What To Do When Your Car Is Stolen

Vigilante justice is never worth it. Be smart and call the cops.
A person trying to steal a car with a door lock tool.
Jonathon Klein

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Empirically, car theft is on the rise. The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) reported that in 2021, car thefts had risen more than 29% since 2017. I know, it sucks. We all want the steel-wheeled contraptions that we’ve worked hard for to be where we left them the night before. Alas, ne’er-do-wells armed with bricks, flashlights, slim jims, and any other break-in tools are out there snatching cars. Maybe you drive a Hyundai or Kia, and some troubled teenagers learned how to steal one from a TikTok trend. Maybe somebody learned how to hack Hondas. Or, maybe there’s some guy in search of a quick buck parting out your ride. Whatever the reason, what the heck are you supposed to do when your car is stolen?

Before we start with the steps, please remember that human lives are worth far more than any car. If you encounter a thief attempting to make away with your vehicle, the best course of action is to walk away and call the police. The thief could be armed, dangerous, and destitute, with nothing to lose. It would be stupid to get hurt, killed, or kill someone over a piece of steel, glass, and rubber. 

Steps To Take When Your Car Has Been Stolen

If your car has just been stolen, follow these guidelines to 

1. Stay calm. 

As we said before, it’s just a car, and operating with a clear head is paramount to the steps necessary to possibly getting the car back. Don’t try to fight the thief (or worse), don’t run through the streets trying to chase your car, and don’t go into limp mode, it’s not going to help.

2. Call the police and file a police report. 

Generally, a police officer will be dispatched to your location, but in trickier areas or some municipalities, the police might not show. Instead, they might insist you first file a police report in person or online. It might seem silly and highly inconvenient, but it’s important to file that police report. When the police report is filed, be sure to annotate any expensive valuables that were in the vehicle when it was stolen.

3. Call your insurance company. 

If the policy is full coverage, meaning comprehensive and collision insurance, the theft will be covered. Unfortunately, if there’s no theft coverage in the insurance policy, then the insurance won’t be of any help.

If the car is found, the insurance company will make sure the car is checked over and repaired. Unfortunately, some theft recovery vehicles can be too far gone and might be declared a total loss.

4. If applicable, call the vehicle’s lienholder, or bank. 

The bank should know if the vehicle has been stolen. Generally, with any financed vehicle, full coverage (collision, comprehensive, and theft) is required. Notifying the lienholder will make things a lot smoother, allowing the insurance company and bank to interact with each other, and making sure you won’t be on the hook for payments.

I Did All That, Now What?

Unfortunately, the hands of the law are often tied up with much worse crimes. Police precincts are overwhelmed, and in the grand scheme of things, they might not be very interested in finding stolen cars. The NICB says that not quite 60% of thefts are ever recovered. Either way, it’s time to make peace with the fact that you might never see your car again.

In rare cases, your car might be recovered. When the car is found, be sure to thoroughly search the vehicle for any contraband, illegal substances, or new damage from the thief. Chances are your car wasn’t stolen by an old man in search of a Sunday drive. There will likely be damages related to the theft and possibly damage or missing parts from whatever the heck the thief did in the vehicle. 

Regardless, stay safe. A car is just a replaceable thing, humans aren’t.

FAQs About Stolen Cars 

Based on experience and popular search questions, these are a few commonly asked questions about what to do when your car is stolen. 

Q: Should I ask nearby businesses for video footage or pictures?

A: It’s worth a shot, but keep in mind that some businesses and residents aren’t keen on turning over their video footage to a stranger. Still, it doesn’t hurt to ask around. You never know, someone could have seen it. 

Q: I can barely remember what kind of car I drive. How do I find out?

A: Okay, I understand that not everyone’s a car person, and many of y’all out there legitimately don’t know what make or model you’ve been rolling around in every day. Please, make an effort to learn the make, model, year, color, and license plate number of your vehicle. Take a picture of the VIN, too. If the car is already gone, your insurance card and vehicle registration will usually have those details.

Q: I have a strong lead on the thief, should I try to find my car by myself?

A: Listen, I know that it sucks to lose your car, but please remember that thieves are often dangerous people. If your car gets stolen, be smart and call the cops.


Kevin Williams Avatar

Kevin Williams


Kevin Williams is a contributor at The Drive. He writes, researches, and produces off-kilter, less-traveled car content, usually about weird or a bit unloved cars from not so long ago. He lives in Columbus, Ohio. Alone. By himself. No spouse. No animals.  (He is allergic to most domestic animals.)