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Car Break-In? From Glass Repair to Insurance Claims, Here's What to Do

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An illustration of the exterior of a car, from the front passenger seat. The window has been shattered and the space around the car has been filled up with the drawings of broken glass shards.
Having your car windows smashed by thieves looking for items to steal now feels like a frustrating rite of passage in the Bay Area. Car break-ins have become so prevalent that some residents refer to them by the unofficial term, 'bipping.' (Illustration by Anna Vignet/KQED)

If you’ve lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for any period of time, and you’ve never had your car broken into, you can count yourself among the lucky few.

At this point, having your car windows smashed by thieves looking for items to steal feels like a queasy rite of passage for residents. You might have also heard it unofficially called “bipping.”

“I would say somewhere between 50% to 25% of our volume is auto break-ins,” says Ladan Sobhani, the co-owner of Berkeley repair shop Auto Glass Express. In her experience, “it’s not ‘if’, it’s ‘when’ you’ll get your car broken into if you live in the Bay Area.”

And what if you don’t lose any personal belongings? A car break-in will still leave you stuck with broken windows, which could end up being quite expensive depending on your insurance and the level of your deductible.

We spoke to auto repair professional Sobhani as well as Janet Ruiz, Director of Strategic Communications at the Insurance Information Institute, about what you need to know about having your car broken into in the Bay Area. So keep reading for advice on:

And if you’re looking for strategies to potentially reduce your chances of getting bipped again, we also have a guide with some tips that could help keep your car safe.

What to do immediately after a car break-in

At the scene: Take photos of the damage.

You may feel angry or frustrated when you come back to your car and see it’s been broken into. Even if you discover nothing was taken from your car, this experience can feel extremely violating —  whether it’s your first or your third break-in.

As much as you’re able, put aside your emotions temporarily, swing into action and start taking photos of your car with your cell phone. Taking photos of your car, says Ruiz from the Insurance Information Institute, is “the first thing you should do whenever you have a loss,” for insurance purposes.

Take as many clear photos of the damage as you can, including from outside the car and inside it too. If it’s dark, make sure to turn on your camera phone’s flash. If your hands are shaking — break-ins can be jarring, especially if it’s your first time — take a pause to calm yourself or ask someone else to take photos for you. You don’t want blurry, unclear photos for your insurance claim.

Tempered glass used in car windows usually shatters in a way that doesn’t create jagged, sharp pieces, so your risks of getting cut are low.

After you’ve taken photos, don’t stress too much about sweeping up all the broken glass from your back seat, as a glass repair shop will almost certainly be able to vacuum this glass up for you. Of course, if you need to transport passengers back home in your back seat — or have a car seat for a kid back there — you may want to do some brushing.

Whatever you do, just be careful when using any automatic or manual window controls after a break-in. You can accidentally dislodge and spread around even more broken glass doing this.

A street in San Francisco lined with Victorian homes and cars. The camera is angled from a lower angle to focus on shards of shattered glass on the floor.
Broken car-window-glass pieces are seen by a curb in Alamo Square on June 16, 2023. Tempered glass used in car windows usually shatters in a way that doesn’t create jagged, sharp pieces, so your risks of getting cut are low. (Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

At the scene: Has your stuff been dumped nearby?

If your bags were snatched from your back seat or trunk, there’s a chance that the thieves may have rifled through them and then dumped anything they didn’t deem of value.

If you feel safe doing so, take a look on the street near your car and on streets nearby — particularly paying attention around bushes, hedges, trash cans and dumpsters — to see if any of your bags or items have been tossed there. It’s not guaranteed, but it’s worth a shot.

Some people in the Bay Area make it their mission to unofficially reunite owners with their stolen items when they find them on the street, like Andrea Carla Michaels of LostandFoundSanFrancisco.com. You could also check sites like Nextdoor.com, local Facebook groups and subreddits like r/sanfrancisco, r/oakland and r/bayarea to see if anyone has found your stuff and wants to help you reunite with it.

At the scene or after: File a police report.

If the thieves are long gone, and you aren’t injured, should you still file a police report? Yes.

For one thing, your insurer may require you to have a police report on hand in order to process your claim. Bay Area officials are also encouraging residents to report these crimes. Doing so gives authorities “an idea of where to put our resources,” said San Francisco Police Department Chief Bill Scott at a press conference held on Aug. 24. “We can’t solve problems that we don’t know about.”

You can usually file a police report one of several ways:

  • Call the police non-emergency line (do not call 911 to file a police report).
  • File a police report online — and make sure you save a copy for your records.
  • Call 3-1-1.

Remember: If you live in a different city, you should report the crime to the police department in the city in which the break-in occurred, not the one you live in.

