Doing a stolen car check is an important thing to do when buying a used car to make sure the vehicle you’re purchasing is legitimate. But fear not, we’re here to give you everything you need to know to avoid buying a stolen vehicle. We’ll discuss why you should do a vehicle check, what happens if you buy a stolen car, and what to do if it’s your car that’s been stolen. We’ll also dish out some top tips to keep you safe. Plus, we’ll discuss virtual car scams and go over some frequently asked questions.

Why should I do a stolen car check?

You’ll want to do a stolen car check for the simple reason it falls on you, the buyer, to ensure you are not purchasing stolen property. The police can – and will – confiscate a car off you if it has been stolen, returning it to the rightful owner or insurer. And they don’t have to give you any compensation either, leaving you without a car and out of pocket.

The good news is that stolen car checks are free. You can do them separately or, for a small fee, as part of a detailed vehicle history check, which provides a wealth of useful information. Typically, a vehicle history check will also include info as to whether there’s outstanding finance on the car, whether it’s been in an accident, if it’s been scrapped, clocked, stolen, and a whole lot more. They’re well worth the small fee and the information they provide can often be used to negotiate a better deal in general. Also, it will highlight red flags, allowing you to walk away from a dodgy deal before you lose out.

How to check if a vehicle is stolen

All you need is the car’s registration number and you can do a stolen car check online. Better yet, it will tell you straight away if the vehicle’s registered as stolen with the police.

There are websites that offer a free stolen car check, but we recommend a vehicle history check with a company like HPI. Why? Well, it’ll tell you if the car’s classed as stolen, plus it’ll give you a wealth of additional information, such as whether there’s outstanding finance on the vehicle. All of this extra info can help you build a better picture of the car’s past, potentially saving you money in the long run.

On top of doing a stolen car check, there are some other things you should look over in regards to documentation to ensure the car is legitimate. But don’t worry, we have all this covered too, just below in our 7 top tips to avoid buying a stolen vehicle.

7 Top Tips to avoid buying a stolen vehicle

In addition to a stolen car check, follow these top tips so you don’t get caught out. These are things you can actively do to check if a car is stolen or a potential scam.

1. Check that the seller is genuine

It’s easy to check whoever’s selling a used car is genuine. Just make sure their address on the V5C logbook matches their driving licence and that they are the registered owner of the car. Always meet at their address too, when buying the vehicle. That way, you can make sure their address matches the one in the V5C as well.

2. Check all documents match

The MOT documents and service history should match the details of the V5C. If they don’t, walk away. Likewise, if the service history is incomplete, you should proceed very carefully, if it all.

3. Check the V5C

First, you want to look for the DVLA watermark in the V5C. Next, check the issue date and serial number to make sure it’s legal. Then make sure it aligns with the car’s registration number and VIN number (see below). If it doesn’t match, walk away.

Similarly, if you can’t see the DVLA watermark, don’t buy the car – it’s a sign the V5C has been forged. We have a handy V5C Guide that will tell you everything you need to know about the document.

4. Check VIN numbers

You also want to check that all the VIN numbers match too, you’ll typically find them:

  • On the dashboard in the corner of the windscreen
  • On the side of the door jamb of the driver’s door
  • Beneath the plastic trim of the passenger’s door opening
  • Under the bonnet at the front of the engine compartment
  • In the driver’s side floor panel

Again, if they don’t match, walk away. Why? Well, it could be a sign the vehicle has been tampered with. It could indicate a car scam, such as a clone or a cut and shut.

Check out our expert guides, if you need more info on VIN Numbers and Car Scams. They’ll go through everything you need to know.

5. MOT History Check

A full vehicle history check and a free stolen car check will typically include detailed information on the car’s MOT history. You can also perform a free MOT history check at for all cars tested from 2005 in England, Scotland, and Wales. This will include:

  • If the car passed or failed its MOT
  • The mileage recorded at the MOT
  • Where the test was done
  • Any problems and what parts failed
  • When the car’s next MOT is due

As you can see, there’s a lot of useful information here for when buying a used car. It’ll also tell you if there’s a manufacturer recall too. Discover more about history checks and take a look at our comprehensive guide on How to Check a Car’s History.

6. Do your research in advance

One of the first things you should do when you think about buying a new or used car is research. Look into the market and check out the average price of the make and model you’re interested in. With this information, you’ll know if a deal is a good one or too good to be true…

7. If it looks too good to be true

If a car deal looks too good to be true, the chances are it actually is. Criminals will often use incredible deals to lure unsuspecting victims in. They may also put a hurried timeframe on it or say there’s lots of interest. These are tactics to get you to act quickly and impulsively without thinking. Keep your emotions out the equation. And keep a level head. If a deal looks too good to be true, just ignore it and walk on by.

