Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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Laura Walker graduated college with a BS in Criminal Justice with a minor in Political Science. She married her husband and began working in the family insurance business in 2005. She became a licensed agent and wrote P&C business focusing on personal lines insurance. Laura serviced existing business and wrote new business. She now uses her insurance background to help educate drivers about...

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Reviewed by Laura Walker
Licensed Agent for 10 Years

UPDATED: Jun 4, 2019

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You need to know if your car insurance covers auto theft for situations like the following scenario.

Imagine heading out on the town with your spouse for a night of dining, dancing, and quality time together, only to find when you return to the parking garage that your car has been stolen.

At first, you feel angry, maybe somewhat frightened, but then your survival instinct kicks in and you get on the cell phone to the 911 dispatcher.

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Once that’s under control your next phone call is to your insurance company. However, what would you do if you found out your insurance policy doesn’t cover theft?

This scenario is not very unusual given the fact that many American drivers don’t have adequate insurance policies to cover theft.

Furthermore, statistics published by Edmunds show a car is stolen in the United States every 30 seconds. These cars are stolen by:

  • Chop shop workers looking for parts
  • Thieves who ship cars to other places like Mexico
  • Criminals looking for a ride for their next job
  • Joyriding teenagers with too much time on their hands

Regardless, if you don’t have proper insurance coverage you’ll be stuck.

What kind of insurance do I need to protect against theft?

The three major components of any car insurance policy are liability, collision and comprehensive.

Minimum liability is the amount of insurance coverage required by each individual state. Typically, state mandates require coverage against:

  • Bodily injury of passengers and other drivers
  • Property damage for things like fences and trees
  • Uninsured/underinsured coverage for other drivers who are not adequately protected

Obviously, this minimum liability coverage doesn’t pay for any damage to your vehicle. If your car is damaged or totaled, it is your collision and comprehensive coverage that pays for it.

Both types of coverage are similar in many regards but different in one major aspect.

Collision coverage only takes care of damage incurred as the result of an accident on the public roadways or other public places like shopping center parking lots.

Collision coverage does not apply to theft. Comprehensive coverage, on the other hand, pays for the loss under most other circumstances including:

  • Theft
  • Storm damage
  • Freak accidents while the vehicle is parked in your driveway

Does that mean I need comprehensive coverage to protect against theft?

If you want coverage against theft, you will need to purchase comprehensive coverage. However, be aware that not all comprehensive riders are the same.

For example, some policies will not cover theft if your car is stolen with the engine running and the keys in the ignition.

Other policies will cover theft when using a remote starter system, provided your doors were locked at the time of the theft, and your keys were not left in the ignition.

There are so many different scenarios so you really need to read your policy documents carefully so you know what is covered.

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Should I worry about comprehensive coverage if I have an older car?

One of the biggest myths surrounding car theft is the idea that thieves only go after the newest and most popular models. Quite to the contrary, it’s actually older cars that are targeted more often.

Truth be known, the vast majority of cars are stolen by chop shops that dismantle the cars and sell the parts.

Since parts for newer cars are readily available, older cars are really stolen by chop shops. It’s the older cars whose parts are harder to come by that are most enticing to thieves.

According to the FBI’s 2009 Uniform Crime Report, the top five most stolen cars for that year were the:

  • 1997 Ford F-150 pickup
  • 2004 Dodge Ram pickup
  • 1991 Toyota Camry
  • 1994 Honda Accord
  • 1995 Honda Civic

Statistics for 2010 are very similar with the exception of the Cadillac Escalade coming in near the top.

Experts attribute the popularity of the Escalade to a pop culture, which has made it a vehicle of social status. It’s speculated that when thieves do steal an Escalade, it’s most likely going overseas to be sold in a market where it can’t be tracked.

If my car isn’t worth much should I worry about theft coverage?

In considering the FBI statistics, we’re forced to ask the question whether it’s really worth having comprehensive coverage on a 1991 Toyota. Let’s face it, a 20-year-old vehicle doesn’t have much blue book value left in it, so your insurance company isn’t going to pay much if it’s stolen.

Whether it’s worth continuing to cover an older vehicle against theft really comes down to how valuable the car is to you. If you have the financial resources to replace it on your own, perhaps it’s worth dropping comprehensive coverage.

The obvious exception to this rule is an older car in which you have invested significant resources in restoring or customizing. In this case, make sure your comprehensive policy covers all of the parts you’ve installed.

That means you’ll need a replacement value policy and will need to come to an agreement with your insurance company as to your vehicle’s value.

Without such protection, you still may lose the vast majority of your financial investment.

Another option in this type of scenario is to purchase classic car insurance. This type of car insurance covers older vehicles that have been restored by collectors and car enthusiasts.

It is more expensive, depending on the types of coverage you need, but if you have an old 1950s hot rod that you sunk a lot of money into, this insurance is a good choice.

Just be careful to ask many questions so you know exactly what you’re paying for.

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