autoDNA advises
How to check if a car is stolen

How to check if a car is stolen – guidelines

14 November 2022

Buying a stolen is unethical, and it is also involves legal problems. The most frequent consequences of obtaining such vehicle is the necessity to return it – and the loss of money. It also gives rise to the criminal liability, so when buying a used car, you should verify its legal status.


How to check if a car is stolen?

Before buying a car you need to check it well, keeping in mind that the vehicle history is very broad topic. In some cases you might get suspicious already at first sight – e.g. when the data in the vehicle registration book and in the vehicle card are not consistent with the data on the statutory plate. However, sometimes a person who’s trying to sell a stolen car is more “professional”, due to which detecting a scam is more difficult.



There are certain warning signs at the sight of which you should increase your alertness and verify a given car meticulously. These are i.a.:

  • surprisingly low price – the so-called bargains happen very rarely, however, usually when the price is substantially lower compared to the market one, indicates bad technical condition or legal problems;
  • inconsistent or illegible VIN – the Vehicle Identification Number must be identical both in the vehicle registration book and the vehicle card, as well as on the plates in the car (any traces of the numbers being re-embossed disqualify the vehicle immediately);
  • the owner’s unwillingness to provide the VIN – a fair seller doesn’t hesitate in any way to provide to a potential buyer any necessary data to verify the past of the vehicle;
  • car sale conducted not by its owner – the original vehicle registration book contain personal data of its owner, and it is them (or their representative – on condition that they are authorised for that beforehand) who you should be entering the sale and purchase agreement with;
  • lack of spare keys, not original locks – they might indicate that the car doesn’t come from a legal source, and that it might be stolen;
  • inconsistencies in the state administrations – publicly available databases allow verifying basic information and the technical data before buying a car.

The above list contains things which any potential buyer should be able to check on their own – the things listed do not necessarily mean that the car is stolen. If none of the above elements did not occur, it also does not mean that the isn’t stolen, therefore, for your own good – in order to avoid being charged for dealing in stolen property and being in a situation when officers take our vehicle registration book away and tow your car to the police parking lot – you should make every effort to make sure to verify the legal status of the car.

Sometimes, all you need is the VIN number or the car registration number – yo just need to check if it’s listed in the lost cars register to gai insight into the situation and protect yourself from a costly mistake (including being subjected to the imprisonment penalty).


Ways of verifying a car before purchasing it

Before purchasing a used car, you should thoroughly verify it – both when it comes to its technical condition and its legal status. In many cases, the most basic data will do to check if the car does not originate from a theft, if the seller is not trying to conceal the truth and if the “punishment” for falling for a bargain price will not result in unpleasant consequences.


Check the vehicle history

The first thing you should do before making the purchase is checking the vehicle history of the car. You can do it with the help of the autoDNA report. To order it, all you need is the VIN number – it should be included in the sale offer or provided by the seller following your request as a potential buyer.



The generated on its basis report will contain all the most important information about the car collected on the basis of data found in databases of particular European countries. It’s the best way to quickly and conveniently learn about the important events in the vehicle history – and this basis, verify whether a given car is worth your interest.


Check the vehicle’s VIN number

Checking the entries on state administrations websites on your own, and ordering a report based on the identification number is not enough. You need to make sure that the VIN is correct. With the use of even the most basic, publicly available decoders, you can verify the technical data, and check e.g. if the provided number is really assigned to the car put on sale.

You should also check if the car does not have its VIN number re-embossed – whether in all the spots the number is identical and legible, and the statutory plates don’t show any interference traces.


Ask for documentation

If you ant to check if the car is worth buying, you must not limit your research to the car itself. Priceless information is also included in the documentation. If you know the VIN, the vehicle registration number and the vehicle first registration date, you can access many databases which contain various entries concerning the vehicle history of that car. You can also learn about the third party insurance – whether it’s still valid and which company it’s provided by.


Pay attention

All the information obtained from external sources should be compared with the information given by the seller and and shown in the documents provided by them, e.g. in the service book. Any inconsistencies should draw your special attention.



Use the help of the police

The registration number, the VIN, the vehicle first registration date and even the best intentions are not always enough. And the risk is high – even the so-called unintentional dealing in stolen property might be criminally punishable, including imprisonment. So, any doubts should additionally cleared up, in which the help of the police might turn out very useful. The officers can check whether the car is not listed in the lost cars registers or whether it’s missing for some reason. To avoid waiting, it’s good to book an appointment at the police station.

Is it worth verifying the legal status of a car with the help of the police? You need to answer this question yourself, nevertheless in a situation when you need to prove that you’ve made every effort to check whether the car is not stolen, and dismiss the charges of dealing with stolen property, the fact of visiting a police station is very helpful in that.


