Many people have experienced that momentary jolt of fear after exiting a business and not seeing their vehicle. The first thought that comes to mind is that your vehicle has been stolen, but then you realize you parked it in the next row over. Sometimes, though, someone has actually stolen your vehicle. And while this is a major inconvenience, the best thing you can do in the moment is take a deep breath, remain, calm, and keep the following steps in mind.

Confirm that your vehicle was stolen

When you first realize that you cannot find your vehicle, do a few simple things first. This can save you the embarrassment of calling the police only to realize that your car was parked a few rows over.

You parked your vehicle somewhere else. A common occurrence is for a vehicle owner to park their vehicle in one spot and think they parked it somewhere else.

Before panicking, do a thorough visual search of the area. Or maybe you parked the next entrance down. Make sure that your vehicle is truly missing before making any calls to the police.

Your vehicle was towed. There are a few reasons a vehicle could be towed, including parking in a no-parking area or if the vehicle was repossessed.

If you parked your vehicle in a no-parking zone, it might have been towed. Maybe you thought you would be out quickly, but somehow got delayed. In this instance, your vehicle could have gotten towed to an impound lot. Call the phone number on the no-parking sign first to see if that was the case.

Another instance when your car might be towed is if you are delinquent on your car payment. If this is the case, check with your lender to see what you need to do to get your vehicle back and where it is being held in the meantime.

Notify the police

After you have determined that you cannot find your vehicle, it wasn't towed, and that it has in fact been stolen, call the police. Call 911 to report the theft. When doing so, you need to provide them with certain information, such as:

  • The date, time, and location of the theft.
  • The make, model, color, and year of the vehicle.

Filing a report with the police. Once the police have arrived, you should provide them additional information that they will include in their report.

This includes the Vehicle Identification Number, or VIN. You can find this information on your insurance card.

You should also give them your driver's license number.

The police department will add the information that you give to statewide and nationwide records. This makes it more difficult for the thieves to sell your car.

Check with OnStar or LoJack

If you have an OnStar, LoJack, or similar anti-theft device installed in the stolen vehicle, the company might be able to determine the vehicle's location, and even shut it down. In some cases, the police department might contact you first to make sure you did not loan the car to a friend or relative.

How LoJack works:

Once it has been determined that a vehicle with a system such as LoJack has been stolen, a few specific steps are followed.

The theft is first recorded in the national stolen vehicle database.

This is followed by the LoJack device being activated. Activation of the device emits a uniquely coded RF signal that alerts law enforcement to the presence of the stolen vehicle.

OnStar Stolen Vehicle Slowdown (SVS) and Remote Ignition Block services

OnStar, in addition to being able to track a vehicle using GPS, can also assist in vehicle recovery using SVS or Remote Ignition Block.

After calling OnStar and notifying them that your vehicle has been stolen, OnStar uses the vehicle's GPS system to pinpoint its location.

OnStar then contacts the police and notifies them of the vehicle theft and its location.

Once the police are within visual sight of the stolen vehicle, they notify OnStar, which then triggers the vehicle's SVS system. At this point, the vehicle engine should start to lose power.

If the vehicle thief is able to elude capture, OnStar can use the Remote Ignition Block system to keep the car from starting once the thief has stopped and turned it off. As noted above, the police are notified of the car's location and can recover the stolen property, and maybe even the thief, with little trouble.

Call your insurance company

If you do not have OnStar, LoJack, or a similar service, your need to notify your insurance company. Just keep in mind that, until the police have filed their report, you cannot file an insurance claim. In addition, if you had any valuables in the vehicle, you should notify the insurance company of that as well.

Filing a claim with your insurance company. Filing an insurance claim on a stolen vehicle is a detailed process.

In addition to the title, you need to provide some other information, including:

  • The location of all keys
  • Who had access to the vehicle
  • A list of valuables within the vehicle at the time it was stolen

At this point, the agent will ask a number of questions, the point of which is to help you set up a claim for your stolen vehicle.

  • Warning: Keep in mind, if you only had liability coverage, as opposed to comprehensive coverage, then your insurance does not cover vehicle theft.

If you lease or have the vehicle financed, you should also contact the lender or leasing agency. These companies will then work directly with your insurer for any claim on the stolen vehicle.

Having your vehicle stolen is a stressful and frightening scenario. Remaining calm when you realize your vehicle has been stolen can potentially help you recover it faster. Once you have determined that your vehicle is gone, and has not been towed, notify the police who will then work to recover your vehicle. If you have an OnStar or LoJack device installed, vehicle recovery is usually even easier. Last, but not least, notify your insurance company of the theft so they can begin processing your claim and get you back on the road.

This article originally appeared on YourMechanic.com as What to Do if Your Car Has Been Stolen and was authored by Cheryl Knight.


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