What Happens If You Buy a Stolen Car

Buying a stolen car, even by mistake, puts you in a precarious situation and will likely lead to a brief arrest.
Written by Joshua Levy
Reviewed by Kathleen Flear
When you accidentally buy a
stolen car
, you’ll likely end up in a police station before you have a chance to explain yourself. Unfortunately, buying a stolen car puts you in a precarious situation with the law—whether or not you knew it was stolen.
Remember that most people who accidentally buy a stolen car can only say they didn’t know it was stolen when they bought it. While that may be true, it’s unlikely that a law enforcement officer will be able to take their word at face value. As a result, you’re likely to be arrested after accidentally buying a stolen car.
It’s hard to know what happens after you buy a stolen car. That’s why the
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What happens if you buy a stolen car by mistake?

When you buy a stolen car, even by accident, odds are you’ll end up in jail. While you won’t be arrested for a significant amount of time, you’ll likely need to go to the police station to share your story. 
Since the only alibi for accidentally buying a stolen car is telling them that you didn’t know it was stolen, it may take some time to sort out. 

Can you get your money back?

Once they verify your story, you’ll be free to go! But getting your money back is a whole other story
You may need to hire a lawyer to represent you in a lawsuit against the person who sold you the car. If they get arrested for selling you a stolen vehicle, they may not have the capital to pay you back right away. That said, it’s possible you won’t ever get your money back.
At the end of the day, nothing good comes from buying a stolen car—even by mistake. So the best plan of action is to avoid buying stolen vehicles. Keep an eye out for any red flags when you’re buying a used car and make sure to thoroughly vet the seller.

How do I find out I accidentally bought a stolen car?

Most people won’t know they bought a stolen car until they start dealing with the paperwork, or get in trouble with the law. Here are some of the most common ways people find out they own a stolen vehicle.


After buying a used car, most people take it to the DMV to get it registered. And if it was stolen, you’ll also need to
replace the title
When the DMV runs your license plate, they’ll see it was stolen and call the police. From there, you’re likely to be arrested.

Getting pulled over

People get pulled over all the time for anything from running a stop sign to speeding. But when an officer pulls you over, the first thing they’ll ask for is your license and
vehicle registration
Once you hand the police officer your paperwork, they’ll run the license plate number and see it was stolen. While they may listen to your story, it’s more likely they’ll arrest you for owning a stolen vehicle and sort out the details from the police station

Selling the car

Let’s say you own the car for five years without any issues. You never do any paperwork on it and your driving record stays clean as a whistle. The second you decide to
sell the car
, your buyers will take steps to make sure you’re a legitimate seller
When they look up its registration or repair history they’re almost guaranteed to find out it’s stolen. As a result, the buyer is likely to turn you in for owning a stolen vehicle. You won’t even know they did it until the police show up at your door.

How to avoid buying a stolen car?

Realistically, nothing good comes from owning a stolen car. Vehicles require so much upkeep and leave such big paper trails that someone is bound to notice it was stolen sooner or later.
To make sure you don’t get stuck with a stolen vehicle, try taking the following precautions before buying a used car:
  • Check that the title and registration match the seller’s name and address
  • Dig a little deeper on sellers without a fixed address, workplace, or phone number
  • Request references about the car’s insurance and financing history—you can follow up with banks or other lenders to make sure it was never stolen
  • Make sure the VIN on the dashboard is still present and intact
  • Ensure the VIN plate still has the factory stamp numbers
  • Be a little more cautious around especially good deals

Insuring your used car

Whenever you buy a used car, you’ll need a car insurance policy to match. To make sure you get the best rate on the car insurance coverage you need, try the
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You should never buy a car that was reported stolen. Putting aside the fact that it’s a crime that can easily go on your record, the consequences far outweigh the benefits. If you ever need to get work done on the car, update paperwork, modify the vehicle, or sell it, you’re highly likely to get arrested
When all is said and done, the best deal you can find on a stolen car still won’t be worth the consequences of buying it.
In most situations, you can find out if the car you’re buying was stolen by requesting references about the car’s insurance and finance history. If the seller willingly gives you the information, you can follow up with the lenders to ensure the vehicle has a legitimate history. But if the seller refuses to pass along the information or the lender doesn’t exist, the car may be stolen.
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