Use the services of the state administration

Open markets in the EU facilitate for its citizens not only free travel, but also trade – including importing a car from abroad. It is worth buying such car? Everything depends on the situation you’re in. Sometimes it happens that it is profitable to do so. Don’t hope for a miracle, though – nobody, regardless of the country, gives away a car in a good condition for a cheap price. Therefore, the sight of a suspiciously low price should alert you.

As the car import and export within the European Union has substantially expanded, individual administrations have adapted certain solutions in order to maintain control over the transaction flow and ultimately prevent fraud – both when it comes to stolen cars and falsified vehicle history. Therefore, it’s worth knowing how to check in our country whether a car is stolen and where to seek help when verifying a used car.


What to watch out for and how not to get scammed?

By buying a used car, the purchaser is obliged to check whether the car does not come from a theft, to verify its vehicle history, to make sure that the car’s unique symbols are placed in all correct spots. The risk includes not only financial loss – a person who has purchased a stolen car and who’s unable to prove that they have made every effort to avoid it, might be subjected to dealing with stolen property charges and subjected to imprisonment punishment. So, how to buy a car safely and what should you remember about when making a purchase? Here’s a few pieces of advice which might turn out helpful.

  • Don’t expect a bargain – a disproportionally low price results most often from future problems awaiting the buyer.
  • Buy cars from trusted sources – if you have any doubts about the fairness of the seller, resign from making the purchase.
  • Beforehand, check how you can verify if the car is not stolen – before the car inspection, ask its owner for the VIN and verify its vehicle history.
  • Analyse the change of ownership – make sure tat the person who put the car on sale is actually entitled to own it.
  • Order the autoDNA report – verify the odometer reading, vehicle history, its previous vehicle usage and see archive photos (if available).
  • If you have any doubts, don’t hesitate and ask the police fr help – it’s a way to make sure that the authorities are not looking for a particular car.


Pay attention

The last piece of advice – very universal: it’s always good to check whether the car is not stolen, get as much information as possible on it vehicle history and technical condition. However, above all it’s good to follow your common sense and not rush the purchase. There’s always a plenty of used cars on the market – so it’s no use in risking wasting money, time, and, above all, having a conflict with the law.


You bought a stolen car – what now?

A person who has purchased a car coming from a theft should report this fact to the police as soon as possible. It’s not good to hesitate or hoping that it won’t come out into open – the consequences of obtaining such vehicle and concealing it might be serious. A person who commits this, is subjected to a fine or imprisonment – depending on the regulations applied in a particular country. Unfortunately, the most common result is the loss of the purchased vehicle – although in some cases it’s possible to keep it.

Either way, it is the purchaser, not the seller, who has to face the serious consequences – and this is why it’s so important to check whether the car you’re interested is stolen. Do not neglect this.


Buying a car – can’t be too safe


Thorough checking a car is a must. When buying a used car, you shouldn’t blindly trust the seller – even if there’s no basis to doubt their good intentions. The consequences of buying a stolen car are too serious to underestimate them. That’s why you should check the car yourself with the use of available sources of information, but you can also ask experts for help.

Ordering a comprehensive autoDNA report is a good choice, similarly to visiting a police station for an ultimate verification. Can’t be too safe – and it’s definitely better to eventually let go of a bargain offer and not buy a stolen car from a questionable source and later face the consequences of your rushed decisions.


It is good to know

Did you like this article? Anything you’d like to ask in your comment? Feel free to share your feedback and comment at the bottom of the article. And remember – always before buying a car, motorcycle or even a trailer – check vehicle history and free VIN lookup with autoDNA based on the VIN number. VIN check is one of the most important things to do before deciding to buy a used vehicle. Thanks to this, autoDNA helps you make an informed decision.




Signs of a tampered VIN include:

  1. Scratches or marks around the VIN.
  2. VIN plates that look newer than the car.
  3. VIN numbers that don't match the VIN in the car's documentation or on different parts of the car.
  4. Missing or altered VIN plates.

If you suspect a car is stolen, you should report it to your local law enforcement agency. Do not attempt to confront the seller or recover the car yourself.

If you discover that you've unknowingly bought a stolen car, you should report it to the police immediately. You may also want to consult with a lawyer. Unfortunately, the car will likely be returned to its rightful owner and you may not be able to recover your money.

You can check a VIN to see if a car is stolen by using online VIN decoders like autoDNA. In the U.S., the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) offers a free VINCheck service. You can also check with your local law enforcement agency.

How to check if a car is stolen – guidelines
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How to check if a car is stolen – guidelines
How to check if a car is stolen? When planning to buy a used automobile, many drivers pay attention primarily to its technical condition.
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