In the market for a used car? Careful! Before you close the deal on that online ad. If it’s too good to be true, you’ve got some checking to do. Here’s how to check if a car is stolen.
National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) reports a 16.5% increase in nationwide auto theft last year. The stats for top cities are worse. For example, New York is looking at a 286% increase in 2021 compared to 2019. The FBI pegs the losses due to motor vehicle theft at $7.4 billion! If you are interested, the Ford full-size pickup truck is the most stolen vehicle in the country, followed by the Chevrolet full-size pickup.
More: Top 10 Cities with the Most Car Thefts
So, where do these stolen cars go? Thieves are getting extra creative these days, whether stealing a car or later reselling it. So, keeping an eye out for shady deals is a bigger challenge than you think. Here’s how to save yourself from trouble.
More: When is a good time to buy a used car?
No Title? Be Careful
Can you buy a car without a title? It is illegal in most states, but most people get away with it. ‘No Title’ is a big red flag, and the term ‘scam’ should be at the back of your mind while dealing with it. However, sometimes it is a genuine case of a lost or missing title. It’s best if you don’t try to replace it yourself – ask the seller to do it before finalizing the deal.
Not happening? The seller’s got a stellar story, but it doesn’t quite add up. Either walk away, or if you really… really want that car, it’s time to confirm if it is not a stolen vehicle.
Step 1: Check the VIN
Every car has a 17-character VIN (Vehicle Identification Number). It’s like your car’s social security number. So, if you need to track down a stolen vehicle, a simple VIN check will get the ball rolling. The NICB has a VIN database of stolen vehicles that they maintain with the help of law enforcement and insurance companies.
The NICB VINCheck is a free online service. You can do up to five searches per IP address within 24 hours. But first, you’ll need the VIN. Don’t take the seller’s word for it if you have even the slightest doubt that you are dealing with a stolen car. Look for the VIN on the car while you or your mechanic inspects it.
Where to look for the VIN on a car?
Most cars have the VIN label at one of these places:
- In front of the engine block
- Near the windshield washer fluid container, in front of the car frame
- In front of the steering wheel, on the lower-left corner of the dashboard
- Inside the doorjamb on the driver-side
- Directly above the tire, in the rear wheel well.
- Under the spare tire
How to Check If a Car Is Stolen – VIN Checklist
Make sure the VIN label on the car is not tampered with:
- The label must not have any loose corners and must be fastened securely.
- VIN label must not have any scratches, tears, or other marks that indicate tampering
- Screws or plugs on the VIN label might indicate the seller is trying to hide the number
- Run your fingers over the label to make sure it is smooth
If the seller shares the car’s service records with you, make sure the VIN on the car matches the VIN on these records. Again, the seller may tamper with the service record too. For about $100, you can order a copy of the service records through any online vehicle history service.
How to check if a car is stolen using VIN?
Log on to the NICB website, and navigate to the ‘Search VINCheck’ page. Enter the VIN into the space provided; you can also update a photo of the label. Click on ‘Search VIN,’ and you are in.
Ask for your insurance provider’s help
Insurance companies have their own database of vehicles with previous theft records and other red flags. You can ask them to analyze a car’s title and check for possible clones. Car cloning is an illegal practice where thieves remove the VIN from a car and replace it with another label – often from another stolen car.
More: Does insurance cover your stolen car?
Head to the DMV
If you are looking for an answer to ‘How to check if a car is stolen for free,’ stop at the online VINCheck on the NICB website. But you can always be thorough with a trip to the DMV and submit the VIN for the report. This will take some time, but the report will list the vehicle’s complete history and rule out all possible issues. Make sure to check whether the information on the title matches the information the seller provides.
While it is mostly safe to buy used cars online, you need to be a bit more alert when checking the details. Instead of making a hasty decision based on what you imagine is a sweet deal, take your time to check through all possible issues that could land you in trouble.
More: 7 things to look for at the dealer lot when buying a used car
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