Buying Guide for Cars: Avoid Buying a Stolen Car

If you have ever located a vehicle for sale at an unbelievable low price, the chances of the deal being “too good to be true” is likely. Because stolen vehicles do not receive coverage on local news programs, many people do not recognize this widespread problem. Auto thieves steal cars for multiple reasons. Some disassemble the car and sell the parts. On the other hand, some thieves cleverly change the VIN and rollback the odometer to make the vehicle appear newer.

If purchasing a new used car from a buyer advertising in the classified section, or from smaller dealerships, the likelihood of buying a stolen vehicle is high. Nonetheless, many reputable small dealerships and independent sellers are legit. If a stolen car is purchased, and police are able to track down the new owner, the car must be relinquished to the authorities. This is good news for the original owner, but bad news for the person who purchased the car.

Sorry to say, deceived buyers do not receive any sort of compensation; thus, they lose their car and their money. Yet, there are ways to protect yourself. Before buying from an independent car seller, consider the following tips on how to avoid buying a stolen car.

1. Doubt the Low Sale Price – If the car seller is asking a ridiculously low price for the vehicle, inquire why. Smart buyers usually research car values before purchasing. Kelley’s Blue Book can provide market prices for cars sold at dealerships and those sold independently. If the asking price is significantly lower, be suspicious. In many cases, the owner may simply want to get rid of the vehicle as soon as possible. Yet, there is always a small chance that the vehicle is stolen, and the thief is trying to rid themselves of the vehicle.

2. Ask to See the Title or Registration – Most independent sellers have possession of the car’s title. If not, you can always request to see a copy of the vehicle’s registration. A novice thief will not be prepared to show this information. If there is a little hesitation on the seller’s part, or they “need more time,” proceed with caution. With advance software programs, expert thieves can reproduce car titles and registrations. In this case, it may be hard to determine whether the vehicle is stolen. If possible, ask DMV to run a title search on the vehicle.

3. Who Insured the Vehicle? – When buying a car independently, many buyers fail to inquire about the current insurer. If a car is stolen, it is likely uninsured. Thus, if the seller cannot provide information about the insurance carrier, walk away. On the other hand, if they provide a company, verify this information by contacting the agency yourself.

4. Inspect the VIN – Every vehicle sold has a VIN or vehicle identification number. This number should match the number on the title and registration. Because police can track down stolen cars using the VIN, smart thieves usually remove the original VIN, and replace it with a phony number. This number is located on the driver’s side above the dashboard. Inspect the area. If the windshield contains slight damages, such as scratch marks around the area, there is a strong possibility that the VIN has been replaced. If so, the car is probably stolen.

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