What Happens If Someone Breaks Into Your Car?

Smashed Car Window
••• William Andrew/Getty Images

Is there anything worse than having your car broken into? Yes, of course, there is. In the grand scheme of things, a vandalized car falls pretty far down the list of bad stuff. Nevertheless, it’s not much fun and, at that moment when you first discover your shattered driver’s side window, it can sure feel like the worst. But now that it has happened, you need to take a deep breath and think. First of all, take a look at your immediate surroundings and ask: Am I safe? If you are not sure, your priority is to forget the car and get to safety. When and only when, you are sure of no immediate danger can you ask that second question: What do I do now that someone has broken into my car?

Here is a list of steps to consider. The order in which you take them may vary according to your particular circumstances. In other words, use your common sense.

Step 1: Call The Police

Your first instinct will probably be to grab your cell phone and call the police; trust that instinct. Assuming that you have made a quick safety assessment and you are not in any immediate danger, you should probably use the non-emergency number rather than calling 911. In many cities, the number to call is 3-1-1. Use 9-1-1 only if you can’t get an answer at the regular number. If you are in the store parking lot, you may want to locate a security guard while you wait for the police to arrive. Also, 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, for that matter.

Once the police arrive, make sure that you file a police report. Demand it if you have to, although your officer will probably insist on it himself. Unless that is, you are in a big city where the police will not 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. It’s important. At the very least, you are going to need it for your insurance carrier -- you absolutely must have a police report if you’re planning on filing an insurance claim. And make sure that the report lists all items damaged or stolen, both inside and on your car -- whether or not the items themselves are insured, you might be able to get the items back if the vandal is found.

Step 2: Document the Evidence -- Take Pictures

You already know that you should 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. And let’s face it, this one is easy to do these days, given that virtually every cell phone on the planet has a built-in camera. By the way, you should strongly consider always carrying a disposable camera in your vehicle, just in case you are one of the three remaining people that don’t have a cell phone or (I’m almost afraid to say it) your phone is stolen in the break-in.

Be sure to take pictures of all damage, both inside and out. Pay particular attention to the surroundings as well -- were there any objects that the perpetrator left behind? Are there any security cameras nearby? If there are cameras, it’s important to mention this to the police. In most cases, the owners of said security cameras will happily provide surveillance footage to the police when asked -- it’s to their advantage to ensure their area remains a safe one as well as to your advantage.

It is important to be prompt on filing a police report for many reasons, but one important one is that 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 you’ll need to act fast, or the evidence may disappear.

Step 3: File A Claim With Your Insurer?

I’ve put a question mark on this one for a reason. You should 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 loose items that 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. But 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. No matter what, it’s a good idea to contact your insurer and let them know about the break-in so that you can find out what information you will need to provide in case you do decide to file a claim.

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.