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Dealing with car vandalism

Consumer Reports News: August 10, 2007 01:41 PM

I recently returned from a vacation to find my personal car, a 1996 Audi A4, vandalized. I left the sedan at an off-site, private airport parking service. Apparently the company did not put it in a secure parking lot, and thieves looking to steal it, presumably for parts, created some significant damage.

Vandalism to your car is something most of us know could happen, but don't always worry about. However, it's important to know what to do in the event this happens. In my case, the car was parked about 2 hours (120 miles or so) away from home, making this situation even more stressful, since I wasn't sure how I was getting home. Although I grew up in New Jersey, I wasn't familiar with where I should take the car to be repaired/stored/fixed/inspected. Plus, getting home meant taking an epic taxi ride or calling in a big favor from a friend or family member, or renting a car.  Not a good position to be in after a trip.

I've taken away a few lessons from this situation and want to share them with you to make sure you are prepared in case you suffer a similar fate.

1 - Keep important data handy. Before you even get into a situation like this, make sure you have your insurance company phone and policy number with you at all times. Keep this information in a date book or PDA, or even on a slip of paper in your wallet or purse. Include with it your Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) and license plate number. Depending on paperwork or a cell phone that was left in your glove box won't help you if the entire car is stolen or has been rifled through.

2 - Call the police. Insist that they come to the location so you can file a report. Get the name and contact number of the officer who takes the report, and find out when and where you can get a copy of the report. This information will be important later on when dealing with your insurance company.

3 - Contact your insurance company immediately. They will take down relevant information and guide you as to what to do. Make sure you ask them any question you may have, such as towing or rental car needs. Don't assume anything.

4 - Document everything. Document all of the damage done, as well as any missing items. If the car was damaged when in the hands of a valet, garage, or when under the care of another party, go over the list with them and fill out any necessary paperwork. Request a copy of this paperwork, although they may claim that company policy prevents them from giving it to you. Get the name, title, and contact information for all of the people you deal with. If you have a camera, or even a camera phone, take pictures of everything.

Going forward, keep a folder of all paperwork, receipts, and notes of conversations you have regarding the vehicle. It's important to keep this organized and at hand, as you will inevitably be dealing with adjusters, the police, company representatives, and the repair shop at various times over the next few days and weeks.

5 - Finally, keep calm.
It sounds silly, but getting mad or frustrated won't help. Yes, you feel violated and vulnerable, but you need to keep your wits about you to make important decisions over the next few hours.

This isn't a hard-and-fast list, and everyone's situation will vary. But use it as a guide to prepare yourself and your family members if it should ever happen. College students, in particular, often live hours or days away from home, and should make sure they are prepared in advance in case their car is damaged.

In the end, my car came close to being totaled by the insurance company. The high labor rates and prices for some of the parts totaled over $4,000. The value of the car was just past the threshold for automatically totaling the car. I chose to get it repaired, since it is mechanically solid. It took almost three months before I got back the car and had my deductible reimbursed by the parking facility's insurance company. I am still waiting for my rental car costs to be reimbursed. And yet, without the police report and accurate record keeping, the process would have been worse.

--Jon Linkov

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