July 1, 2004, Washington, DC ? Summer is open season for many different kinds of activities. It is also prime season for vehicle thefts, which peak in July and August. Unfortunately, after a decade of decline, the latest FBI Uniform Crime Report indicates that vehicle theft is on the rise again, with 1.2 million motor vehicles stolen in 2002. Using that number, the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) calculates that a motor vehicle is stolen in the United States every 24 seconds.
?It is just as important to be prepared to handle your vehicle being stolen as it is to practice preventive measures,? said Carolyn Gorman, vice president of the I.I.I., a non-profit organization. ?But all too often, consumer attitudes about vehicle thefts are based on misconceptions, which can lead to expensive consequences for the unprepared victim.?
That?s why, unlike many other consumer education initiatives that offer excellent advice to help prevent vehicle theft, Auto Theft Awareness Month is designed to educate drivers to be better prepared to handle a vehicle theft when it does occur. The campaign, which also provides information on being prepared for auto accidents, is part of a larger program called ?Wiser Drivers Wise Up? (www.wiserdrivers.com), sponsored by the Consumer Protection Association of America in cooperation with the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) and National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB).
Myth: Most Thefts Occur in Unprotected Areas. Despite conventional wisdom, parking in an unprotected area does not mean your vehicle is more likely to be stolen. An FBI report on ?Crime in the United States, 2000? shows that more than one-third of all vehicle thefts occur at a home or residence, compared to only two of every 10 vehicle thefts occurring at a parking lot or parking structure. Vehicles that are stolen from highways, roads or alleys, including carjacking, account for the least number of thefts.
Myth: Stolen Vehicles Are Usually Found. Drivers who believe their stolen car will eventually be found also may be making a false assumption, especially if their vehicle has been missing for more than six days. Although about one-half of all stolen vehicles are recovered, the first few days are critical. Even if the vehicle is recovered, it may be completely totaled. The longer the vehicle is in the possession of criminals, the less chance of recovery. Interestingly, Fridays and Saturdays are the days with the highest frequency of motor vehicle theft and Mondays and Tuesdays have the highest recovery rates.
Myth: Insurance Always Provides a Rental Car. Another common misconception many insured drivers have is that once they report a stolen car, their auto insurance will automatically cover a rental car until their vehicle is found or they buy a new one. Unfortunately, although insurance for theft is included in the comprehensive part of an auto insurance policy, this coverage is not mandatory. And, even if you have comprehensive, it may not include coverage for a replacement rental car for a stolen vehicle.
?Many people shopping for the lowest rates on auto insurance fail to consider some the least expensive options, which can save them a lot of money down the road,? said Gorman. ?For example, replacement rental car coverage is only a couple dollars a month, so it can cost more for a one-day car rental than a full-year of coverage.? She added that since most insurance companies wait an average of two to four weeks if the stolen car is not found before authorizing the purchase of a new car, the victim could end up paying as much as $1,000 to rent a car during the interim.
?It makes sense to review your auto insurance once a year to make sure it will cover you needs if your vehicle is stolen or damaged in a crash,? Gorman added. More information from the Insurance Information Institute on auto theft is available at www.iii.org/media/hottopics/insurance/test4/.
Myth: Thieves Are Not Interested in Older Vehicles. Those who believe that older vehicles are of no interest to thieves should think again. In 2002, the top five model years stolen were 1995, 1994, 1989, 1990 and 1991, respectively, according to The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), which combats auto theft by investigating cases referred to it by insurers and through its online databases. ?Older vehicles are most often taken for their parts which are no longer manufactured and are too difficult or expensive to obtain,? said Robert M. Bryant, president and chief executive officer of NICB. Unfortunately, motorists with older vehicles who have dropped comprehensive coverage to save money are not covered for theft and do not qualify for replacement rental car coverage. NICB also publishes annual lists of the top thefts by region and by year, make and model, as well as most popular colors stolen and other information, including tips to help avoid theft using its ?Layered Approach to Protection? at www.nicb.org.
While you may not be able to prevent your vehicle from being stolen, despite taking every precaution, you can take many of the following steps in advance. Being prepared may ultimately help law enforcement recover your vehicle more quickly and reduce your expenses.
If you discover that your vehicle has been stolen, notify law enforcement immediately. Speed is essential in recovering stolen cars; any delay in reporting only helps the thieves. Many times the report can be taken over the telephone. Be prepared to give its make, color, model, license plate number, and Vehicle Identification Number (located on a metal plate near where the windshield meets the dashboard on the driver?s side).
Keep a photocopy of your license plate registration and insurance card in your wallet or at home. This will enable you to provide information quickly to law enforcement and your insurance claims agent.
Make your vehicle easier to identify. One way is to write your initials on an index card and drop it in the window slot, or carefully engrave your initials inside the trunk, hood, or even the dashboard near the VIN (vehicle identification) number.
Review your insurance policy annually. Don?t wait until after your vehicle is stolen to find out you don?t have the coverage you think you have. Consumer Reports (www.consumerreports.org) advises drivers to review their auto insurance policy once a year, including coverage you must have, coverage you?ll probably need, and additional types of coverage, including roadside assistance and rental reimbursement.
Exercise caution if you see someone tampering with your car. Call 911 as quickly as possible. Don?t initiate a fight with anyone, especially in a secluded area.
Supported by 1,000 major property and casualty insurance companies, the National Insurance Crime Bureau (www.nicb.org), based in Chicago, is a not-for-profit organization dedicated exclusively to fighting insurance fraud and theft through criminal investigations, industry training and public education programs. For more information on fraud and how it affects everyone, please visit www.nicb.org.
The Insurance Information Institute (www.iii.org) is a non-profit, communications organization supported by the property/casualty insurance industry.