You can also go in-person to a police station to file a report. In San Francisco, you can also ask station officers to check your vehicle for fingerprints. “Please have your car fingerprinted. Sometimes we get evidence,” said SFPD Chief Scott. “It’s hard, but sometimes we do.”

An urban park surrounded by cars. One of them has a rear window smashed. A police car is parked nearby.
If your car is broken into while you’re visiting a city, remember to file a police report in the city where the theft happened. If you are going to file an insurance claim for the broken glass or your stolen goods, you will most likely have to provide your insurer with a police report. (Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

After: Think if any stolen items could compromise your personal safety or identity.

If documents containing any personal details were stolen, you could be at a higher risk for identity theft. The California Attorney General’s website has details on how to monitor your credit for free.

If any credit or debit cards were among items stolen from your car, contact your bank immediately to have them canceled. You may also be prompted to list this theft on your police report.

If your house keys, entry keycards or garage opener to your building were stolen in a car break-in, you might strongly consider having the locks changed or those keycards wiped. This is especially important if thieves also took anything that would let them know your address, such as your insurance cards or vehicle registration.

After: If you had items stolen, start tracking down proof you owned them.

Insurance companies usually won’t just take your word on which items were stolen from your car. You’ll need to prove you actually bought them, with something like a receipt.

Unless you’re incredibly organized, you might not have a drawer back at home full of receipts for every item of value you’ve ever purchased in your life. The Insurance Information Institute’s Ruiz recommends that you look through your checking account or your credit card statements, which will provide a record of the purchase. You can then take a screenshot of the transaction.

One tip for the future, says Ruiz, is to make time to do what she calls a “home inventory”: Walk around your home one day and snap photos or videos of everything you own. “Open doors, open closets — go in your garage,” she recommends and particularly focus on getting photos of all your electronics. If you have expensive stereo equipment fitted in your car, you should photograph that too. These photos will act as a timestamped record you actually owned these items.

After: Driving your car with a broken window until you get repairs.

Driving with a broken car window only becomes illegal, according to Section 26710 of California’s Vehicle Code, “when the windshield or rear window is in such a defective condition as to impair the driver’s vision either to the front or rear.” Thieves are usually likely to break your back side windows for their convenience and speed.

A repair shop will likely be able to seal up your broken car windows with “crash wrap,” a temporary adhesive film, says auto repair professional Sobhani — especially if you need to wait a little while on new glass.

But if you can’t get to a repair shop quickly and want to seal up the window yourself with film, a trash bag or cardboard, Sobhani recommends that you use blue painter’s tape — not duct tape or packing tape, “because that can really damage the paint on the car.”

A person uses a vacuum to sweep pieces of broken glass from the interior of a car. This is happening inside a car shop.
When you first call your insurance provider to report the break-in, you’ll probably get a recommendation of where to get repairs. However, you are not required to choose the default repair service your insurer suggests — it’s your right, under the law. (Michael Macor/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)

Working with your insurance company to get your car windows fixed after a break-in

First, know what your policy covers.

After your car gets broken into, there are two types of insurance claims that you could file:

  • A claim for damages to your car, which is handled by your auto insurance.
  • A claim for any items stolen from your car in the break-in — that goes to your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance, if you have one.

As for what your policy actually covers, you’ll need to run that with your insurance provider, either by reading your policy itself or contacting your insurance agent. For example, Ruiz from the Insurance Information Institute says that some auto policies will offer broken glass repair as an “extra coverage” (also known as an add-on or endorsement on your policy) so you don’t have to pay a deductible for that specific service.

Basically, get in touch with your insurance provider as soon as possible after a break-in, to establish your policy details and kick off the process of getting your car fixed up. Who pays for what and how that happens will come later.

Know what your deductible is, and how it works.

The deductible on your policy is a minimum — a dollar amount that you’ll have to pay yourself, with no reimbursement, before your insurer will start paying anything.

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An example: Let’s say the deductible on your auto insurance policy is $500. Once you’ve got a quote for repair work after a break-in, those repairs will cost $700. This does not mean your insurer will pay $500 toward these repairs. Instead, this means that if you claim on your insurance for this repair, you’ll have to pay $500 and your insurer will only pay $200.

Yes — in this situation you will have to cover the majority of the costs, even though you pay into your auto insurance plan every month for the exact purpose of covering damages to your car.

At her auto repair shop in Berkeley, Sobhani oftenly hears a misconception from customers: Many believe that the deductible is a yearly threshold. But the truth is that you have to cover the deductible every time you make a new claim on your insurance. “It’s not like, ‘Oh, you paid $500 so far this year and so now the next five auto repairs, glass repairs, are free,” said Sobhani. “It is per incident.”

Remember: Policies that are cheap to pay for each month (the premium) will nearly always have a high deductible — and conversely, policies with a higher monthly premium usually come with a lower deductible.

