Would you know what to do if your car gets stolen?
Unfortunately, more of us in the PNW are facing that question than ever before. Among all 50 states, Oregon and Washington ranked No. 5 and 6 respectively in the latest national rankings of thefts per 100,000 residents by the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB).
Urban areas fueled those numbers, with the Portland and Seattle metros cracking the organization’s Top 10 Theft Hot Spots list. In a dishearteningly rapid ascent on that list, Portland went from 21st nationwide in 2019 to 5th in 2021, while Seattle went from 32nd to 9th. (2021 is the latest data available, with 2022 data likely to be released this fall.)
In this Real Claims story, you’ll learn how your insurance covers stolen cars and helps you get your life back to normal.
"A thief drove off with my new car!"
Phillip was on his way to visit a friend in Everett on a sunny July evening after work. As he drove, he was jolted by a loud, sharp noise. Had he run over a piece of metal? Had a part fallen off his car?
He quickly pulled over to check his 2022 Kia K-5 for damage. In his hurry to get out, he left the car running with the driver’s door ajar. He looked around and, seeing nothing, began walking to the other side of the car. As he reached the passenger side, he glanced up to see a man jump in the car and speed away!
Phillip, stunned but thankfully unharmed, stood stranded on the side of the road.
He pulled out his phone to call for help but the battery was dead, so he finished the trip to his friend’s house on foot. There, he called his wife, Kathleen. Together, they were about to learn more about stolen cars and insurance claims than they ever wanted to know.
Reporting a stolen car to the police
Both Kathleen and Phillip are grateful for what they called “the most important thing” – that Phillip wasn’t physically confronted by the thief or run over as the car sped away. Still, the crime left them feeling violated and shaken.
That uneasy feeling only grew after talking with the police. An officer explained there’s a chance the crime may not have been as random as it seemed. He said car thieves sometimes throw an object at a passing car in hopes that the startled driver will stop and get out. Then, they swoop in to steal the vehicle – either driving off if it’s already running or demanding the keys from the driver.
After they completed a police report, the officer told them, they should call their insurance company to file a claim.
Locating a stolen car
Kathleen and Phillip had owned their brand-new Kia K-5 for only six months. And it was a beauty – a favorite among Edmunds.com car gurus – with a unique style and an eye-catching cobalt blue paint job. That may explain why it stayed missing for only one day.
Not realizing the Kia had been stolen, a friend reached out to Kathleen on Facebook Messenger, saying she had noticed the distinctive car parked on a busy street in her neighborhood. Wouldn’t it be nice to get together for a few minutes before she left? She had no idea Kathleen was miles away, nowhere near her Kia.
The message seemed so freakishly coincidental that Kathleen doubted it really could be her car. She asked the friend for its exact location and decided to drive by to see for herself. She said her heart was pounding as she got just close enough to tell if anyone was in the car or seemed to be around. Soon, she realized the car wasn’t just “parked.” It was wrecked, with a bent front wheel on the passenger side and damaged front panel. And yes, it was her car, apparently abandoned by the thief.
Insurance coverage to repair a stolen car
Kathleen called the police to let them know that the car had been found. The responding officer checked out the vehicle and urged her to get it towed off the street right away to reduce the chance it could be stripped for parts. Kathleen used her AAA membership to have it towed to a body shop she and Phillip had used before.
Everything happened so fast that Kathleen had not yet notified PEMCO about the theft. So, as she waited for the tow, she called to share the details and the police report number.
“I appreciated how calm the PEMCO person was,” said Kathleen. “They allowed me to explain everything, just get it all out. Then, they walked me through the coverage we had and how the process would work.”
Once she arrived at the body shop, Kathleen learned it was wrangling with Covid supply-chain backups and couldn’t schedule the car or even estimate damages. They referred her to another shop nearby, which agreed to look at it. The car would be towed there the next morning.
PEMCO followed up quickly, and her adjuster took the change of shops in stride. Since the Kia was so new, the cost of restoring it would not come close to exceeding its fair market value, meaning there was no worry it could be declared a total loss. Using the Comprehensive coverage on the couple’s policy – an optional coverage that protects against losses like theft, fire, vandalism and storm or animal damage – PEMCO worked with the repair shop to reach a settlement amount for the claim, less Kathleen and Phillip’s deductible, which they paid to the shop.
Like the shop where the Kia was first towed, this one, too, was struggling to find bottlenecked parts. Kathleen and Phillip learned it would be about seven weeks until they’d get the Kia back.
Kathleen was thankful that her PEMCO agent had encouraged her to buy Rental Car Reimbursement coverage a couple of years earlier. That’s an optional purchase that pays a daily reimbursement amount, up to a maximum daily and total limit, toward the cost of renting a replacement car following a claim.
“That coverage really helped,” said Kathleen. “With the high price of rental cars and repairs dragging on so long, it would have been expensive to rent a car on our own for the entire time.”
