It's always a sinking feeling to return to your car only to find it has been broken into. There are immediate steps you need to take, especially if your car insurance policy has coverage for this type of incident. 

Here are the steps you should follow.

Document the damage and file a police report

As soon as you discover your car is broken into, take pictures of any damage your car has sustained. You should also create a list of what was stolen from the vehicle.

You will also need to file a police report. A police officer will arrive at the scene or you can go to a police station. The documents you will need for the police report include your driver's license, vehicle registration, insurance information, photos of the damage, and a list of what was stolen.

>>READ MORE: Top 10 most stolen vehicles

Protect yourself from identity theft and credit card fraud

If you had credit or debit cards or any items in the car with information such as your Social Security number, you will want to quickly let companies know your personal information has been stolen. Place a fraud alert on your credit records with Experian, TransUnion or Equifax. If you call one of these companies, it puts an alert on your accounts at all three credit bureaus. 

Next, contact your financial institutions to let them know your credit or debit card has been stolen so they can freeze your account.

Decide if you should file an insurance claim

You need to have comprehensive coverage on your auto insurance policy in order to have break-ins covered. If any damage to your car is minimal, it might not exceed your comprehensive deductible. If this is the case, there's no point in filing a claim.

However, your auto insurance policy covers only the car itself and things that are permanently affixed. If you had any personal property stolen from your car such as a laptop or tools, you’ll need to have either renters or homeowners insurance. Check your policy details, and you will have a separate deductible from that of the damage to your car.

Have your vehicle fixed

If the break-in is covered by your car insurance, an adjuster will be assigned to your claim. They will work with you to get your car fixed. Adjusters usually offer a group of repair shops that have been pre-approved by their insurance company. If you use one of their shops, the claim will be processed faster and the insurance company will stand behind the work. You can also choose your own repair shop.

How to protect yourself from car break-ins

Getting your car broken into is a major and potentially expensive event. Be sure to take steps to minimize the chances of this happening. 

Always close the car's windows and lock the doors. Even when you'll just be gone from the car for a short time, check all your windows and doors. 

Never leave your car running unoccupied. Just walking to the other side of your car to get the mail is long enough for someone to break into your car. And when you're getting gas, be sure to take the key out of the ignition.

Hide or remove everything from your car. A potential thief shouldn't be able to see any belongings in your car, even shopping bags. It takes mere seconds for a smash-and-grab thief to shatter a window and run off with your laptop or other belongings.

Invest in an anti-theft system. This can be a window alarm, steering wheel lock or ignition cutoff system. There should be some indication that your car is outfitted with an anti-theft system. That way, a potential thief may decide it's not worth the hassle to break into your car.

Park your car in a well-lit spot whenever possible. Thieves would rather stay in the dark than break into a car with a light shining on them. If you must park in a dark area, park very close to a wall so a thief can't get in from the passenger side.

>>READ MORE: 14 must-know auto insurance terms

Conclusion

While we hope your car is never broken into, we know that life happens. Taking precautionary measures to prevent a potential break-in is a good idea. But if your car does get broken into, follow these steps and you’ll be back to using your vehicle as soon as possible.