How to Check if a Car is Stolen

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How To Check If A Car Is Stolen

When purchasing a used car from a private seller, caution is crucial. If a deal appears overly attractive, could it be a deceptive offer? Here are steps to determine if the vehicle has been stolen.

What happens if I buy a stolen car?

If you unwittingly acquire a stolen car, several consequences can arise, mostly driven by law enforcement and insurance agencies. Here’s what you might face:

Detection by Authorities

Modern systems, including the Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) technology, are employed by police to identify and track stolen vehicles.

Anpr Camera

Should a stolen car, now under your possession, be identified by an ANPR camera, it can lead to immediate legal complications.

Burden of Proof

If questioned, the onus will be on you to demonstrate that you were unaware of the car’s stolen status at the time of purchase. Without convincing evidence, you may be subject to legal prosecution under the suspicion of possessing or handling stolen goods.

Vehicle Seizure

The police maintain the right to confiscate the stolen car and ensure its return to the original owner, leaving you without both the car and the money you paid for it.

Vehicle Seizure

Financial Loss

Not only might you lose the car, but you also stand to lose the entire amount you spent on purchasing it, potentially costing you thousands.

Preventive Measures

To shield yourself from such predicaments, it’s essential to exercise due diligence when buying a used car, especially from private sellers. Simple measures include:

  • Verifying the car’s history and ensuring the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) matches the documents.
  • Checking if the seller’s details match the name and address on the car’s logbook.
  • Be cautious if deals appear too good to be true, or if the seller seems eager to finalise the sale quickly.

In essence, a bit of proactive research and careful vetting of used cars can save you significant time, money, and potential legal complications.

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Is it easy to tell if a car is stolen?

It can be almost impossible to spot whether it has a hidden history simply by inspecting it.

The exterior and interior conditions often don’t reveal the vehicle’s complete story, especially if it has a concealed past. Hence, as a potential buyer, you bear the responsibility of conducting thorough checks on the vehicle’s history.

How can I find out if a car is stolen?

Before finalising a car purchase, especially if it’s from a private seller, it’s crucial to verify its legitimacy. Here are several steps and resources you can utilise to ensure the car is not stolen:

  • GOV.UK Website: This official site provides a wealth of free information about vehicles. By inputting the vehicle’s registration number, you can access:

    • Details maintained by the DVLA, which can confirm if the vehicle’s details match what the seller provided.
    • The current MOT status and the car’s MOT history, which can help indicate if the vehicle has been regularly maintained.
    • Details about any safety recalls due to serious issues and check if they have been addressed or rectified.
  • Motor Insurance Database (MID): A quick check on this database can indicate whether the car is currently insured. A vehicle without insurance could be a potential red flag, although there could be legitimate reasons for it.

    Motor Insurers' Bureau

  • Vehicle History Check Services: Trusted organisations like the AA, RAC, and HPI offer comprehensive vehicle history checks. These checks can reveal:

    • If there’s any outstanding finance on the car.
    • If the car has previously been written off.
    • Any mileage discrepancies which might suggest tampering.
    • The logbook details to verify its legitimacy.
  • Local Police: If you have serious concerns, you can also request the local police to check if the car has been reported stolen. They can cross-reference the details with their national database.

  • Physical Examination: Look for signs of tampering, like scratched-out VIN numbers, or mismatched door locks. These could be signs of a stolen car.

  • Seller Verification: Ensure that the seller’s name matches the name on the vehicle’s V5C logbook. If the seller isn’t the registered owner, be cautious and ask questions about their connection to the owner.


  • Price: If a deal seems too good to be true, it often is. An unusually low price can be an indicator that there’s something amiss.

By taking these precautions you can confidently ensure that your potential purchase is legitimate and not a stolen asset.

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What will a vehicle history check tell me?

A vehicle history check is an indispensable tool when considering purchasing a used car, providing insights beyond just determining if it’s stolen.