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What about my personal items that were stolen?

“Renters’ insurance does cover stolen items from your vehicle,” said Ruiz from the Insurance Information Institute. This is when it will be very helpful to have any documentation you have that confirms you purchased the items that were stolen during the break-in.

Some insurers may apply limits on how much they will cover for each personal item you lost. An item might have cost you $500 new, but your insurance policy may only cover that kind of item up to a certain dollar amount. These limits apply to items like electronics, jewelry, furs and cash, says Ruiz.

A car is parked next to a park. The rear window of the car has been smashed.
A car with a broken window is seen in San Francisco’s Alamo Square on June 16, 2023. Thieves are usually likely to break your back side windows for their convenience and speed. (Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Get a quote for the cost of repairing your car windows.

In California, the law says that you can choose whichever repair shop you want to do your car’s glass or body repairs. The upside of this is that you can shop around to find the best price. The downside is: You have to spend time shopping around.

When you first call your insurance provider to report the break-in, you’ll probably get a recommendation of where to get repairs. However, you are not required to choose the default repair service your insurer suggests — whether you’re dissuaded by bad reviews, the price, how long it’ll take for a particular service to source your glass or you already have a relationship with a local glass-repair shop. (Or really, whatever reason you like — it’s your right, under the law.)

To find a local glass-repair shop and get their quote for your repair work, start by asking around for recommendations or reading reviews online on pages like Yelp or YourMechanic.

You may hear that certain repair shops are “in network” with an insurer. This usually means that this shop frequently works with that insurer to honor insurance claims, has experience in working directly with insurers on processing costs, or is otherwise considered a “partner” with an insurer. Regardless, in California you can still choose whichever repair shop you want to do your glass repairs after a break-in.

One possible reason a repair shop may not take your insurance is if an insurer’s reimbursement rates are just too low to cover any work done by that shop.

Make a decision on whether to claim on your insurance or not.

Once you’ve got a cost estimate for glass repairs, keep in mind just how high your deductible will be.

If your deductible is $600, but the repairs will cost $620, this means that your insurance would only pay only $20 even if you made a claim. In these types of situations, where the deductible is overwhelmingly bigger than what your policy will cover, consider what’s more practical for you: dealing with your insurer, or paying for all the expenses yourself out of pocket.

If you’re suffering multiple break-ins in a year, and each time your deductible is so high as to keep you from claiming on your insurance, you may consider revising your policy details to lower your deductible amount. Unfortunately, this will almost certainly mean higher premiums.

According to Ruiz from the Insurance Information Institute, two things can happen if you make multiple claims on your auto or homeowner’s insurance: “Your premiums could go up,” she said, or this could otherwise “signal the insurer that you’re not managing your parking of your vehicle, where you park, your security, etcetera.”

Insurance claims after a car break-in: Who pays upfront?

With some insurance claims, the glass repair shop you choose will be able to bill your insurer for the cost of repairs directly — meaning that, aside from your deductible, you don’t pay anything upfront. This is where the issue of whether you’ve chosen a repair shop that’s “in network” with your insurer may become relevant. This option may prevent you having to pay more up-front, but could potentially take more time, if a shop has to go back-and-forth with your insurer.

With other claims, some customers will pay all costs out of pocket and then work with their insurer afterwards to get reimbursed. This option could mean repairs getting done faster — potentially — but mean far more up-front costs for you.

Be sure to ask your insurer how payment will be handled for your claim, so you don’t get any surprises or an unexpected bill.

Be prepared to wait for your glass repairs.

If getting your car fixed up as soon as possible is a matter of urgency — for example, because you need your car for work — you may decide to factor in how quickly a shop could repair your glass alongside the issue of cost.

And depending on what kind of car you have, you could be waiting a while. Sobhani says that in particular, “the rear windows on the Hyundai and Kia are the ones that have been hardest to get” recently — something she says is in large part due to a security flaw in those brands that makes stealing them easier. She also notes that in her experience with customers with brand new cars, the carmakers are “saving what’s available” for cars on the production line. On the other end of the spectrum, “really old cars” can be tough to quickly source glass for, said Sobhani.

Being willing to have your car window repaired with used glass — rather than new — could also potentially reduce the time it takes to get your vehicle fixed.

If you have to wait for a glass order, your repair shop may offer to hold onto your car for you until then. “Some of those people choose to just leave their cars here since we have a secure garage,” said Sobhani.

If being without your car for several days is not an option, the repair shop will likely be able to seal your car window up with crash wrap. Remember: If you opt to seal up your window yourself, don’t use duct tape or packing tape, which can damage your car paint.

KQED’s Azul Dahlstrom-Eckman and Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez contributed (after the latter’s car got bipped — sorry Joe!) to this story.

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