How to Check to See If You Are Buying a Stolen Car

Is My Car Stolen?
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Buying a car can be a long and strenuous process. Buying a car and finding out afterward that it is a stolen vehicle can be extremely strenuous -- not to mention very costly. You might be surprised to find out stolen cars can be sold to unsuspecting drivers in a number of different ways and locations. Knowing how to protect yourself from getting tricked into purchasing a stolen vehicle could save you thousands of dollars and tons of stress.

When Are You Most At Risk?

According to FBI’s most recent data, over 748,000 vehicles were stolen nationwide in 2018, or around 228 stolen vehicles per 100,000 people. But contrary to what you might believe, it’s not hot rod sports cars that are most likely to be stolen.

In their 2018 Hot Wheels Report, the National Insurance Crime Bureau details the top 10 most stolen cars nationwide. In first and second place are the humble Honda Civic and Honda Accord, together representing around 1/7th of all car thefts in this country.

Aside from buying an old and reliable vehicle, you should use extra caution and good judgment if you are buying a car for sale by owner, buying a car online from a stranger, or even at a less recognized or prominent dealership.

How People Get Away With Selling a Stolen Vehicle

Thieves are devious and often genius. Many know exactly how to get away with a crime and leave an unsuspecting buyer left with essentially nothing. Did you know if a vehicle you purchased is determined to be stolen property you can lose it because it can be seized while you are left empty-handed?

Many car thieves tear down the stolen property and sell its parts. However, selling a stolen vehicle in its entirety can be much more lucrative. The thieves take the legit information off of a registered vehicle with a similar year, make, and model, and pass their stolen vehicle off for this other, legitimately registered car. They use a false VIN and alter the numbers everywhere the VIN is found. Usually, you can find it on the interior of the car door, the dashboard when you look down through the windshield, the title, and the registration.

How to Spot a Stolen Car for Sale

It can be fairly easy to spot a stolen car for sale when you know what to look for while car shopping. Is the seller trustworthy? Well, that can sometimes be hard to tell, but usually you just kind of know. Are you looking to buy a car from a well known established used car dealership or are you purchasing online? Can you trust a seller on the internet? Cars are bought online all of the time. However, the risk of buying a stolen vehicle is obviously greater. You will definitely need to do some research.

Inspect the vehicle yourself and have a mechanic take a look. You should check the VIN number on the vehicle and match it at each location. Is it unreadable on the door or dash? Does it match the title? It is a quick and simple way to check if the vehicle is stolen. Still not sure? Taking the car to a mechanic will help you determine if there are any obvious mechanical problems with the vehicle. A good mechanic will also be able to see if anything odd has been done to the vehicle. Any aftermarket parts or prior damage should be noticeable and could be a red flag if there is no mention of any prior damage.

Run the VIN through the National Insurance Crime Bureau database to find out if the vehicle was reported stolen and unrecovered. This is totally free and a great tool to help you protect yourself against purchasing a stolen vehicle.

Check the vehicle's history with Carfax. Carfax tells you so much valuable information about the history of a vehicle; it is recommended to always check before you make a used car purchase. You can see salvaged, junked, and flooded titles, frame and structural damage, accident indicators and more. Many dealerships give you a free Carfax on their used vehicles.

Keep It Simple

You are the only one who can look out for you! You cannot depend on anyone else when it comes to making smart financial decisions. Car insurance will not protect you against purchasing a stolen vehicle. Educating yourself on these issues before you close on a deal is the very best first step. 

  • Verify VIN on the vehicle
  • Get an inspection
  • Check the vehicle's history with Carfax

Know what to look for and don't follow through on a deal when you know it does not feel right. Get a second opinion. Getting the deal of the century on a stolen car is not going to do you a whole lot of good when it is repossessed, and you are left with nothing.