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This check dives deep into the car’s past, revealing potential red flags and critical information to help you make an informed decision. Here’s what you can expect from a detailed vehicle history report:

  • Stolen Vehicle Verification: The check cross-references with the Police National Computer to indicate if the car is recorded as stolen.

  • Outstanding Finance: Reveals any remaining financial obligations, like loans or credit agreements, associated with the car.

  • Vehicle Details Verification: Ensures that the car’s specifications, such as its make, model, colour, and engine size, are consistent with DVLA records.

  • VIN & Number Plate Confirmation: Assures that the vehicle identification number (VIN) and the vehicle registration mark (VRM or number plate) correlate with the DVLA’s data.

  • Number Plate Changes: Informs if the car has undergone any number plate changes. While there might be legitimate reasons, it could also hint at car cloning, a form of vehicle identity theft.

  • Scrapped Status: Indicates if the car has been officially scrapped by the DVLA.

  • Mileage Validation: By consulting the National Mileage Records (NMR), the check can identify if there are any inconsistencies in the car’s mileage, suggesting potential clocking. The act of artificially reducing a car’s mileage is a deceptive practice that’s gaining traction.

  • Insurance Write-off Status: Details if the car has been declared a total loss by an insurer. It can also highlight potential ‘cut-and-shut’ scenarios, where two damaged vehicles are welded together to form one seemingly functional car.

  • Log Book Examination: Verifies the authenticity of the V5C log book and checks if it’s been reported as stolen.

  • Ownership History: Provides a breakdown of the number of previous owners or registered keepers as recorded by the DVLA, offering insights into the car’s ownership trajectory.

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How much does a vehicle history check cost?

The cost of a vehicle history check generally ranges from £6 to £20, though the exact amount can vary based on the service provider and the depth of information offered in the package you select. For instance:

  • Basic Check: At the lower end of the price range, you might get fundamental details such as whether the car is stolen or has been written off.

  • Comprehensive Check: More expensive checks, closer to the £20 mark, provide extensive details like outstanding finance, mileage discrepancies, previous ownership history, logbook verification, and more.

  • Bundle Offers: Some providers might offer discounted rates if you’re checking multiple vehicles or are looking for a combination of services.

  • Promotions & Memberships: Occasionally, motoring organisations or insurance companies might offer members complimentary or discounted checks as a part of their subscription or membership benefits.

Investing in a vehicle history check is a prudent move, especially when considering the potential pitfalls of purchasing a used car.

Vehicle History Check Cost

The cost is a minor expenditure compared to the assurance it offers about the vehicle’s authenticity and the seller’s integrity. To initiate the process, you simply need the car’s registration number.

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Tips to avoid buying a stolen car

Purchasing a used car requires a combination of vigilance and knowledge. Even though many private sellers are genuine, due diligence is crucial to ensure a safe transaction. Here are some thorough tips to safeguard against buying a stolen car:

  • Seller’s Address Verification: Always validate the seller’s address. Cross-reference it with the address listed on the V5C log book to ensure consistency.

  • Safe Meeting Locations: Refrain from meeting sellers in secluded or unconventional places such as deserted car parks or side streets. Always opt for a public, well-lit area.

  • V5C Log Book is Essential: It’s a red flag if the seller lacks a V5C log book. A car’s purchase without it is inadvisable.

  • Consistent Documentation: Examine the V5C against the car’s MOT records and service logs. Inconsistencies or gaps in the service history warrant scrutiny.

  • Check for DVLA Watermark: A genuine V5C log book should have a recognisable DVLA watermark.
    V5C Blue And Red
  • Log Book Serial Number: Ensure the log book’s serial number doesn’t fall within the ranges BG8229501 to BG9999030 or BI2305501 to BI2800000, as these could indicate a stolen log book.
  • VIN/Chassis Number Match: The VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) or chassis number on the car should mirror the one listed in the log book.
    Vin Car

  • Watch Out for Suspiciously Low Prices: An offer significantly below market rate can be enticing, but it can also be a trap. If a deal appears too advantageous, be sceptical.

