Auto theft: When 'it would never happen to me' happens to you

It's a nightmare scenario. You leave a restaurant and discover your car isn't where you parked it. It's been stolen. Now what do you do?  In addition to dealing with law enforcement, you also must deal with a rash of insurance questions.
What to do
Your first step after your car is stolen, according to GEICO, should be to contact law enforcement. You'll be asked to fill out a stolen vehicle report. Not only is this report necessary to help find your car, but it's also a crucial part of your insurance claim.
Your next step should be to report the theft to your insurer. Comprehensive coverage is the kind of auto insurance protection you'd need to cover a stolen car -- it's optional, and you need to opt in when you sign up for coverage. Basic liability insurance won't cover theft.
If you lack comprehensive coverage, you're not alone. According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), only about 30 percent of the cars stolen in 2010 had the right coverage. That means that many vehicle owners are "left holding the bag with no car and no money to buy another one," NICB President Joe Wehrle says.
Even if you lack comprehensive coverage, your insurance company will want to know about the theft anyway, according to GEICO, in case the thief causes damage with your vehicle. Provide as much information as you can, including the location of all your vehicle's keys, a description of your car (including service records, mileage and upgrades), a list of property that was taken along with your vehicle (like laptops and jewelry) and the names and numbers of everyone who had access to your vehicle.
Misconceptions about auto theft
In an ideal world, you could make your vehicle theft-proof. But that's virtually impossible, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Seasoned car thieves aren't easily deterred and can easily disable security systems.
Here are some car theft myths that thieves prove false every day:

  • Your car is safest if it's at home: In fact, more thefts occur at residences than occur in parking lots, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Vehicles stolen from alleys and roads actually are the least common of all car thefts.
  • Stolen vehicles often are recovered: About half of stolen vehicles are found, but the chances decrease with each day the car is missing, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Even if you do get it back, the damage may be so severe that your car is considered totaled by your auto insurance company.
  • Thieves are interested only in new, fancy cars: Older models are among the most commonly stolen, according to NICB. The most stolen vehicle in the United States in 2009 was the Honda Accord (1994). The Honda Civic (1995), Toyota Camry (1991), Ford F-150 Pickup (1997), Dodge Ram Pickup (2004), Dodge Caravan (2000), Chevrolet full-size pickup (1994), Acura Integra (1994), Ford Explorer (2002) and Toyota Corolla (2009) rounded out the list of commonly stolen vehicles.

Now for the good news: Vehicle theft appears to be on the decline. According to NICB, car thefts dropped more than 17 percent between 2009 and 2010.

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