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Car theft – how to avoid it, and what to do if it happens to you

Amy Smith
Amy Smith
Updated 11 September 2020  | 4 min read

How it feels to have your car stolen

According to 20% of drivers in the UK, having your car stolen is one of the worst things that you can experience[1]. Here are some tips for keeping your car safe from theft and what to do if it’s stolen.

Key points

  • Keyless car theft - using a device to trick the keyless system into unlocking your car – is on the rise
  • If your car is missing, check the area you left it in and find out whether it could have been towed by the local authority. If you’re sure it’s been stolen call the police and after you’re given a crime reference number, inform your insurer
  • What you’re covered for if your car is stolen varies between policies
  • You can get a signal-blocking pouch or bag to help protect your keys

The emotional impact of having your car stolen

With nearly half (44%) of UK drivers admitting they’re ‘in love’ with their cars[1], the theft of your vehicle could have a dire emotional and financial impact.

In fact, according to GoCompare research[1], 69% of motorists feel worried about the rise in car crime.

The impact is so far reaching that two in five (42%) of UK drivers admit feeling more stress and suffering real-life heartache following a car theft, than from being dumped or losing a pet[1].

Considering the number of motor theft claims has risen[2] - particularly when it comes to keyless car crime – it’s worth learning more about car theft, what can be done to prevent it and how it could impact your car insurance so you can better protect yourself and your treasured car.

What is keyless car theft?

Keyless car theft involves thieves using a legal signalling device to trick the keyless system into unlocking your car. This way, thieves don’t even need to break into your home or damage the vehicle to take it.

You can reduce the risk of keyless car theft by parking your car in a well-lit area and keeping the keys hidden away from windows and doors. It could also help if you turn off or block your keys’ signal when not in use – you can get a signal blocking bag or pouch for that.

Keyless car theft is a serious issue, and we are looking at ways we can help motorists innovatively combat keyless car crime - watch this space for something pretty exciting coming in the next few weeks.
Ian Rowlands, Director of Insurance, GoCompare

What to do if your car's been stolen

If you suspect your car's been taken, here are the steps you should follow:

1. Call the police

The Police National Computer (PNC) will be updated and the police will give you a crime reference number, which you’ll need when you contact your car insurance provider. You’ll need to tell the police the registration number, make, model and colour of the vehicle, as well as details of any personal belongings that were inside it.

2. Call your insurer

Once you have a crime number, contact your insurer and give them all the information they need to start your claim.

Insurance claims after a theft

Need-to-knows

  • Most car insurance companies won’t cover claims where the keys were left in or around the vehicle
  • If there are no signs of a break in, your insurer might assume you weren’t careful with your keys
  • Your insurer might also claim you haven’t taken enough care to secure your car
  • If your car insurance claim is rejected and you don’t agree, you can dispute the decision. Get as much evidence as you can to prove your case
  • Expect your insurance premiums to go up next year if your car is stolen and you make a claim

You must provide accurate information, otherwise it could slow the claims process down or invalidate your insurance.

What you’re covered for when your car is stolen, whether it’s found or not, varies between policies.

Hire cars

If you have to use a hire car while your claim is processed, your insurer doesn’t have to pay for it unless you’ve got rental car reimbursement cover. Even then, the amount you’re covered for will be limited.

Personal possessions

You can claim compensation if you had personal possessions in the car that haven’t been recovered, so long as it’s included on your car insurance.

Alternatively, you could claim on your home insurance if you’ve got cover for your possessions away from home. But you can’t claim on both.

Carjacking

If you’re injured while your car is stolen, and have carjacking cover, it’ll compensate you for any injuries you or other passengers sustain during the crime.

It’s not a common feature though. We checked Defaqto and 87% of 345 comprehensive car insurance policies didn’t offer cover for medical expenses or trauma counselling specifically for carjacking incidents.[3]

Your insurer won’t pay out if you know the attacker, did anything to trigger the attack or if you assaulted the other party, even in self-defence.

