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Will Insurance Cover Theft From an Unlocked Vehicle?

by Christopher Williams, Demand Media

    Finding out that someone has helped himself to your GPS device or stolen your car’s stereo can put a real damper on your day -- especially when you realize that you forgot to lock your car the night before. It’s okay, though; that’s why you carry auto insurance, right? You figure you’ll just report the loss to your insurance company, get a check in the mail, and everything will be right as rain. Chances are that you’ll only get disappointment.

    The Heart of the Matter

    In most cases, even if your car had been locked, your auto coverage won’t cover theft of personal property from your car. That’s not the purpose for which auto insurance was intended. Policies can vary between states and insurers, but auto coverage typically only covers your vehicle itself against damage or theft. If your window was broken during the theft, for example, that would be a covered loss. You policy also offers bodily injury and property damage protections, but those only protect you if your car hurts someone else or damages their property. Very few -- if any -- auto policies will cover you if your CD collection or laptop were stolen from your car.

    What Personal Property Is -- and Isn't

    Generally, auto insurance defines personal property as those items that are not affixed to the car. Accordingly, items like your car stereo or custom rims would likely be covered under the comprehensive portion of your policy. Anything that’s not part of the car, such as your GPS, laptop or cell phone, are considered personal property and as such aren’t normally covered. You may be able to get a policy add-on called a "theft rider," which can extend coverage to those kinds of items.

    All is Not Lost

    In most situations, your personal property is covered under your homeowner or renter’s insurance, regardless of where it is when the loss occurs. The specific terms of your coverage are usually spelled out in the personal property section of your policy. It’s a good idea to read through it so you know where you’ll stand if you ever need to file a claim. Before you file, though, make sure that the value of the items that were stolen add up to more than your deductible. If they don’t, you’ll still be paying for their replacement on your own. Even if they do, you should consider that your insurance company could raise your premiums as the result of the claim. You might decide that it’s not worth filing the claim after all.

    It's Not a Negligence Policy

    If you decide to file a claim, chances are your insurance company won’t just cut you a check because you said your laptop was stolen. They’re in business to make money, so they won’t pay if they don’t have to. Your insurer will normally conduct some kind of investigation to rule out fraud, and that’s where the fact that your car was unlocked may come back to bite you. It might not result in automatic denial, but it will almost certainly make getting a payout more challenging. The investigator may suspect that you left your car unlocked intentionally just to collect the insurance money.

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    About the Author

    Christopher Williams has owned and operated his own graphic design company since 2002. In addition to his experience as a business owner, he also has a wide range of experience in sales, retail and customer service.

    Photo Credits

    • BananaStock/BananaStock/Getty Images

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