What is the process of checking a vehicle from a private seller?
April 14, 2010 1:45 AM   Subscribe

Buying a motor vehicle. How do I make sure it is not stolen?

I have the VIN. If I pay some VIN checker website, will that tell me if it's stolen?

Had it checked out and all is good mechanically but a little red flag ( it is not in my contact's name, he is selling it for an elderly friend ) makes me want to be extra sure everything is on the up and up.

How much info will I get from one of these VIN checking websites?

I asked to meet the owner and my contact has set up a meeting, but still...
posted by ElmerFishpaw to Travel & Transportation (5 answers total)
I would call your local police department, or the one for your county/borough/parish if your city is on the small side, and ask if the department would be willing to run the VIN. In addition, the one simple question: Does your seller have the title? If you buy the vehicle and have the owner sign the title in front of you, that's about as good as you can get as far as it not being stolen. Even if you don't meet the original owner, if you have a signed title, then you have something the state recognizes as proof of ownership.
posted by fireoyster at 1:58 AM on April 14, 2010

Best answer: Bear in mind you don't just want to know if it's stolen; you also want to know if it's got finance against it.

FWIW, in the UK you can check this stuff really easily.

In the US, you can:

- Contact the DMV to see if the VIN is registered to another vehicle.

- Check Carfax.com to check if it has ever been stolen and recovered, what was the original color, the year of manufacture and for a salvage title (meaning it should not be driven on U.S. roads

The NICB Vin Check should be as good as you'll get.
posted by MuffinMan at 2:53 AM on April 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you're buying a vehicle, always check the VINs - all of them. There should be one at the drivers side corner of the dashboard by the windshield, and another in the door jamb. Some vehicles have them etched in window glass, but not most. If these VINs don't match, are damaged, or if they don't match the one on the title, don't buy the vehicle. (These things happen more often than you think.)
posted by azpenguin at 9:37 AM on April 14, 2010

Does the seller have the vehicle title? My understanding is whoever holds title legally owns the vehicle. If there is no title, there can be no sale.
posted by Doohickie at 10:14 AM on April 14, 2010

The VIN number is key. There are numerous enthusiast websites out there that can tell you how to decode the VIN yourself and it will tell you all kinds of stuff, and it will be immedaitly apparent if something doesn't match up. Somethign like Car Fax should tell you if it was stolen and recovered and the local Police will probably run it to check to see if it has currenlty reported as stolen. There are actually something like 14 vin numbers on the vehicle and the should all match. The engine, transmission, frame (several locations),windshield and door frame. As always have a qualified mechanic check it out and make sure the VIN numbers all match, or a good reason why the don't (like a replaced engine). BTW a salvaged title does not mean the vehicle is not safe to drive-there are all kinds of reasons a vechicle can get a salvage title, and the most common is that it was stolen, and the insurance company paid the claim before recovery. This means the insurance company owns the vehicle and usually puts it up for auction to reclaim as much money as possible as quickly as possible. The car usually acquires a salvage title in the process. Doesn't mean the car is damaged in any way (but it does mean it needs to be checked throuroughly). Vehicles with a salvage title usually sell at a deep discount to a normal title vehicle and can be a real good buy if the car is in good shape (or a real disaster if it isn't). If the seller does not have a title, run away, it is not a trivial thing to get a new title for a vehicle and usually a big sign the vehicle was stolen.
posted by bartonlong at 11:13 AM on April 14, 2010

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