What to Do If Your Car Is Broken Into

This illustration describes what to do when your car has been broken into including "Call 9-1-1," "File a police report," "Take pictures of the damages," "Talk to your insurer and see if you're covered," Beware of potential identity theft," and "Protect your car from any future threats."

Image by Julie Bang @ The Balance 2020

It’s no fun when you discover your car was broken into, and If it happens to you, first priority is to make sure you are safe. Check your immediate surroundings and if you feel uncomfortable, get out of there. Once you feel more secure, consider these actions.

Call The Police to Report a Car Break-In

It's better to use the non-emergency police number rather than calling 911. In many cities, the number to call is 311. Use 911 only if you can’t get an answer at the regular number. If you are in a store parking lot, you may want to locate a security guard while you wait for the police to arrive. Keep in mind that your vehicle is now a crime scene, so resist the urge to rummage around inside to see what’s damaged or missing, or to touch anything.

Make sure to file a police report, whether or not you live in a location where police respond personally to vehicle break-ins.

In cities, police are less likely to personally respond to vehicle break-ins. If that is the case, you will have to go to the nearest police station with your license and registration to file your report. Don’t let it slide. At the very least, you will need it for your insurance carrier. You must have a police report if you plan to file an insurance claim. Make sure the report lists all vehicle damage and items stolen. Even if the items are not insured, you might be able to get them back if the vandal is found.

Document the Evidence and Take Pictures

Always take pictures if you are in an accident, especially if you’re going to file an insurance claim. The same goes for a break-in.

Be sure to take pictures of all damage, both inside and out. Pay particular attention to the surroundings as well—did the perpetrator leave any objects behind? Are there any security cameras nearby? If there are cameras, it’s important to mention this to the police.

In most cases, security camera owners will happily provide surveillance footage to the police when asked—it’s to their advantage to ensure their area remains a safe one.

It is important to file the police report promptly. The longer you wait, the less likely it is that security footage will be available. Many cameras are set to delete footage a certain amount of time after it has been recorded, so if you wait too long, the evidence may disappear.

To File a Claim With Your Insurer or Not to File

Check your policy to determine what is covered and what isn’t. If you have comprehensive coverage, your insurer will have to pay for the actual damage to your car, but you will not be compensated for any of the items you had lying around inside—such as purses, cell phones, laptops, iPods, etc. For those items, you may have to look to your homeowners or renters insurance policy. You will also want to determine just how much it will cost to fix the damage on your car before filing a claim. It’s not worth it if your total damages are going to cost less than the amount of your deductible.

Even if the damages exceed your deductible, you might want to think about paying for them out-of-pocket, given that filing a claim may result in higher premiums.

Protect Against Potential Identity Theft

If you think the break-in might result in identity theft, such as in the case that any identification or credit/debit cards were stolen, be sure to immediately contact your credit card holders, banks, lenders, and any other businesses or agencies that might be affected. You might also want to consider purchasing a temporary service that tracks and reports any irregular activity affecting your credit score. Additionally, of course, replace your driver’s license, Social Security card, and all other necessary documents that have been stolen as soon as possible.

Consider Preventative Measures

Of course, the best time to think about improving your car’s anti-theft system is before a break-in can occur, but now that you’ve had the bad luck of it happening, it’s worth taking some time to think about a game plan for the future. Do you have a working car alarm? Do you always park in a safe area if at all possible? Would cleaning out your garage and making room for your vehicle prevent this from happening again in the future?

The Bottom Line


The specific steps you can take will depend on the make and model of your vehicle, your driving habits, and where you live. But it’s certainly worth coming up with a plan.

Article Sources

  1. San Francisco Police Department. "Auto Burglary." Accessed June 29, 2020.

  2. Insurance Information Institute. "Car Insurance: Theft and Break-In Problems." Accessed June 29, 2020.