6 Ways to Check if a Car is Stolen

To check if a car is stolen, locate the VIN, contact your insurance, and have a mechanic take a look. Knowing the warning signs of a stolen car will help you avoid legal fees, court dates, and even jail time.
Written by Bellina Gaskey
Reviewed by Carrie Adkins
To check if a used vehicle is stolen, locate the VIN, contact your insurance, or have a mechanic inspect the vehicle. Without knowing the warning signs of a stolen car, you could be pulled over, arrested, or even end up in jail. 
That’s why the car insurance comparison shopping and broker app
has put together a list of six ways to see if a car was stolen. By knowing what to look out for and understanding the risks, you can make sure your next used car won’t land you some hefty fines (or worse). 
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Locate the VIN

Before buying a used car, make sure the VIN on the vehicle matches the number provided by the seller. If it doesn’t, the deal could be too good to be true. 
A vehicle identification number or VIN, is the 17-character code unique to a vehicle. Typically located on the dashboard of the driver’s side of the vehicle or on the post of the driver’s side door, the VIN can provide information about:
  • Accident history
  • Maintenance records
  • Past owners
  • Product recalls
  • Theft 
Also take note of any signs of VIN manipulation. If you’re unable to locate the number or it appears to have been tampered with, this could be a sign that the car is stolen and the seller is trying to cover it up. 

Use the National Crime Insurance Bureau’s VinCheck 

Once you have the vehicle’s VIN, you can complete a free VIN check on the NCIB’s website. This will allow you to see if the VIN is associated with a stolen car in their database. 
If the vehicle does happen to be stolen, you can report it to NCIB or law enforcement and they will take it from there. 

Contact your insurance 

Most insurers have their own databases where they keep track of stolen vehicles. Current customers can request a VIN check through their insurance company to see if the number has been duplicated or transferred to another vehicle. 
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Check the vehicle’s service records

When purchasing a used car, the seller should provide you with the vehicle’s service records. If the records match the VIN on the car, there is little cause for concern. However, if the seller refuses to give you the service records or claims they don’t have them, this is a huge red flag. Luckily, there are other ways to obtain them. 
For a fee,
will run a full-service report on the vehicle’s history for you. This report will provide you with information pertaining to the vehicle’s:
  • Make
  • Model
  • Color
  • Additional features
If the report doesn’t match the car’s features, you may be dealing with a duplicated VIN. 

Run a vehicle history report

The DMV can conduct title and vehicle registration searches for a fee when provided with the vehicle’s VIN. The returned report lists:
  • Any reported accidents
  • Total losses/salvages
  • The vehicle’s current owner—this should match the seller!

Have a mechanic inspect the vehicle

If you’re worried you might miss something when searching for signs of a stolen vehicle, simply have your mechanic take a look at it. In addition to assessing the car’s current condition and reliability, they can usually tell whether the VIN decals have been tampered with or not. 
MORE: 7 Things to Look For When Buying a Used Car

Recognize strange seller behavior 

While running a VIN check is one of the easiest ways to discover if a car is stolen, there are several red flags a seller might display before you even get to that point. Save yourself the stress and search for these signs when meeting with a private seller: 
  • Refusing to let you inspect the car
  • Wanting to meet at an undisclosed location
  • Not verifying the VIN before sale
  • Offering a deal that is too good to be true
In addition to these red flags, perhaps the biggest warning sign is failure to provide a bill of sale. A bill of sale is the legal document that outlines the transaction details between a buyer and seller. It should include: 
  • VIN
  • Vehicle description
  • Both parties’ names and addresses
  • Both parties’ signatures
  • Amount of sale 
If a seller is hesitant to provide you with a bill of sale or verify their identity by showing you their driver’s license, do not go through with the purchase. 

Potential risks of purchasing a stolen car

Unknowingly purchasing a stolen car can result in a number of legal issues for buyers, such as getting pulled over, being arrested, or going to court. Here are just a few of the things that could happen after purchasing a stolen car. 

You’re arrested for trying to title a stolen vehicle

If you try to recover a lost title at the DMV and it turns out the vehicle is stolen, there is little chance the police will hear you out. It’s likely you will be arrested on the spot and taken to jail.

You’re pulled over and an officer discovers the vehicle is stolen

Whenever you’re pulled over, a police officer can and will run your license plates. In the event they turn up stolen or unregistered, you’ll probably be arrested. 
Additionally, if they run the car’s VIN and it comes back stolen, you’ve got yourself a one-way ticket to jail. 
The only way to get back the money you put into a stolen car is by finding and successfully suing the seller. Not only is this extremely expensive and time-consuming, but you might end up being unable to track down the person who sold you the vehicle in the first place. 
Key Takeaway: The purchase of a stolen vehicle will create a number of legal implications for a buyer—even if it was an accident. 

Finding cheap car insurance 

It’s no secret shopping for a used car is a tedious process. Not only that, but the subsequent process of shopping around for car insurance can be a lengthy and tiresome process. 
makes finding
cheap car insurance
simple by doing all of the work for you. After providing you with a comprehensive cross-analysis of the best policies across providers, Jerry will handle the phone calls, paperwork, and renewals for your top pick so you don’t have to.
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and the fantastic app saved me $130 a month on my insurance.” —Jett A.
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