Photo by Wes Hicks on Unsplash

Virtual car scams and Paper cars

Whilst on the subject of stolen vehicles, it’s worth taking a moment to be aware of car scams, which cost consumers approximately £3million a year. More specifically, be aware of virtual cars and paper cars. The vehicles in these scams aren’t stolen. They don’t exist!

Virtual car scams involve a cloned ad that’s put up on a trade site at a very good deal for a limited time only. The seller, likely abroad, won’t be able to do car viewings. They’ll forego the official trade site and email you direct. Remember, the ad’s cloned so they don’t even have a vehicle to sell to you. So, steer clear of anyone who tries to sell you a car in this way.

Paper car scams work in a similar way with a seller living abroad. They’ll offer a great deal and all you have to do is pay upfront for the transportation and shipping costs… No car will ever arrive.

Follow this simple rule of thumb to stay safe from car scams: if you can’t view the vehicle and meet the seller, don’t buy the car. In the meantime, discover everything you need to know in our handy guide about Car Scams and how to avoid them.

What happens if you buy a stolen vehicle?

If you didn’t realise you’d purchased a stolen car and you’re stopped by the police, you’ll have to go through the awkward process of proving to them that you were unaware it was stolen. It’ll involve investigations and will take a few months before it’s all settled and sorted out. And the car will still be taken away and handed to the rightful owner or insurer.

It usually doesn’t take long for police to find a stolen car either. They’ll place a ‘stolen marker’ on it asap, along with the insurer databases. Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras will then pick it out when its being driven, notifying the police.

If the car you’ve bought is stolen, you should turn the car in to the police without delay. Log it and get a report number and start the long process to get a refund from the seller.

Will I get my money back if I buy a stolen car?

If you accidentally bought a stolen car and it’s confiscated from you, the police do not have to compensate you. And in all likelihood, they won’t. Either way, if you realise the car you’ve bought is stolen, turn it in to the police immediately.

It’s possible your insurer may pay out to cover what you paid, but that depends on your insurer and it’s not a guarantee – so don’t count on it. However, you do have the legal right to get a full refund from the seller. Just know this is a lengthy process with a lot of legal paperwork involved.

Are there any free stolen car checks?

There are websites that offer stolen vehicle checks free of charge. They won’t provide as much additional information, compared to a full vehicle check, but they will tell you if the car is registered as stolen with the police.

To give you extra peace of mind, when buying with us, we’ve partnered with vehicle history check pioneers, HPI. All of our listings are checked by HPI and have a “passed” or warning on the listing page if the car is potentially stolen.

Photo by RODNAE Productions from Pexels

What to do if my vehicle has been stolen?

In the unfortunate event that your vehicle gets stolen, don’t panic. We know it’ll be a tough and emotional moment, but try to keep calm and follow these steps:

  1. Have your car’s information to hand: you’ll need your car’s make, model, registration number, and colour.
  2. Call the Police: dial 101 and ask to be connected to your local police department – tell them the car’s been stolen and give them the above info. They’ll give you a Crime Reference Number – write this down as you’ll need it for your insurance company. If you have a black box installed: tell the police this information, as it can be used to locate your stolen vehicle.
  3. Call your insurance provider: now call your insurance company and let them know the car’s stolen and give them the crime reference number. Your insurance company will tell you how to make an insurance claim.
  4. Tell the DVLA: the police will notify the DVLA in the first instance to let them know the car’s been stolen or if the car’s been recovered. However, you must contact the DVLA and let them know if the car has been sold to the insurance company, if your insurance company pays out for the stolen car.
  5. If you have personalised number plates: you must apply to keep your private registration number at Terms and conditions apply.

Stolen Car FAQs

We’re here to help you keep safe when buying or selling a used car. That’s why we’ve answered your frequently asked questions about stolen cars and stolen car checks.

Buy and sell your car with peace of mind

With us, you can buy and sell your car with peace of mind. We work with HPI Check to confirm the identity of all the vehicles listed on our site, doing a history check ourselves. This allows you to search with confidence, as all the cars listed with us are checked to see if they’re stolen, scrapped, or written off. However, we still recommend you do your own research and vehicle history checks as this is best practice. Doing so, it’ll become a habit when shopping for a car and you’ll be much less likely to fall victim to car scams. You can read more about our History Check to see what’s included, what we don’t check, and what our symbols mean.

Do a stolen car check before you buy a used car from a private seller or independent dealer. It’s free and it could save a lot of hassle. Police will confiscate stolen vehicles –without compensation – and return them to their owners. Stay safe and always do a stolen vehicle check.