Car theft and insurance claims

Would you know what to do if your car was stolen? Find out how to report a theft, recover your car, make a claim and ways you can keep your vehicle safe.

Amy Smith

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If your car is missing

Try not to panic - give yourself a few minutes to think.

Could you have forgotten where your car is?

It might sound daft, but we all do it. You parked up and rushed off to work, to do the shopping or pick up the kids and didn't look back. If you think your car is stolen but there’s a possibility you’ve parked it elsewhere and forgotten, give yourself a moment to double-check where you parked it.

Check if it’s been towed

It’s possible your car has been towed by your local authority - check with your council who to call to trace your car, sometimes it’s the police non-emergency number (101).

If you’re in London, you can use the online TRACE service – you just enter your number plate and it instantly tells you if your car has been impounded, and where.

If you follow these steps and still have reason to think your car has been stolen, you’ll need to report it to the police.

Key points

  • If your car's stolen, you need to get a crime reference number from the police
  • You can’t make a claim with your insurer until you’ve reported it stolen
  • What you can claim varies between policies, and you won’t be covered at all if you have third party only insurance
  • As well as the cost of your car, think about cover for recovery, repair, courtesy cars and personal possessions

What to do if your car's been stolen

If you suspect the car's been taken, here are your three next steps:

  1. Jog your memory

    Make sure your car has actually been stolen - retrace your steps and quickly do what you can to make sure the car's not been parked elsewhere.

  2. 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 the vehicle.

  3. 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-know

  • 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

The information your claim is based on must be accurate, otherwise it could slow the process down or invalidate your cover.

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 for 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 pay out to compensate you for any injuries you or other passengers assaulted during the attempted theft of your car get.

It’s not a common feature though. 'We checked Defaqto and 80% of 363 comprehensive car insurance policies didn’t offer cover for medical expenses or trauma counselling specifically for carjacking incidents.[1]'

If you do have carjacking cover, it pays out to compensate you for any injuries you get, and the injuries sustained by other passengers assaulted during the attempted theft of your car.

Sometimes the pay-out can instead be used to pay your legal representative.

Some policies include damage to clothing or personal items and might cover stress or trauma counselling fees.

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.

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.

If you’re covered for theft, tell your insurer as soon as possible to start the claims process - give them your crime reference number.

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 publically on the HPI check or affect the sale price of your car. However, it will appear on the Motor Insurance Anti Fraud and Theft Register (MIAFTR), so insurers may 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, assuming 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. As car value falls quickly, this figure could be a lot less than what you paid for it.

If you’re concerned the ACV won’t 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.

You can dispute the amount your insurer offers you if you aren’t happy with it, but you’ll need to prove that your car has been undervalued - for example, evidence of local car prices.

You might get a discount on your car insurance if you fit an anti-theft device

The harder it is to steal your car, the less likely it is thieves will try. That means less risk of a claim for your insurer

Common car thefts and how to avoid them

Motor theft claims have reached their highest level in seven years, according to the Association of British Insurers (ABI).

It’s partly due to a rise in keyless car crime and poor vehicle security.

Keyless car theft involves thieves using a legal signalling device to trick the keyless system into unlocking your car, without needing to break into your home or damage the vehicle.

Reduce the risk of keyless car theft by parking your car in a well-lit area, keeping the keys hidden away from windows and doors, and turning off or blocking your keys’ signal when not in use.

Reduce the risk of car theft

Prevent your vehicle from being stolen and yourself from getting hurt:

  1. Be alert to common carjacking scams, like objects being left in the road to make you leave your car to move them

  2. Lock your car doors from the inside if you don’t feel safe and don’t leave your keys in the ignition when your car is unattended

  3. A good car alarm and immobiliser can put thieves off and are a small price to pay if it keeps you and your car safe

  4. Park in a safe, well-lit space

Car insurance guides and tools

[1]Last checked 27 August 2019

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