Another thing that eased Kathleen’s mind: They didn’t have any mail or other identifying paperwork in the car – not even the registration – that would help an identity thief impersonate them. While both Washington and Oregon law require you to have your registration with you (along with your driver’s license and proof of insurance), neither specifies where it must be kept. Washington accepts a photo of your registration on your cell phone; Oregon law refers to keeping the card “in or on the vehicle in a manner that makes it readily available for police inspection upon request.” Also, without an address in the car, thieves can’t use a stolen car’s garage door opener to gain entry and burglarize the owners’ home.
Coverage for a rental car while a stolen car is repaired
Not long before the Kia was due to be ready, a rock hit and chipped the windshield of the rental car Kathleen and Phillip were using. Unsure what to do, Kathleen called PEMCO.
“PEMCO was really nice about it and opened a new claim for the rental car’s windshield,” Kathleen said. However, before it could be fixed, she took the car in to show the rental agency. They weren’t concerned and, since the Kia was pretty close to being finished, she just turned in the rental and the couple made do by sharing their second car.
“I was impressed with PEMCO’s response to the rock chip, even though it turned out the claim didn’t need to go through,” she said. “I felt like they wanted to make this whole thing as painless for us as possible.”
What to know if your car is stolen (and tips to prevent it)
It’s been a few months since the Kia came from the shop, and it looks and drives as good as new. Kathleen said dealing with PEMCO was probably the smoothest part of the process.
The couple has put the incident behind them, although they get a reminder every time they hear a news report about a rock-throwing incident on local roads. The person who stole their car hasn’t been caught.
They had some thoughts to share for anyone who might find themselves in a similar situation:
Think twice about pulling over on the road unless it’s an absolute emergency. If Phillip could have a do-over, he would have waited to check on his car until he was able to drive to a safe, populated place like a service station or busy parking lot, preferably one with security cameras.
Turn off your car and lock it, even if you’re getting out for just a moment. It takes mere seconds for a thief to hop in.
Keep your key fob in your pocket, not the console. Without the fob, even if a thief does manage to steal your car, they won’t be able to easily restart it if they turn off the engine or it runs out of gas.
Buy Rental Car Reimbursement coverage or increase your limits if you already have it. The added annual premium may be less than the cost to rent a car for one day.
To the couple’s insights, their PEMCO adjuster Sharise Wiedmer added a few tips for anyone worried about or navigating an auto theft:
Most car thieves are opportunistic. “Thieves, by nature, don’t want to work too hard,” said Sharise, “so the tougher you can make it for them, the more likely they are to pass by your car in search of an easier target.” If you have a garage, clean it out so you can park inside. Also, consider a combination of low- and high-tech deterrents, ranging from a steering wheel lock like “The Club” to a tracking app on your smartphone or, if it’s available to you, a manufacturer’s subscription like General Motors’ OnStar or Toyota Connected Car Services that may allow you to locate, lock or disable your car remotely. PEMCO has these tips to prevent auto theft.
Don’t list your exact address under “Home” on your car’s navigation system. Building on Kathleen’s point about not keeping paperwork in your car that shows your home address, don’t expose it on your navigation system, either. Instead, list the address for a nearby store. You’ll still have the handy feature to guide you back to your neighborhood from an unfamiliar location, but it would be useless to a car thief who could later break into your home using your car’s garage-door opener to get in.
If you finance most of the purchase price of a new car, consider gap insurance. Cars depreciate in value quickly once you drive them off the lot. If your new car is stolen and never recovered, you might end up owing more on your loan than the fair market value your insurance can pay. You’d be responsible for the difference.
Use the non-emergency number to call the police as soon as you realize your car has been stolen. The recovery rate for stolen cars is higher than you might think – 42% within 48 hours, according to NICB. Also, let your network of friends know in case they happen to spot the car and can provide leads to the police. Don’t attempt to recover a stolen car yourself, however. Not only do you risk a dangerous run-in with the thief, but stolen cars may have been used in the commission of another crime, be contaminated with illegal drugs or, in Kathleen and Phillip’s case, be too mechanically damaged to drive safely.
Know what information your insurance company needs. While your insurer already has information about your car like its VIN and license plate number, they’ll need to know your police report number, who may have had access to the stolen car, the location of all sets of keys, and contact information for your financing company (if you have a loan on the car). If you own the car outright, they’ll need to see the title to the car. After the police, your next call should be to your insurance company.
Are you wondering if your policy would give you the same protection in a situation like Kathleen and Phillip’s? Log in to your PEMCO account and check it for the coverages they used: Comprehensive and Rental Car Reimbursement. If you don’t see them (or aren’t sure the limits are high enough), talk to your local PEMCO agent or call a PEMCO representative at 1-800-GO-PEMCO.
You’re entitled to a free policy review any time.
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