Stolen cars: How to handle auto theft
You can’t believe it at first. You go out to your car, like you do every morning, but it's not there anymore. You always park in the same spot. Slowly, it dawns on you: Your car has been stolen.
Car thieves act quickly. They smash the side windows or lever out the locks. They are often not interested in the cars, but rather in the parts. Navigation systems, airbags, steering wheels, batteries, and catalytic converters are coveted. Either the vehicle is gutted while abroad, or the individual parts are stolen locally.
There is a lot of money to be made here. For example, Europol, together with the German criminal police, broke up a car parts theft ring in Lithuania. According to estimates by the authorities, the ring had stolen car parts worth 1.35 million euros.
New cars are also not safe from car thieves, despite improved protective measures on the part of the manufacturers. Keys are copied during test drives or when renting vehicles. There is no favored time of day, though thieves do prefer urban areas.
Tips to prevent car theft
1. Lock your car
Raise the windows and lock the doors and trunk when leaving the car, even for a short time. Locking the doors with a key fob is usually acknowledged by flashing lights or a horn chirp. If this is not the case, a radio blocker could be blocking the radio signal from the remote control. This means that the door is still open.
2. Keep an eye on your keys
Keyless systems are convenient, but pose security risks in newer cars. That’s because thieves can use specialized equipment to read the radio signal your key emits and unlock your car with it.
Newer key fobs, the kind you can leave in your pocket or purse, pose the greatest risk, because they are constantly emitting a signal. If car theft is an issue in your area, you could consider putting the keys in a special pouch that blocks radio signals; they are inexpensive and available online.
Professional car thieves also break into houses or apartments to gain possession of the vehicle key. If vehicle keys are left in the hallway or hanging on the key hook, it is easy to steal the vehicle, even from a locked garage.
Never put your keys in pockets that are accessible to pickpockets, or in an open purse. As a general rule, the longer it takes a thief to get the key, the less they will want it, as this increases the risk of discovery.
If you misplace your key, you should contact your local mechanic. They can block your existing key and order a new set for you.
3. Avoid risky parking spots
Above all, try to avoid parking desirable cars, such as luxury cars, on the side of the road or in unfenced parking lots; secured parking lots or garages are your best bet. If those options are unavailable in your neighborhood, find a well-lit area that’s fairly busy; the extra eyes will make it harder for thieves to strike.
4. Pay attention to suspicious activity
If you notice people in vehicles with a non-local license plate driving up and down the street, you should note the license plate number, especially if someone photographs your car.
5. Hide your valuables
It cannot be said often enough: Do not leave valuables, such as a laptop, camera, or cell phone, inside your vehicle. If you must, put them in the trunk where the thief can’t see them. In station wagons, always use the cover to conceal the contents.
What to do if your car is stolen?
If you are a victim of car theft, take these steps immediately:
File a police report
It is important to get a report from the police. You’ll need it to report the car theft to the insurance company. In order to record the car theft, the police will need the vehicle registration and the ID card of the owner(s). The police will automatically check that the car has not been towed away for incorrect parking, and after the report is made, an APB will be issued for the car.
Inform your insurance company
Victims of car theft are advised to inform their insurance company within one week at the latest.
Contact the registration office
You should notify the registration office as soon as possible. The car could be involved in a crime, and you’ll need to prove that the vehicle was not in your possession. Once the registration office has been informed, the vehicle will be deregistered. The vehicle title and registration document must be presented for deregistration. If the thieves strike while you are abroad, go to the local police and report the loss. After returning home, the theft must be reported again to the police at your place of residence.
Collecting your insurance claim
If the car is stolen, your insurance should cover the damage. The theft should not affect your no-claims bonus.
💡 A no-claims bonus is a discount granted when you drive accident-free for a long time. Insurers reward accident-free driving with a classification in a higher no-claims bonus class (SF class).
If the car is found within four weeks, the owner must take it back. If the car has not been found after four weeks, the owner will be reimbursed by their insurance company. An expert will estimate the replacement value of the vehicle, based on the current market price. If the car is found after the insurance company has already paid out the claim, the vehicle belongs to the insurance company.
If you are trying to replace a stolen new car, the reimbursed amount paid by the insurance company is usually lower than the initial purchase price due to a car’s rapid decline in value during the first few months of ownership. To prevent this, you can include replacement value or new price compensation in the policy.
Car theft - can happen to anyone
Although the numbers have dropped recently, car theft is still a real problem. Police recorded around 528,000 vehicle thefts in the 27 EU countries in 2018. According to EU figures, vehicle owners in Greece, Italy, France, Sweden, and the Netherlands were most affected per 100,000 inhabitants between 2016 and 2018. Denmark saw the least theft.
💡 “Vehicle theft”, according to the EU definition, includes theft of motorcycles, passenger cars, buses, trucks, bulldozers, etc. However, reporting and recording practices vary and affect comparisons between countries and years.
Thefts of vehicles falls under organized crime. Specialized gangs crack cars using both simple and state-of-the-art means. It usually takes them between 45 and 60 seconds.
Thieves are particularly keen on vehicles made by Volkswagen, Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz. Then it’s usually off to the Eastern Bloc countries. From there, thieves move the stolen cars to Eastern Europe, Central Asia, or West Africa. The sea route via Antwerp is also a popular route for moving the stolen cars to West Africa.
Each car theft costs more than 19,000 euros
To illustrate the economic toll of car theft, let’s take a look at Germany. According to the Federal Criminal Police Office, 33,400 reports of theft were recorded in 2019. The German Insurance Association (GDV) notes that insurers paid out almost 280 million euros in claims the same year. If you adjust the number for total economic impact, each car theft costs the European economy roughly 19,000 euros, on average.
The top model for thieves in 2019 was the BMW X6. In general, SUVs are coveted goods, according to the GDV, especially older models, which do not yet have improved security technologies. “The efforts of car manufacturers to make their keyless entry systems more secure are apparently paying off,” says GDV managing director Jörg Asmussen.
Car thieves operate without borders
Once the vehicles have been taken abroad, it is difficult to identify the offenders. This is exploited by small gangs, who can make big money by venturing into car theft. In a 2019 operation by Swedish and Polish police, for example, nine thieves were 280,000 euros, which they had made by stealing luxury cars.
That is why time and money for theft protection are well invested. You’ll be happy when you can get into your car in the morning as usual.