How to Check If a Car Is Stolen: 4 Possible Red Flags

How to Check If a Car Is Stolen: 4 Possible Red Flags

Christin Perry
October 16, 2020

The average American spends nearly $40,000 on a new car. That’s a pretty astounding number, since most financial experts recommend you spend around 10% of your monthly income on a car. So it’s understandable to want to look for a deep discount when shopping for a new set of wheels. Sadly, this is an industry where something that seems too good to be true, usually is.

Maybe there’s a reason to cheer if you come across a great car being offered at a bargain-basement price. But there’s also a chance the car could be stolen.

Wondering how to try and see if a car may have been stolen? Here are a few simple ways that may help.

What are some red flags that your car may be stolen?

First, we’ll take a look at some clues you can use if you’re wondering how to try and figure out if a car has been stolen.

Consider the make and model

According to Karen Condor, an auto insurance expert wit, the top 10 most stolen cars are the Honda Accord and Civic, Ford pickup truck (full size), Chevrolet pickup truck (full size), Toyota Camry, Dodge pickup truck (full size) and Caravan, Nissan Altima and Maxima, and Acura Integra.

Inspect the VIN

“When you’re looking at the VIN, check the plate for any evidence of tampering, like paint marks or scratches,” Condor said. Also, mismatched VINs may be an indication of a stolen car.

Eagle-eye the vehicle’s paperwork

Look for incorrect spellings on paperwork, or papers that don’t list the seller’s name on the title. It’s not legal for someone to sell a car if their name isn’t on the title.

Meeting at a neutral venue

“The most obvious sign you should look for is when the person wants to meet at a neutral venue or is happy to drive to you,” said Michael Lowe, CEO of Car Passionate. “The reason behind the neutral venue is so that you don’t know where the person lives. They are covering their tracks from the police for if/when you get busted with the car.”

How to try and see if a car has been stolen

So what can you do if you suspect a car you’re considering buying may have been stolen? The best thing to do is run an online VIN check. It’s a simple way to do a stolen car search that involves entering the 17-character VIN of the vehicle you’re interested in buying.

A word about VIN cloning

Car thieves can be pretty sneaky though, so you’ll need to be aware of a scam called VIN cloning, which happens when someone steals the VIN of a legally owned vehicle and applies it to a stolen car. They may create fraudulent documentation for the same VIN, said Darryl Smith, a founding partner with the Florida Car Accident Lawyer Team. l. To try and protect against this potential scam, Smith says you should:

  • Be extremely careful when buying a used car from a private seller.
  • Examine the vehicle closely and ask a trusted mechanic to look it over.
  • Run a title search and review the ownership documents.
  • Review each example of the VIN to ensure all are prominently displayed and are the exact same number. Inspect the dashboard, below the windshield and on or near the driver’s side door.
  • Obtain the VIN before meeting the seller in order to run it through various stolen car databases.

What happens if you purchase a stolen car?

Buying a stolen vehicle comes with serious consequences, said Condor. “It doesn’t matter if you have no knowledge of it being stolen. Your vehicle will be impounded, and you could even be arrested and go to jail if you don’t have a bill of sale or a contract.”

There’s also the issue of losing your vehicle and any money you’ve spent on it. “The only way to recover that money is if you can find, sue and win a judgment against the seller,” Condor said.

With just a bit of due diligence, you may be able to tell if you’re purchasing a quality used car from a reputable source. It’s well worth the extra time and effort for the peace of mind it’ll afford you.

Disclaimer: The above is solely intended for informational purposes and in no way constitutes legal advice or specific recommendations.