get the car back
Step 1. Contact the national authorities if the car is recovered in another country
Once the car crosses a national border, it becomes a matter for the national police as well as the local police. This is especially important if you are recovering the car yourself, as you can be stopped at the border.
- Notify the local police department as soon as your car is recovered. An officer may meet you at the border to process the recovery of the car.
- At the border, let border agents know that the car was reported stolen and has been recovered. Provide identification as well as proof of ownership to ensure that you are not being held longer than necessary, or that the car is not impounded.
Step 2. Recover the car from the police depot
If the police find your car, they will take it to the depot for processing. To get the car out of the depot, you will need to present proof of ownership and pay the deposit fees, which can be several hundred dollars.
- The detective who found your car will give you the phone number of the depot where it was towed. Give them a call ahead of time and find out how much you owe in towing and impounding expenses and what payment methods are accepted.
- Ask if the car is drivable. If not, you may have to arrange for a tow truck to meet you at the depot, so they can take the car to a mechanic.
Step 3. Let the insurance company know that the car has been repossessed
As soon as you know from the detective that the car has been recovered, call the claim adjuster. They will update the claim and let you know what you need to do if the car is damaged.
Typically, the insurance company will tell you to take the car to a mechanic for an inspection, even if it doesn't seem like there's anything wrong with it. Take it to the mechanic, otherwise you may end up paying out of pocket if a problem occurs later, even if it occurred as a result of damage from the theft
Step 4. Look inside the car carefully
Use a flashlight and search the entire interior of the car, between and under the seats, and in all storage compartments. Look for items that do not belong to you, that may be evidence of another crime.
If you find something that doesn't belong to you, notify the police immediately. Do not touch or move it, and do not move the car until the police come and process the evidence
Step 5. Get an estimate for the repairs
Even if there doesn't appear to be any damage to the car, it's a good idea to take it to a mechanic for an inspection. There may be damaged parts that will not affect the operation of the car until later.
- The mechanics will thoroughly inspect the car and give you a written estimate of the repairs to be made. If you are paying for the repairs yourself, you can choose what you want to do now and what you want to save for later. The mechanic will tell you what repairs need to be done immediately.
- When repairs come out of your own pocket, you may want to get more than one quote to make sure you're getting the best deal.
- If the repairs are covered by insurance, check the budget and be honest about any problems the car had before the accident. For example, if your mechanic has listed scratch repair on a door paint, but you know the scratches have been there for months, let him know that this is not a part of your insurance claim. It may seem like a minor thing, but letting insurance pay to repair something that was not part of your claim is committing insurance fraud.