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How to check if a car is stolen

Use our guide for quick advice on performing a VIN check to verify a car’s theft status, ensuring a secure purchase.

How to check if a car is stolen

Verifying a car’s status before purchasing is of utmost importance if you want to avoid potential legal and financial issues. A car with a stolen status can lead to significant problems, including the loss of the vehicle and money spent, as well as potential legal consequences for possessing stolen property. 

Checking a car’s status ensures you’re making a safe investment, gives you peace of mind, and confirms the vehicle’s legitimacy. It’s an essential step in the purchasing process to protect yourself and your investment.

In this article, we’ll help you make a secure and informed decision by guiding you through the process of checking a car’s history to confirm its status. Let’s begin!

How to Tell If A Car Is Stolen?

Making sure a car isn’t stolen before purchase is critical for several reasons. 

First, it protects you from legal issues associated with owning stolen property. Second, it prevents financial loss from buying a vehicle that may be seized. Finally, it safeguards against potential fraud.

Verifying a car’s status also ensures transparency in the transaction, contributing to a more secure and trustworthy automotive market. This due diligence is an essential step in the car buying process, offering peace of mind and confirming the vehicle’s legitimate history.

A car title is an official document that certifies the legal ownership of a vehicle. It includes important information such as the owner’s name and address, the vehicle identification number (VIN), make, model, and year. In transactions, the title must be transferred to the new owner to legally change ownership.

Purchasing a vehicle without its title can be complex and varies by jurisdiction both within the United States and internationally. Each region has its own legal requirements and processes for handling such transactions, so it’s important to understand local laws and regulations before proceeding with a purchase of this nature. 

While generally discouraged due to the risk of theft or undisclosed damage, some places allow for alternative proofs of ownership for title acquisition.

Early indicators that a car might be stolen include:

  • a significantly lower price than market value
  • lack of proper documentation or reluctance to provide it
  • altered or missing Vehicle Identification Number (VIN)
  • signs of tampering on locks or ignition
  • limited or non-verifiable seller information
  • conflicting or suspicious explanations about car origin or ownership
  • seller’s urgency to close the deal quickly without proper checks

To minimize risks when buying a used car, make sure you implement the following safeguards:

  • Bill of sale: Secure a detailed bill of sale, listing the transaction details, buyer and seller information, and the vehicle’s specifics (make, model, year, VIN).
  • Seller’s identity: Verify and document the seller’s ID (driver’s license, passport, etc.), recording their full name, address, and contact information.
  • Duplicate title: If the title is missing, have the seller obtain a duplicate from the DMV before proceeding, ensuring ownership can be verified.

We strongly advise you to always conduct a thorough inspection and verification to ensure a secure transaction.

How to Check If A Car Is Stolen in 5 Easy Steps

To ensure a vehicle’s legitimacy and history before purchase, it’s necessary to follow a thorough verification process. Here’s how:

1. Obtain the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) from the car

The VIN can typically be found on the driver’s side dashboard, visible through the windshield, and on the driver’s side door on the door post (where the door latches when it is closed). It may also be listed in the vehicle’s registration documents, insurance papers, or the owner’s manual.

How to check if a car is stolen by VIN: Make sure the VIN on the vehicle matches the VIN listed in any documents provided by the seller. For additional details, be sure to explore our guide on VIN trackers, specs, and year decoding.

2. Use a reputable online service to run a VIN check

There are several reputable websites and services that offer VIN checks, which can provide you with a detailed history of the vehicle, including whether it has been reported stolen, in order for you to make a well-informed decision. Examples include CarVertical, Carfax, and AutoCheck. For more information, feel free to check out our comprehensive guide on the best VIN decoders in 2024.

Process: Enter the VIN into the service’s search tool. There may be a fee, but the investment is worthwhile for the detailed history report you’ll receive.

3. Inspect the car’s documentation for any discrepancies

Review all provided documentation, including the title, registration, maintenance records, and any warranties. Ensure the VIN matches across all documents.

Look for any signs of tampering or inconsistencies in the documents, such as mismatched VINs, altered information, or missing history.

If you discover mismatched VINs on a vehicle, this could indicate it’s stolen, making it a risky purchase. In such instances, promptly reporting to the authorities is advisable. Regardless of the vehicle’s theft status, altering VIN codes is generally regarded as fraudulent activity in numerous jurisdictions.

4. Check national databases or law enforcement resources

Many countries have national databases or resources managed by law enforcement agencies where you can check if a vehicle has been reported stolen by its VIN. In the United States, for instance, you can use the NICB’s VINCheck service. This service is often free and provides instant results.

5. Consult with a professional for a comprehensive background check

If you’re not confident in your ability to verify the vehicle’s history or condition, consider hiring a professional. This can be a mechanic for a pre-purchase inspection or a company specializing in vehicle history and legal status checks.

A professional can provide a more thorough inspection of the vehicle’s mechanical condition, verify documentation, and ensure that there are no hidden issues.

How to Check If A Car Is Stolen for Free

Checking if a car is stolen for free involves leveraging various online resources and databases that offer VIN checks without any cost. Here’s how you can do it:

  • Visit the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB)‘s website and use their free VINCheck service. This tool allows you to enter the VIN of the vehicle to check if it has been reported as stolen and not recovered. NICB’s service is a straightforward way to perform a quick check.
  • Certain online marketplaces and automotive forums might have tools or community resources where users can post information about stolen vehicles. Although it is not a direct VIN check, being aware of such platforms can be helpful.
  • Posting the VIN in specific online communities or social media groups focused on stolen cars can sometimes yield helpful information. Members might share if they’ve seen the car listed elsewhere or if it’s known to be stolen.

Please be aware that while these resources can provide valuable information about the theft status of a vehicle, they might not always have the most up-to-date information.

For the most comprehensive check, consider following up with a professional vehicle history report if you have serious intentions of purchasing the vehicle.

Wrapping Up…

Being aware of the signs can significantly lower your chances of inadvertently getting involved in another person’s criminal activities. If a car deal appears excessively favorable, it’s likely for a reason. 

Bear in mind that buying a stolen vehicle, regardless of the attractiveness of the offer, is not advisable. Ultimately, you risk both the vehicle and the funds you’ve invested in the purchase.


What are the risks of buying a stolen car?

If you unknowingly purchase a stolen car, you may lose both the vehicle and the money you paid, as the car will be returned to its rightful owner.

How can I protect myself from buying a stolen vehicle?

Always perform a comprehensive VIN check, inspect the vehicle’s documentation for authenticity, and consider having a professional inspect the car before purchase.

Is it safe to buy a used car from a private seller?

Buying from a private seller can be safe if you take precautions, such as verifying the VIN, checking the car’s history, and ensuring all documents are legitimate and match the vehicle.

Can I check if a car is stolen without the VIN?

Without the VIN, it’s challenging to check if a car is stolen. However, you can look for signs of tampering or inconsistency in the vehicle’s documentation or contact law enforcement for advice.

What should I do if the car I bought is stolen?

If you find yourself in a situation where the car you purchased turns out to be stolen, and you hadn’t previously checked if it was, the first step is to remain calm.

Then reach out to the police. Provide them with the details of the car, and they will issue a crime reference number. This number is crucial for the next step, which involves contacting your insurance company. Inform your insurer about the situation promptly. They will guide you on whether you are eligible to file an insurance claim.

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