What to do if someone steals your car

Thieves take off with a car every 10 minutes in Australia. Here’s how to keep your car safe, what to do if someone steals it and how your car insurance can help.

Of the 52,000 cars stolen throughout Australia in the last financial year, more than 70% were recovered. You can increase the chances that you get your car back just by following a few simple steps as soon as you notice it’s gone.

The good news is that car insurance should cover you if someone steals your car, and might even replace it with a brand new shiny one.

car parked on roadsides

What to do if someone steals your car

So it really happened. Someone took off with your car. Although it can feel scary, now is the time to pull yourself together and think as clearly as possible. You’ll need to have your wits about you so you can help out with the investigation and increase the chances that you’ll get your car back in one piece. Here are the steps you need to follow:

  1. Call the police. When you get your bearings, call the police right away so they can send an alert out to local cruisers who can keep their eye out for your vehicle. As you wait for police to arrive, ask around to see if anyone nearby noticed anything strange. When the police arrive, they’ll help you file a stolen car report so make sure to give them your car’s make, model, vehicle identification number (VIN) and licence plate number. Tell them about any important or valuable belongings you had inside the car, as well as any information you received from local witnesses.
  2. Call your insurance company. You need to let your insurance company know about the theft right away so that they aren’t caught off-guard if the thief causes an accident with it. It also helps them start the claims process, which is helpful especially if you have a policy that offers you a temporary replacement vehicle. They’ll want a copy of the police report, so make sure to give that to them as soon as it is ready.
  3. Contact your lender. If you owe money on the car, you will need to let the lender know. In many cases, your insurance will pay the claim to them rather than to you so it’s more efficient if they communicate with each other directly instead of through you.
  4. Think about what else was in the car. If you had other important items in the car like credit cards and keys, call your bank to cancel any credit or debit cards, and call a locksmith to change the keys to your home.
  5. Do some snooping. There are quite a few resources online that can help you find your vehicle. If your car is registered in Australia, you can search the Australian Personal Property Security Register using your car’s VIN number. This can help you identify if it has shown up at any repair shops or has been involved in any accidents. You can also check the classifieds to see if anyone is trying to sell it.
  6. Start thinking about a replacement. If your car doesn’t turn up or if it comes back badly damaged, it may be time to start looking for something new. Your insurance policy may help with the replacement, depending on the level of cover you choose and the structure of your policy.

How car insurance can help with a stolen car

Car insurance can be a lifesaver when your car is stolen, but you’ll need to have a third-party fire and theft or a comprehensive policy. Both of these policies cover theft in largely the same way, with a few small differences that we’ll touch on later. For now, both of these policies will usually help out with the following:

  • Paying for emergency accommodation and transport if you are stranded
  • Towing your car if it is damaged when found
  • Getting you a hire car while your car is missing or undriveable
  • Paying for repairs if your car is damaged but not totalled
  • Paying you for a totalled car (or one that is never found) based on whatever value you agreed on with the insurer when you bought your policy

A comprehensive policy will offer a few extra perks including:

  • Paying for replacement keys
  • Paying for the contents in your car (up to a certain amount)
  • Paying for a brand new car of the same make and model even if your car had dropped in value (but usually only if the stolen car was brand new when you bought it and it was stolen within a certain amount of time after purchase)

Preventing car theft

They say prevention is better than cure and it’s as true for car theft as it is for your health. If you can prevent your car from being stolen, you can avoid lots of headaches – literally and figuratively.

Here are some steps you can take to reduce the chances of someone taking off with your car:

car locked Lock your car. It sounds simple but it’s really the easiest way to prevent someone stealing your car. All cars after 2001 are required to have immobilisers that make it impossible for thieves to hotwire your car. But if you have an older car, all that’s standing between the thief and the ignition is the car door. If you lock it, that’s one more obstacle in the thief's way and it may just be enough to send them on to the next car instead. Didn’t lock your car? Your chances of being able to claim on your car insurance are slim to none.

car key Keep your keys safe. If your car was built after 2001, it’s practically impossible for a thief to steal it without the keys. So make sure you keep your keys safe and know where all the extra sets are. Whatever you do, don’t hide them in one of those magnetic boxes under the frame of your car, on top of your tyre or in your glovebox. It even pays to keep your keys well hidden when they are inside your home, because home burglaries are another popular way for thieves to get hold of them.

car park Park somewhere safe. Whenever possible, park somewhere well lit and well populated. Other safe spots include near building entrances, near security cameras and near parking attendants.

car alarm Install an anti-theft device. There are all sorts of devices that prevent theft in different ways or at the very least, help you get your car back if someone steals it. These include steering wheel locks that prevent the steering wheel from turning, wheel clamps (or “boots”) that keep the tyre from turning, GPS systems that help police track down stolen cars and alarms to scare off thieves and alert others that something is wrong.

hand bag Don’t tempt thieves. Your car becomes even more of a target if thieves can see that there are valuable items in it. This includes your purse, shopping bags, sunglasses, expensive dashcams and laptops. Hide these out of sight, or even better, take them with you.

speedometer Don’t leave your car running if you’re not in it. This may sound obvious, but people still do it. Turn the ignition off and take your keys with you, even if all you are doing is popping out to toss some letters in the mailbox. All it takes is a few seconds for a thief to spot an opportunity and take it.

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