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How to Check to See if a Car is Stolen

Posted on by Dawna M. Roberts in ResourcesNovember 09, 2020

Buying a new car can be fun and exciting, even if the car you purchase is a used vehicle. It's even better when you find the perfect car or truck at a great price. But how do you know if you are being swindled and whether or not the car you are about to buy is stolen?

Vehicle Identification Number

One of the most important pieces of information you can gather about your new car is the vehicle identification number (VIN). This little 17-digit code can tell you so much about the vehicle. Every vehicle manufacturer is required by law to assign a unique identifier (like a serial number) to each car they make and sell. Usually, this number can be found on the inside the driver's door, the lower left side of the windshield, or on the steering wheel on the far left area. Depending on the vehicle, you could also find the VIN on the engine block, beneath the spare tire, inside the rear wheel wells, or somewhere on the frame near the hood. 

Take a quick inspection and make sure the VINs listed all match, and the car wasn't pieced together with other stolen parts. 

You can then use that VIN and enter it into various websites online, showing you the original year, make/model, manufacturer, and trim level. Some reports will also show you where the car was registered and when, any accidents, water damage by flood, fire, or collision damage due to accidents and the vehicle's maintenance history. These reports will show if the vehicle has a salvage or other branded title and shouldn't even be sold or driven. You can also find out if there are open recalls on the car.

The next thing to check is head over to the National Insurance Crime Bureau website and run the VIN through there to check to see if the car is reported as stolen. Just be aware that if the vehicle was not reported as stolen yet, it might not come back with anything.

You can also use third-party websites to check the VIN and find out all kinds of information, including whether or not it is listed as stolen.

Check with Your Insurance Company

Another great way to ensure that the vehicle you are buying is clean is to call your automobile insurance agent and give them the VIN. They have access to other more extensive databases and can check to see if the car is stolen, if the VIN accurately matches the specifications, and if the car or truck has a branded title. Typically, if you are a customer, they will provide this service for free.

Ask to See the Maintenance Records

Whether you are buying from a dealer or a private individual, it's entirely appropriate to ask to see the vehicle's maintenance records. If they have trouble producing them, let that be a red flag. They should be able to provide you with some documentation, even if it's just the original manufacturer's manuals and inspection report.

Have a Mechanic Inspect the Car

If you know a good mechanic, have them inspect the car. They may unearth details that you might not know to look for that indicate that a vehicle is stolen or has been put back together using junk parts. 

Other Indications the Car Might be Stolen

Pay close attention to the seller and how he or she acts. If they need to sell the car quickly or want to meet up in a strange location like a parking lot, don't fall for it. If they refuse to let you have the car inspected or act fishy when you ask questions about the VIN, repair records, or if the vehicle has been in an accident, walk away. There is a saying, "if something seems too good to be true, it probably is." That's good advice to live by.

One of the most popular stolen vehicles is a Honda Accord or Civic. Therefore, if that is the make and model you are buying, be extra careful. You can also check online to see other makes and models that are stolen more often so you can stay away from those as possible purchase candidates.

It's always best to purchase from someone you know or a trusted dealer. Not every private seller will be trying to scam you, but there are plenty out there who will. 

Why You Should Care if it is Stolen

If you buy a stolen car, the vehicle will be identified when you go to register it, and law enforcement will seize it, and eventually, it may be returned to the original owner. At the very least, they may also deem it a total loss with a branded title. Therefore, you will have lost your money, and now you don't even have a car to show for it. 

Use common sense when buying anything, especially a used car from someone you do not know. Ask a lot of questions and make sure they provide you with adequate answers and paperwork before signing on the dotted line or handing over any cash. 

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