  • Avoid Cash-Only Deals: Transactions that demand cash-only payments can be risky. Without a record of your payment, proving ownership becomes challenging if the car’s provenance is questioned.

  • Invest in a Vehicle History Check: It’s worth sparing a small amount to conduct a vehicle history verification to ascertain the car’s legitimacy.

  • Beware of Online Scams: ‘Virtual vehicle’ frauds are rising. Scammers replicate genuine advertisements, tricking buyers into direct contact. They then coax bank details from potential buyers. If you fall victim, not only will you lose money, but your personal information will be at risk.

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By following these comprehensive guidelines, you bolster your chances of a secure and trustworthy vehicle purchase.

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What should I do if the car I bought is stolen?

Realising you may have unknowingly bought a stolen vehicle can be alarming. Here’s a structured approach to handle this situation:

  • Stay Calm and Safe: It’s essential not to panic. Your safety and legality should be your top priority. Don’t drive the car further to avoid potential complications.

  • Report to the Police: Before taking any other action, inform the local police. Provide them with all the details of the car, including the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), registration number, and any other relevant information. The police will register the incident and give you a crime reference number, which is essential for subsequent steps.

  • Contact Your Insurance Provider: With the crime reference number in hand, reach out to your insurance company. Inform them about the situation and they will guide you on whether you are eligible to make an insurance claim or not.

  • Document Everything: Retain all documents and correspondence related to the car’s purchase. This includes the bill of sale, any emails or text messages with the seller, and any other related documents. This paperwork may become vital if there’s a legal investigation or if you need to prove your innocence.

  • Seek Legal Counsel: Depending on the complexity of the situation, you might want to consult with a solicitor or legal advisor, especially if there are indications of potential legal repercussions.

  • Review Your Purchase Process: Reflect on where and how you bought the car. Was it from a reputable dealer or a private seller? Were there any red flags you might have overlooked? This reflection will help you avoid similar pitfalls in the future.

  • Consider a Vehicle History Check for Future Purchases: To prevent such situations, always conduct a thorough vehicle history check before finalising any future car purchases. It’s a nominal investment that can save you from considerable distress.

Remember, acting promptly and methodically will be your best approach in such a situation.

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Can I get my money back if I bought a stolen car?

Discovering that you’ve bought a stolen car can be distressing, and the possibility of reclaiming your money is complex. Here’s a breakdown:

  • Police Involvement: If the police have identified your car as stolen, they will take possession of it. Unfortunately, they will not compensate you, as the vehicle needs to be returned to its rightful owner, and you’re not legally entitled to the car.

  • Insurance Coverage: Check your car insurance policy. Some policies have provisions for ‘stolen vehicle purchase protection’ or similar clauses. If covered, you might be eligible to receive compensation, but it may not cover the full amount you paid. It’s important to report the situation to your insurer promptly and provide any necessary documentation.

  • Dealer Purchase: Purchasing from a licensed dealership usually offers more protection. If you bought the car from a dealership and it turns out to be stolen, the dealer is obligated to refund you due to the Consumer Rights Act. Dealerships are generally required to ensure the legitimacy of the vehicles they sell. If they inadvertently sell a stolen vehicle, they bear the responsibility.

  • Private Seller: If purchased privately, the situation becomes more challenging. It’s much harder to reclaim your money from an individual, especially if they were aware of the car’s stolen status and purposefully deceived you. You may need to take legal action, but success isn’t guaranteed, and the process could be costly.

  • Legal Recourse: If you believe you were intentionally deceived, consider consulting a solicitor. They can guide you on potential legal actions, such as pursuing fraud charges against the seller.

    Speak To A Solicitor For Legal Assistance

  • Preventative Measures: To avoid such situations, always do a thorough background check before buying a used car. Purchasing from reputable dealerships, conducting vehicle history checks, and ensuring all paperwork is in order can help mitigate risks.

While the process is challenging, being proactive and informed can potentially aid in recovering some of your losses.

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