IT’S A truly awful feeling to find your vehicle missing from where you parked it, or to return to it and see shards of broken glass on the ground and your personal belongings missing from inside.
The Australian Institute of Criminology lists Australia as having one of the highest rates of motor vehicle theft in the world, and minor break-ins can feel even more invasive.
Here are some steps to help deal with a vehicle break in, should it happen to you.
1. File a police report
Calling the police is important. Vehicle break-ins aren’t an emergency – unless you see the culprit breaking in – so call a police assistance line rather than 000. But do it before you touch the car or move anything inside it. Take photos at this stage in case they are needed later.
Having the police attend is worthwhile as an incident number will be needed if you make an insurance claim. It’s also a good idea in case there have been other break-ins in the area, because the police may dust for fingerprints if they think they can link the crimes together, or link your break-in to a known thief.
If the police can’t attend, you may need to visit a local station and file a report yourself. Take photos of the car at the scene, and show them along with your registration details, and any information you have about when and where it happened, plus a list of what was damaged or stolen.
This last part is important if the culprit is caught, as it will assist police in returning your belongings to you and/or claiming for your loss.
2. Check for your garage remote/wallet/personal information
Burglars can be crafty and ruthless. If they have managed to steal a wallet or handbag from inside the car, call your bank and cancel your cards immediately. Same goes for anything else they may have that could be used negatively against you.
As a precaution, try not to leave anything in your car that has your home address on it. Check inside your vehicle logbooks and make sure there is no way to link possessions in your car with your house. This is especially important if you keep a garage door remote in your car. Thieves have been known to break into cars parked long-term and use a garage remote found inside to gain access to a home and steal from there. Don’t let that happen to you.
3. Look for witnesses
Was your car parked in a public place? Are there people around who may have seen somebody acting suspicious? Better yet, are there security cameras nearby? Police attending should cover these bases, but ask around while you’re waiting for them to arrive if you can.
4. Assess the need to call your insurance company
If there is significant damage to your vehicle, enough that you can’t drive it away, a call to your insurance company should help with tow truck arrangements. It will also get the ball rolling as far as repairs are concerned, and should have you back on the road sooner.
It may be that the damage is relatively minor, in which case a call to your insurance company may add unnecessary complication in future, including a potentially more expensive premium or denial of cover. If you consider organising your own repairs, take the car to a secure place and start your research before contacting your insurer.
If your car was parked at home when the incident happened, your home and contents insurance may cover items stolen from inside, though it’s unlikely to cover damage to the car itself.
5. Get your car repaired
If you’re insured, and you have chosen to leave the repairs to your insurer, this part will be easy.
Where damage is limited to a single window or a door lock, it may be more cost effective to handle the repairs yourself rather than pay your insurance excess. This will also be the way to go if you do not have comprehensive insurance. Get the vehicle to a safe place and call a couple of workshops for a repair quote. Then compare that cost with the price of going through insurance.
If taking care of your own repairs is something you’re not confident with, leave it to your insurance company, which should be able to book your car into a repairer near you so that you can drop it off and get it back as good as new.
6. Take steps to prevent another break-in
Try to not to park anywhere a thief will find it easy to hide from view while breaking in. Dark corners, spots far from other people, and things like that. Does your car have an alarm? Is it working? An alarm won’t stop a criminal if they really want to steal from you, but they are a deterrent, and could reduce the impact of a break-in.
Old-school methods like club locks are another type of deterrent that make it harder to drive away in a car, so if a modern security system is out of reach this is an option to consider.
Another obvious strategy is to make sure no valuables are left in view from outside the car. Petty thieves will smash a window for a few gold coins in a cup holder, or a cheap GPS unit left on a dashboard. Put them out of sight.