The real cost of theft (Hint: it’s more than your GPS)

Written by on November 10, 2010 in Featured, Neighborhood News - No comments

The crumbled glass glittering on the sidewalk is the first clue. The gaping hole in the car window is the second.

Congratulations! You are the victim of a Larceny from Auto.

As the neighborhoods of South and Southeast Baltimore continue to gentrify, the shiny new cars are like catnip to criminals. After all, good cars are generally equipped with good stuff: GPS units, iTrips, designer sunglasses, wallets, smart phones and clothing are all sellable on the street or in pawnshops.

“I have seen an increase in comprehensive claims, which is vandalism, and the number one reason is there’s a lot more bounty around here,” says Charmaine Barnes of State Farm Insurance.

It’s easy enough to dismiss break-ins and losses as (a) something that just happens, and (b) something that can be covered by insurance. The lasting impact, however, goes surprisingly deep.

“When things of this nature happen, as they often do here in the city, one feels victimized,” says Jim Craig, a local AllState agent.

Victimization aside, the car owner is going to have to shell out a pocketful of cash. Craig recommends that clients have a comprehensive deductible that is low—zero is good, but anything under $100 is okay.

Higher than that, says Kery Kuo, owner of Bumper Globe Collision Center in Federal Hill, and you might be asking for trouble. The broken window, for example, can set you back $250 or more, including installation.

“If your insurance deductible is around $500, you might want to get an estimate from the automotive glass installer or body shop first, rather than going through the insurance hassles,” Kuo notes. “The number figure is much higher if you go for OEM (automotive expert parlance for ‘original equipment manufacturer’) window glass. Cheaper aftermarket glass might not guarantee exact fit but most will have an okay fit.”

Broken glass on the pavement or the car’s upholstery is more than an unsightly mess, Kuo adds. It can mean problems down the road. So to speak.

“Make sure the installer also do good glass debris removal inside the door shell, door panel, trim moulding and air vents,” he notes. “Glass debris from tempered glass still could get into your eyes when the vents or open window spew out the glass fragment suddenly. Sometimes, the window regulator gets damaged when the intruder forces the glass downward. New window regulator runs around $200 and up installed.”

If the intruder pried open the door and damaged the lock to get in rather than breaking a window, brace yourself. Those damages can cost upwards of a thousand dollars in repairs and labor, Kuo says.

Comprehensive insurance is essential, adds Craig. “Comprehensive claims on auto insurance generally don’t have an effect on your rate.”

Just don’t make the mistake of thinking car insurance is going to pick up the cost of everything that gets stolen. It won’t.

“Car insurance covers the car and everything that is part of the car,” Craig notes. “This includes damage to the window, door, locks, glove box, ignition, console, seats, etc.”

What about the most frequently stolen item these days: the GPS? Well, that’s sort of a grey area.
“GPS are problematic because more times than not, they are excluded under the auto as they are not a permanent part of the car. If the GPS is part of the car installed by a manufacturer then the GPS is insured for theft,” says Craig.

All too often, police say, drivers are leaving their GPS units in plain sight on the dashboard. Sometimes, they’re taking the time to put them under the seat or in the glove box—but leaving the mount in plain view. (Criminals love that; it’s the next best thing to an engraved invitation).

If you wind up having to replace your own GPS, the prices vary according to the degree of sophistication of the unit, says the consumer website, www.costhelper.com. Bare-bones models can range from $150 to $300, mid-range models between $300 and $500, and for top-end units with sophisticated bells and whistles like multiple languages, currency converters and BlueTooth interface, costs can run as high as $1,300.

Items that are not part of the car can be claimed on a home insurance policy, much the same way any losses incurred in a burglary would be.

“Home insurance covers everything in the car that is not part of the car,” notes Craig. “This includes cell phones, wallets, CDs, bags, clothes, computers, iPods, etc. These items are paid on a replacement cost basis with no depreciation. The homeowners insurance deductible applies to the theft of contents from the car.”  

There are caveats, however, he adds. “If a GPS is used exclusively with a car then it is excluded under the home policy. That means that it may be excluded by both the home and the car insurance. A GPS that is portable and not used exclusively in the car can be covered by the home insurance policy.”

All losses, however, are subject to the deductible listed on the policy, Craig notes.

“We recommend a deductible of $500 or $1,000 on home insurance. We don’t recommend filing smaller claims (less than $1,000) on home insurance. Theft claims on home insurance will have an effect on your rate.”

Homeowners’ insurance is mandatory for—well, homeowners. Those who rent can, if desired, take out renters’ insurance. It’s not required, but it is recommended.

While newer cars are attractive to thieves, says Kuo, manufacturers are helping owners stay a step ahead of criminals.

“Most late model vehicles with factory radio or navigation systems have built-in theft deterrent that requires dealership reprogramming if reinstalled with proof of ownership. Thieves usually go for aftermarket GPS units, stereos and woofer boxes.”

Police recommend keeping the inside of a car neat and clean, and avoiding visual clues that there might be sophisticated electronic equipment in use: Replace cigarette lighters (leaving the receptacle open can be a sign that devices such as GPS units, cell phones, etc. are often plugged in to charge, and are elsewhere in the car), and remove mounts for GPS units and radar detectors.

Take your stuff—purses, wallets, gym bags, laptops, smart phones, sunglasses, cameras, briefcases, sales samples—with you. Putting things in the trunk isn’t foolproof since most thieves, upon getting into the car, will hit the trunk release to see what’s in there.

“I don’t even leave a sweater in my car,” says Charmaine Barnes. “But you have a lot of people who move to the city, and where they used to live, they could leave their car on their driveway or in front of their house with things inside it and not worry about it. But if you’re going to live in an urban area, you have to understand how it works.”

And if a car isn’t all that new? Don’t figure it’s not a target, says Kuo.

“I have seen an old beater car with debris strewn all over inside, old newspapers, discarded soda bottles or rotting pizza boxes that had its window broken into three times,” he notes. “Apparently, the punk was simply looking for some coin change.”

Parking in a well-lighted spot is great, and so is having a car alarm with a red blinking light. Larceny from auto is a crime of opportunity, and the more obstacles you put in a thief’s way, the more likely it is that he will seek an easier target.

Cars are routinely robbed of exterior items including temporary and permanent license tags, registration stickers and (particularly among SUV owners) catalytic converters.

“We see a lot of the converters being taken,” says Bob Thrift, service manager at Tim Murphy’s Collision on E. Madison Street. “I would say those cost anywhere from $250 to $900 to replace, depending on the type.”

Ouch.

A car alarm system with a motion sensor is a good deterrent, but is there any way to make your car impermeable to exterior thefts?

“No,” says Thrift, sounding rueful. “If anyone wants something like that, they’re going to take it.”

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