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How To Prevent Wheel Thefts And The Need For An Insurance Claim

By Aaron Crowe

The remains of a wheel theft can look like a flashback to the 1980s: A car left up on cinder blocks, giving the impression that the area is crime-ridden.

From new-car dealers to whole neighborhoods, wheel thefts are on the rise again. The entire wheel is often stolen, and the tire and rim are sold individually. Wheels can be removed in a few minutes after jacking up the car and removing the lug nuts with a power tool.

Wheels are expensive to replace, whether you’re buying them from a car dealer, online or in a shady deal from a guy on the street. New wheels for a Camaro, for example, cost about $1,900 on eBay.

The thefts happen in well-lit areas not often known for crime, and can leave drivers unsure how to keep their wheels from being stolen and whether their insurance normally covers the loss.

Vehicles damaged in thefts

When wheels are stolen, the thieves need to jack up the car and put it on blocks so they can get the wheels off. If the vehicles fall off the blocks, more damage can happen. A Chevrolet dealer in Texas had 88 wheels stolen in February, and some vehicles had frame damage when they fell off wooden blocks that they were left on.

Some cars are targeted by thieves for their wheels. The Honda Fit Sport has 15-inch alloy wheels that fit low-riding custom street cars and some popular car models. They can sell for hundreds of dollars in illegal markets.

What insurance covers

Car owners could spend a lot more replacing them, depending on their insurance coverage and if the car is damaged during the theft. Wheel thefts are covered by comprehensive insurance, the part of auto insurance that covers thefts, fire, vandalism and other sorts of damage to a car that aren’t part of an auto accident. Damage sustained during a theft, such as to an exhaust system, would also be covered. A policyholder will need to pay a deductible before the coverage kicks in.

Comprehensive coverage doesn’t cover anything other than the factory wheels that came with the car. If you bought expensive chrome rims, they’ll only be covered up to the cost of the wheels that came with the car, though extra coverage can be added for such parts.

There can also be the expense of having the car towed for repairs, and the headache of not having a car while the repairs are being made. Rental car reimbursement insurance will help with some of that extra cost.

How to avoid wheel thefts

There are some things drivers can do to deter thieves. Wheel locks are a good start, says Chuck Hawks, who owns a driving school. While not impassible, they’re a great deterrent with lugs that aren’t bypassed easily, Hawks says. Wheel locks can cost $30 to $90 for a set of four.

Also park with your wheels turned so that they’re a bit more complicated for thieves to get to.

If you find your car’s wheels stolen, stay with the car until a tow truck or roadside assistance arrives to help, Hawks suggests. A car on blocks could invite more thieves to steal stuff from it. Only stay inside the car if it’s safely off the road, and if you have to leave it close to a traffic lane, get out and get a safe distance from the car while you wait, he says.

After a wheel theft, report the crime to police so you have an official report to help file an insurance claim.

Before buying a car, check the theft database of the National Highway Safety Administration for the theft rate of cars you’re considering buying. The data may be a few years old, so also search online for the cars you’re looking at to see if they’ve been stolen often.

Aaron Crowe is a journalist who covers the auto industry for CheapCarInsurance.net.