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Car Theft Is Up in the U.S.: Here’s How to Cover Yourself
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Car Theft Is Up in the U.S.: Here’s How to Cover Yourself

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With the right kind of auto insurance, you could avoid paying out of pocket if your car or catalytic converter is stolen.

Car theft has risen dramatically in the U.S. during the pandemic — in 2020, it was up almost 10% from the prior year — reversing a two-year decline, according to an analysis of federal crime data by the National Insurance Crime Bureau, an industry organization that focuses on insurance fraud.

On top of that, catalytic converter theft has surged across the country, increasing over 400% in the past year. This uptick is linked to the valuable metals (platinum, palladium and rhodium) that these emissions-control devices contain.

What can you do to prevent your catalytic converter from being snatched — or even the entire vehicle? You can’t guarantee that your car won’t be stolen, but you can get the right kind of auto insurance so you won’t have to pay for it out of pocket.

Does car insurance cover a stolen car?

For coverage in case your car is stolen (and isn’t found), you’ll need to buy comprehensive insurance.

But don’t expect an insurance check from a comprehensive claim to cover the cost of a new car. Insurers typically pay out the amount a car was worth at the time it was stolen, which is generally far less than what a new model costs.

Comprehensive insurance also comes with a deductible, the set amount you must pay before the insurer pays a claim. For example, if your car was worth $5,000 when it was stolen and you have a $500 deductible, you’ll receive a check for $4,500.

Will my insurance cover stolen parts?

Besides paying out if your car is stolen, comprehensive insurance provides coverage if a car part, like keys or a catalytic converter, is taken during a theft. If your car is recovered, or if only a part is stolen, comprehensive insurance will pay for the damage and the item.

Consider this scenario: Someone steals your car, stains the carpets and rips the seats in a joyride. The car is found, but it’s in bad shape. That vandalism still falls under comprehensive insurance, says Spencer Houldin, co-president of Ericson Insurance Advisors, an independent insurance agency.

But despite its name, comprehensive insurance doesn’t cover everything.

You’ll need to buy homeowners or renters insurance to pay for any personal belongings taken from your car. And if you’re hoping to get a rental car for free while you shop for a new vehicle, you’ll need rental reimbursement coverage.

Comprehensive coverage is one part of "full coverage insurance," which means your policy covers your car on top of any damage you cause to others in a wreck. The latter is covered by liability insurance, which is typically state-mandated.

How to save on comprehensive coverage

Although comprehensive insurance is relatively affordable, if you have a car loan or lease, you may need to buy collision coverage, which could increase the costs. Some insurers won't sell collision coverage without comprehensive or vice versa, but many will.

Still, finding cheap car insurance shouldn’t be hard if you shop around.

But Houldin cautions consumers to look beyond price. "You want to make sure you understand the contract and the coverages, and you want to be insured with a reputable company."

How to protect your car

While car theft can happen to anyone, there are some relatively simple steps you can take to deter thieves.

Never leave your keys in the car. It may seem harmless if the car is parked in your driveway, but theft is often a crime of opportunity. About 11% of vehicles stolen in 2019 had the keys left inside, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

Lock up. Always lock the doors and trunk and roll up the car's windows.

Park your car in a safe place. Park in a garage or in a well-lit, highly visible area, preferably in view of a security camera if you park on public property. Avoid leaving your car in an unmonitored parking lot for long periods of time.

Consider installing motion-sensor security lights where you park at night. These lights may scare off thieves.

Use antitheft systems. This can include car alarms, tracking systems, external steering wheel locks, window etching and tire locks. You can also buy antitheft devices specifically for catalytic converters.

Install a vehicle immobilizing device that can prevent the hot-wiring of your car. Devices can include kill switches, smart keys and wireless ignition authentication.

Don’t leave valuables in a vehicle like a purse, jewelry or laptop. Thieves could break into your car, steal an item and clear out the contents elsewhere to avoid attracting attention, says the NICB. If you absolutely must leave something in the trunk, move it before you get to a crowded area. Car prowlers may be watching to see if you move anything to the trunk.

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