Personal Finance

When car vandals attack

How bold do you have to be to spray-paint a police car?

A Fort Collins, Colo., police cruiser was just one of 50 cars marked up in a recent overnight attack. On one block in Brooklyn, 60 cars had their tires slashed . On the Isle of Man, 60 cars were sprayed with corrosive liquids that caused damage totaling over $80,000.

While most automotive vandals are not quite so ambitious, as their labors shrink in scale they become even more creepy. A scratch through the paint down the length of your new car is personal .

And it could even total your car.

Keying, broken windows and slashed tires are the most common vandalism claims, according to Angela Thorpe, spokesperson for State Farm. Even a simple keying can cost thousands of dollars to repair, if the scratch is deep and across several body panels.

"If the damage is severe or if the vehicle is older and has a lower actual cash value," Thorpe says, "it doesn't make financial sense to repair the car."

A vandalized car is bad enough, but without the proper insurance, it can turn into a very expensive headache. Vandalism falls under the comprehensive portion of your policy. If you are carrying a basic policy offering only liability coverage, you will be on your own when it comes to repair costs.

The good news: In most cases, a claim made against your comprehensive coverage will not raise your rates. (See "Will a vandalism claim make my rates go up?")

Vandalism is criminal mischief

A 2010 survey by Direct Line, a British insurer, found that four in 10 motorists had reported vandalism damage. The most common types were:

  • Keyed or scratched paintwork - 52 percent
  • Broken side mirrors - 34 percent
  • Smashed windows - 22 percent
  • Snapped antenna - 20 per cent
  • Snapped windshield wipers - 12 percent

According to the study, BMWs were the most frequently targeted car, with 49 percent of owners reporting deliberate damage to their cars.

For the most part, vandals are rarely caught. When they are, their crime in most U.S. jurisdictions is prosecuted as criminal mischief. Depending on the degree of damage, the crime can be a misdemeanor or a felony.

In Colorado, for example, damages of less than $100 are considered a Class 3 misdemeanor. You move into Class 4 felony territory when the damages exceed $500 but are less than $15,000. Over $15,000 is a Class 3 felony, which can land you in the clink for four to 12 years and cost up to $750,000 in fines -- something to think about before you head over to your ex's house with a can of paint in hand.

Police departments don't break out criminal mischief statistics by type, so it is difficult to nail down an exact number when it comes to automotive vandalism. In 2011, criminal mischief was the third most reported crime in Denver.

Random acts of vandalism covered

Comprehensive covers your vehicle from damage that is caused by an event other than a collision. Vandalism, fire, theft, flooding and animal damage are examples of covered incidents.

The coverage isn't required by your state, but your car loan may require that you carry it.

Comprehensive is usually the cheapest part of an insurance policy, making up about 10 to 15 percent of the typical premium, says Penny Gusner, consumer analyst with Of course, your deductible still applies.

Comprehensive will cover legitimate vandalism, but it won't cover intentional damage or damage caused by a person who is named on the policy, Thorpe says. So, if your ex-spouse or enraged teenaged child takes a baseball bat to your car, you are not covered. In general, damage by family members isn't covered, regardless of whether they are named on the policy.

The same goes for taking a bat to your own car. Insurance fraud is measured in the billions of dollars each year. If you are filing a vandalism claim, be prepared for an investigation, especially if it is a high-value claim.

Experts offer these tips for filing a vandalism claim:

  • Get a police report. Your insurer will require one for any claim. And police might not make your defaced car a top priority, but the information gives them additional data.
  • Document the damage. Take photos, note missing items, and get copies of any paperwork. Gather receipts for stolen or damaged aftermarket items.
  • Protect the car from further loss. Broken windows should be covered to prevent weather damage. The car can be moved to prevent additional damage once police have given the OK. And material such as eggs that can damage paint if left to dry can be rinsed off.
  • Contact your insurer. Insurance companies can help guide you through the process. Ask about towing and rental car reimbursement.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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