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My Car Was Just Stolen, What Do I Do?

"Dude, where's my car"?

Unless you're starring in a movie sequel, you don't want to say those words. So your ride seems to be missing. Not a part of today's plan, was it? It probably happened at the worst possible time, too. Your mind might be having difficulty thinking clearly due to this traumatic event, but get some focus for a few moments and take a look at these guidelines. It'll turn out okay.

Are you sure it's stolen?
Your first response might be, "of course I'm sure it's stolen," as you're standing where you're confident you parked it, panic-stricken with a terrible knot in your stomach. Are you totally sure? It's best to take a minute, breathe, and think. Are you only remembering where you parked the last time you were here? Did you park on another street, or on a different level of the parking garage?

It would be incredibly embarrassing to call the police department demanding the local SWAT team, Captain America, and the 1969 Denver Broncos get to your location immediately, only to have to sheepishly smile at the snipers circling in the helicopters above as you say, "...sorry, I found it."

Did you miss a "no parking" sign? There's also the possibility that your car has been towed. You could spare yourself some heartache by holding off on the stolen vehicle report and checking the police impound.

Call the police
Okay, now you know you haven't temporarily forgotten where you parked, and it hasn't been towed. Take a deep breath as you might be looking at theft.

Call the police immediately. Your car is most likely still within a reasonable distance of the area where you left it. The sooner you call, the better. Recovering your vehicle still stands a chance. You'll have to file a police report detailing everything about your vehicle. Include the make and model, Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), and the last known location. This tip might be hindsight, but it's a good idea to keep a record of the VIN in your wallet or on your phone. If you happen to have anti-theft products like LoJack or OnStar, give the police this information as these services include a tracking device. Keep a copy of the police report; it'll be necessary for your insurance claim.

Report the theft to your insurance carrier
No matter the type of insurance policy you carry, you should report the theft. The insurance company needs to know your car is not in your possession. What happens next greatly depends on the kind of insurance you carry.

If your insurance policy only covers your state's minimum requirements, there's a good chance it doesn't include stolen vehicle reimbursement. Only comprehensive auto insurance gives you theft coverage. Even then, the level of coverage will depend on what your policy with that particular insurance company covers.

You'll have to check whatever policy you have to know what to expect in the event of theft, as even having comprehensive insurance doesn't guarantee immediate reimbursement. Prepare for delays. Your insurance company will want to investigate the situation, namely to verify there's no fraud on the vehicle owner's part (that's you), but most insurers impose waiting periods to see if a stolen vehicle is recovered before they pay out a claim.

It's the cold, hard truth, right? These waiting periods can be anywhere from two to eight weeks. Some insurers will pay for a loaner while you wait for the police to recover your car. If your vehicle is not recovered, you're dealing with a total loss claim, which means your insurer will need to reimburse you for what's known as the "actual cash value" (ACV) of your car. You can quickly calculate the ACV: how much you paid for the vehicle, minus depreciation. Don't forget to factor in a deductible, if your insurance policy has one. That'll be taken out of the ACV before you receive payment.

An important point to note is that the ACV is usually negotiable! Insurance adjusters tend to value a vehicle on the low end, so don't just take their word for it. Get informed. Kelley Blue Book and Edmunds have good ACV calculators. Don't be afraid to tell your insurance company exactly what you think you should get in the way of reimbursement. That's why you have insurance: for your sake, not theirs.

Report to the DMV
Most people don't know that the DMV keeps a database of stolen cars, which assists the police in reuniting a recovered vehicle with its owner. Reporting the theft to the DMV can help you get back what's rightfully yours and nail the bad guys.

Do it yourself?
While you're waiting on getting that police to report back, it's not a bad idea to do some reconnaissance yourself. Try searching for your car online! Check online forums for folks selling and buying used vehicles, and especially websites like Craigslist. It might seem like a longshot if your vehicle is a standard make or model, but finding somebody selling your car online is far from impossible. There's a good chance the bad guy is trying to get rid of it quickly for cash.

Take care of yourself
You don't have to pretend to be placid and calm. Being frustrated, upset and angry is okay. Don't bottle it all up. If you need to take a moment to cry, yell, or sing Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody, you do that.

Sit down with a loved one and get it all off your chest, then take a breath and let it pass. This painful moment will eventually be nothing more than an anecdote at a dinner table. Best of luck!