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What to do if your car is broken into

Fact-checked with HomeInsurance.com

    Article Highlights

    It’s a terrible scenario: You go to your car and you find that one of its windows has been smashed. Glass is littered across your seats and the ground. Your first thought might be, “someone broke into my car, what do I do now?” The first thing to do is remain calm. The steps you take after a car vandalism event can make all the difference. Here’s what to do when your car gets broken into in five simple steps:

    Step 1: File a police report

    Before you do anything, contact the police to file a police report. Don’t touch the vehicle just yet and avoid going through the interior, just in case police officers and investigators would like to examine the car for evidence. In some cases, the police may instruct you to drive the car to the closest precinct to file a report. 

    To file a report, you’ll need to provide your driver’s license, vehicle registration, information about your vehicle insurance and a list of the stolen items with a price estimate. After you file the report, request a copy. You’ll need it if you plan on filing an auto insurance claim. 

    Step 2: Gather evidence

    Take photos of the damage to your car. Write down the date and time you found the vandalism or damage. Note how long the car was parked in the location. Make a list of items that were in the vehicle that are missing or damaged. Find receipts or photos for the stolen items, if possible, to prove to your insurance company that you owned them. Create a small file with your notes, missing items and police report. 

    Step 3: Protect your identity

    If your wallet or purse was stolen from inside your car, you’ll need to secure your personal information right away. If the vehicle’s registration is missing or any documents displaying your name, home address, date of birth or any other sensitive information were taken, protecting your identity should be your next priority — identity thieves can do a lot of damage with just a few key pieces of information.

    To protect your identity:

    • If credit cards, debit cards or checks were stolen, contact your card companies and bank immediately to freeze your accounts.
    • Notify your health insurance company if your health insurance card is gone.
    • Place an online fraud alert through one of the three credit reporting agencies to freeze your credit for 90 days. It’s free to do and once you place one, the credit bureau will notify the other two agencies. 

    Step 4: Weigh your insurance options

    Once you file a police report and have a detailed list of what’s missing, you may be able to file an insurance claim. The part of an auto insurance policy that pays for car vandalism is called comprehensive coverage, and is sometimes referred to as “other than collision” coverage. Not everyone has comprehensive coverage to cover vandalism since it’s optional car insurance which costs extra

    If you have comprehensive coverage on your vehicle, you’ll have to pay your deductible first before your insurance company pays the remainder of the bill. Depending on the cost of the repair, your deductible may exceed the damage. Plus, your auto insurance may go up after filing a claim. Before turning in a claim, get an estimate for the damages and talk with your agent to determine if the damage amount is worth filing a claim for. It may be advantageous to pay for the damages out of pocket.

    Your car insurance isn’t likely to provide coverage for items stolen from a vehicle; that coverage would come from your homeowners or renters insurance. As with your car coverage, decide on whether the cost to repair or replace the damaged or stolen property are worth filing a home insurance claim, paying a deductible and risking your insurance premiums going up in the future.

    Step 5: Fix your vehicle

    Get your window replaced and damages repaired as soon as possible. You may want to get a few quotes to choose the most reasonable body shop. While you are waiting for estimates, have a body shop put a temporary repair on the window, usually a tarp, to prevent interior damage. If you filed a claim, your insurer may limit what body shop you can use and request preapproval of the repair cost and scope of work. 

    Ways to deter theft

    Hindsight is 20/20, they say, so it’s best to take precautions. It’s never too late to prevent your car being broken into in the first place. Consider the following ideas to lower the risk:

    1. Park your car in a secured garage and off the street. This step will make it harder for thieves to find — and break into — your vehicle.
    2. Always lock your car and roll up your windows. Some people forget, or think it’s unnecessary to lock your car, but leaving a vehicle open is an invitation for trouble.
    3. Test your car alarms. The sound of a car alarm may be a nuisance, but that’s the point. It alerts others that there’s something going on. It may be enough to scare off someone trying to break into your car, so test your alarm frequently to ensure it’s working.
    4. Don’t leave items in your car where they can be seen. The simplest step to prevent car break-ins is by hiding any valuables from view or taking them with you. 
    5. Park in a busy, well-lit area. If you can’t park in a secured garage, the next best option may be under a street lamp or on a well-lit street. If you’re out running errands, parking on a busy street with open businesses and stores is safer than on a quiet side street.
    6. Carry insurance with comprehensive coverage. If someone does break into your car, having comprehensive coverage on your auto insurance policy can take some of the financial worry off your mind.

    The takeaway

    • Comprehensive car insurance is optional coverage, but it is the coverage that pays for the damages caused by car vandalism and theft.
    • Some homeowners insurance and renters policies will pay for replacement of goods stolen from your car.
    • You’ll need a police report and a list of stolen items to file an insurance claim.
    • Weigh whether you should file an insurance claim if your car is broken into — your insurance may go up after you file a claim.
    • Prevent vehicle break ins by keeping valuables out of sight and being careful of where you park. 

    Vehicle break-ins happen. Full auto insurance coverage including comprehensive insurance can step in to pay for your car vandalism or theft incident. Knowing what to do when your car gets broken into can help you get the car repaired quickly and get reimbursement for your losses.

    Cynthia Paez Bowman


    Cynthia splits her time between Los Angeles, CA and San Sebastian, Spain. She travels to Africa and the Middle East regularly to consult with women’s NGOs about small business development.

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