Are personal items in your car covered by insurance?

Chris Kissell

Few Americans can resist the call of the open road. We drive everywhere and often take valuables with us.

But what happens when you hit a bump and an improperly secured piece of luggage flies off the roof and into a river? What if a thief breaks into your car while you’re inside a grocery store and steals a treasured suit or your iPod?

If you expect auto insurance to pick up the tab to replace such items, think again. 

“Most auto insurance policies do not cover theft of personal items from the car,” says Pete Moraga, a spokesman for the nonprofit Insurance Information Network of California.

Auto insurance policies also do not reimburse you for personal items that are lost or destroyed as the result of an accident, he says.

However, your car insurance will cover items attached to the car, such as a car stereo, GPS device or expensive wheel rims, Moraga says

Homeowner’s insurance to the rescue

If you own a home, you may have better luck being reimbursed for stolen or damaged valuables, according to Lynne McChristian, Florida representative for the nonprofit Insurance Information Institute.

“Your homeowner’s or renter’s policy covers your personal items wherever they may be – in your car or in another part of the world,” she says.

To learn what’s covered, look at the “Coverage C – Personal Property” section of your home or renter’s policy, she says.

“You’ll find what is covered, and learn if there are limits or exclusions,” McChristian says.

Although homeowner’s or renter’s insurance provides some coverage, do not assume that all your possessions are insured fully.

Some insurers limit coverage for personal items that are stolen or damaged anywhere outside the home to 10 percent of the total insurance you carry for personal belongings, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

So talk to your insurance agency or company and make sure you’re fully covered. This is particularly important if you frequently keep expensive items in your car, such as jewelry or furs. The Insurance Information Institute says such items typically are covered only up to a maximum of $2,000.

Moraga says that if you carry around such expensive personal items, you may need to pay a little more and buy a “floater,” which provides extra coverage.

Tips to prevent break-ins

One of the best ways to avoid the hassle of replacing stolen items is to make sure they never go missing in the first place. Nationwide Insurance offers the following tips for lowering the risk of a car break-in:

• Park in well-lit areas where people are around and your car is visible.
• Lock doors, windows and sunroofs.
• Activate your car alarm. Also, consider anti-theft devices such as steering-wheel or brake-pedal locks.
• Keep valuables out of sight by carrying them with you or by securing them in the trunk. Do this before you reach your destination so thieves don’t see you.

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