How To Check if a Car Is Stolen

How To Check if a Car Is Stolen

No one wants to buy a stolen car, no matter how great it looks or how affordable it might be. If you purchase a stolen car, you could get into legal trouble and may not even be able to keep the car if it’s discovered to be stolen later down the road.

So, how can you check if a car is stolen? There are many ways you can check whether a used car is legitimate or a stolen vehicle. Let’s take a look at each of these ways one by one.

Search for and Check the VIN

Firstly, you can and should search for the car’s vehicle identification number or VIN number. The VIN is comprised of 17 digits and is unique to the vehicle. Think of VINs as essentially Social Security numbers for cars. You can run a free VIN check using a database like the NICB Vincheck site. The NICB website is free for consumers to use.

Don’t blindly trust the VIN provided by a vehicle seller. Instead, you should look for the VIN within the car itself in the following places:

  • Inside the door jamb on the driver side door
  • In the rear wheel well, usually directly over the tire
  • Beneath the spare tire slot
  • Right in front of the engine block
  • At the front of the used car’s frame, oftentimes next to the container that holds windshield washer fluid
  • In front of the steering wheel in the lower-left corner of the dashboard

Once you locate the VIN, make sure it hasn’t been tampered with or changed in any way. The VIN should be marked as a simple series of numbers and a bar code. If the code is scratched or if the label looks loose or like it has been peeled off, it could be a sign that it was replaced and the vehicle is stolen.

Research the VIN

Even if the VIN looks physically legit, it might be a good idea to do a little extra research just to be sure. Fortunately, you can check out the VINCheck website, which is run by the National Insurance Crime Bureau or NICB. This Bureau has a dedicated VIN database. It holds all the VINs for reported stolen vehicles.

Search for the VIN you uncover and see if it was reported stolen recently. If you notice anything wrong with the VIN at any point, call the police and submit a stolen vehicle report. Get out of the deal ASAP so you aren’t accused of stealing the vehicle and don’t have to deal with a mess of paperwork.

Check With Your Insurance Company

Aside from investigating the VIN for a used vehicle, you can check to see if a car is stolen by calling your insurance company. Most car insurance companies have stolen vehicle databases. It’s no trouble for you to ask about a used car’s status by referring to its vehicle identification number or license plate.

Ask a Mechanic

If you’re buying a used vehicle, you should have a mechanic check it out thoroughly to make sure there aren’t any major mechanical issues with the car or truck. The mechanic can also do a thorough check of the VIN label and make sure it hasn’t been tampered with. When in doubt, ask your mechanic whether they think the vehicle was stolen or not.

Run a Title Search

Alternatively, visit your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles or DMV office or website and give them the VIN. This will allow you to run a title search for the car. The title search report will tell you whether the car was declared a loss, salvaged, or if any other major events occurred in the past.

Note that it does cost a little bit of money to run a title search. Still, this is a great way to get peace of mind and make sure that you aren’t purchasing a stolen vehicle. Once you get the information from the DMV, make sure it matches whatever the car seller told you.

Check Service Records

Every car has a set of service records that detail the maintenance and other major work that was done on it in the past. These include the vehicle’s history, including whether it was marked as a total loss, whether law enforcement even impounded it, whether it was the subject of vehicle theft, and more. 

The records might be called the vehicle history report. Regardless, it’s an important part of any used car check to make sure you don’t deal with car thieves. Carfax, dealerships, and other sellers may have these reports on hand when you request them.

You can check the car’s VIN on the service records the car owner should provide you at the sale meeting. Make sure the VINs on both the car and the service records match up. If they don’t, it could indicate cloning, where the car’s VIN was swapped during an auto theft.

Pay Attention to the Seller

Of course, you can also ask questions of the seller directly and pay attention to their behavior. Some potential signs that a used car is stolen include:

  • The seller doesn’t provide any personal information and exclusively uses a cell phone. This could indicate that they aren’t from around the area and are trying to get rid of a car they stole relatively recently
  • The seller doesn’t know much about the vehicle or its history
  • The seller will only accept cash and seems anxious to get on with the transaction ASAP
  • The seller doesn’t want you to take the vehicle for a test drive or take it to a mechanic

Remember, you don’t have to buy a used vehicle at any point. You can walk away whenever you like before handing over the cash. As a side note, be sure to purchase any used vehicle at a safe, public location, like across the street from the police station.

Only Buy With a Bill of Sale

To really make sure you don’t buy a stolen vehicle and protect yourself from future repercussions, you should only ever proceed with a purchase if you get a bill of sale. The bill of sale establishes you as a legitimate car owner and serves as an important paper trail if the police ever come knocking.

The bill of sale should include the VIN, the make, model, and year of the car, and the important information about you and the car seller. If a car seller doesn’t want to do the transaction with a bill of sale, walk away. They’re not worth your time and could be trying to scam you.

Use Common Sense

Last but not least, ask yourself this question: is it too good to be true? If you find an offer for a stylish convertible that’s supposedly in great shape and is available for rock-bottom prices, look the proverbial gift horse in the mouth. No one sells a pristine, high-quality vehicle for dirt cheap prices.

If something is too good to be true, it probably is. Use your common sense while purchasing any used vehicle and you’ll avoid being taken advantage of.


It’s always a good idea to double-check that a used car isn’t stolen before purchasing it from a seller. If you are still unsure and you need a set of wheels to get around, you can always turn to Advantage Rent-a-Car.

We’re your friendly neighborhood car rental agency and we have convenient locations all around the country, including at many major airports. Check out our fleet today or contact us if you have other questions!

VINCheck® Lookup | National Insurance Crime Bureau
Title Search Definition | Investopedia
Where is my VIN Number Located? | Auto Trends Magazine.

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