Does Car Insurance Typically Cover Theft?

by Craig Berman
If someone steals personal items from your car, auto insurance doesn't help.

When you buy car insurance, you might assume that if your vehicle or anything in it is stolen, you just call up the insurance company and wait for the check to arrive. That’s not necessarily the case. Only certain policies cover theft of the vehicle itself, and any personal possessions stolen would be covered by a different type of insurance.

Get Comprehensive

Just because you have car insurance doesn’t mean you’re protected against theft. If all you have is liability or collision insurance, your policy doesn’t compensate you if your car is stolen. For that, you need comprehensive insurance, which covers loss or damage that isn’t the result of a collision. This includes theft, but also damage caused by fire, weather-related events or hitting an animal.

Who Needs It?

You might not have a choice about purchasing comprehensive car insurance. If you’re financing your car, your lender will probably insist that you have this coverage to protect its investment. In addition, if you live in an area where car theft or vandalism are common, comprehensive insurance can be a prudent purchase. On the other hand, if you have an older car that isn’t as valuable, you may find a comprehensive policy doesn’t meet your needs and be willing to risk the costs associated with theft or damage in exchange for a lower insurance payment. Most policies only cover what the car is worth at the time it’s stolen, not what you originally paid for it, so keep that in mind as well.

Personal Property

While comprehensive auto insurance coverage protects against the theft of your vehicle, it typically doesn’t extend to personal property left inside the car. If you leave your purse, wallet or smartphone in the car and it gets stolen, you’ll have to check to see whether your homeowners, renters or condo insurance policy will compensate you for the loss.

Gray Areas

Some items may or may not be covered by car insurance, depending on your policy and the nature of the item. One common example is a car stereo. If your stereo is permanently attached to the vehicle, comprehensive insurance could cover the cost of a replacement if a thief breaks in and steals it. If the stereo can be easily detached, it may not be considered to be permanently attached to the car, in which case it would fall under a homeowners or renters policy instead.

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