There’d need to be a reference to the incident in your police report for your insurer to consider covering these damages.

Paying the excess

When you take out car insurance, it comes with an excess. This is an amount of money you’ll need to pay if you claim.

If your car is stolen and you make a claim for theft, you’ll usually need to pay the excess immediately. Then your insurer will investigate your claim and progress from there.

When you buy car insurance with us, we’ll give you £250 free excess cover[4]. So, you’d pay your excess as normal and then we’ll refund up to £250 of it once your claim's settled.

If your car's found

If your car's found, tell your insurer immediately. But don’t drive it away. You won’t know if the car’s damaged, unsafe to drive, or has been used to commit another crime.

The police will arrange for a company to recover your car. You’ll have to pay a fee for it - usually around £150, but it depends on the vehicle and how difficult the recovery is.

Once the vehicle is recovered, the PNC, DVLA, HPI and other relevant databases are updated, and the car's record is marked as stolen and recovered.

The details shouldn't appear on the HPI check or affect the sale price of your car. But it will appear on the Motor Insurance Anti Fraud and Theft Register (MIAFTR), so insurers might take it into consideration when calculating your premium.

Your insurer will assess the car and decide if it needs repair or if it's a write-off. You can then claim back the recovery fee too, if it's covered by your policy.

If your car is only minimally damaged, your claim should be settled quickly, but it could take longer for heavily damaged cars.

Either way, your insurer needs to make a reasonable offer of settlement within three months.

Until the insurer offers you a settlement figure and you accept it, you still own the car.

Write-offs and unfound vehicles

If your car isn’t found, or it’s declared a write-off, your insurer will offer you the actual cash value (ACV), otherwise known as ‘market value’, of the car at the time it was stolen. This figure could be a lot less than what you paid for it.

If you don’t think the ACV will be enough to purchase a new car, or pay off any outstanding finance, consider getting guaranteed asset protection (gap) insurance. This cover tops up the amount your insurer offers if the ACV isn’t enough.

Five tips to help you reduce the risk of car theft

Security consultant and reformed burglar, Michael Fraser, has shared his top tips to help protect you against car theft:

1. Use the tech in your favour: You can get a signal blocking pouch or bag. It’s thin metallic lining - the same fabric used by law enforcement - blocks wireless signals from keyless car cloning devices, as well as wi-fi and mobile phone signals. So, when you put your keys inside, criminals will find it trickier to clone your key fob.

2. Protect the wheel: A steering wheel lock is an immediate red flag for a potential car thief.

3. Got a garage? Then use it. Sounds simple right? Well it is. Put your car in a fortress.

4. A tidy car is a safe car: Don’t draw attention to your car and fill it with half the contents of your house. Taking your phone or sat-nav out is a wise move.

5. Check it’s locked: Don’t make a burglar's job an easy one. It’s now common for cars’ wing mirrors to be folded in when locked, so it’s easy for savvy thieves to spot an unlocked target

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[1] On 24 March 2020, an online survey of 1,059 randomly selected Great British car owners was executed by Ginger Comms. For comparison purposes, a probability sample of this size has an estimated margin of error (which measures sampling variability) of +/- 2.1%. The results have been weighted by age, gender, region and social grade to match the population, according to Census data. This is to ensure the sample is representative of the entire adult population of Great Britain. Discrepancies in or between totals are due to rounding.

[2] Source Association of British Insurers (ABI): The number of motor theft claims paid by insurers in the first quarter of 2019 were at their highest for any quarter since 2012, with a payment made to a car crime victim every 8 minutes. (May, 2019).

[3] Last checked 29 April 2020

[4] Up to £250 refunded when you claim. UK residents. Comprehensive car insurance only. Excludes breakdown, windscreen and glass repair / replacement. Full T&Cs apply. Find out more about excess cover.

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