Whenever you buy a used vehicle, it’s important to do your homework to make certain you’re making a legitimate and legal purchase. Part of your responsibility as a buyer is to ensure the car you’re buying isn’t stolen. With just a little information about the car, you can run a check to see if the vehicle is reported in national and local crime databases. In most cases, the search is free, but some local agencies may require a small fee – typically less than $5 – to run a report.

Step 1

Obtain the car’s vehicle identification number, commonly referred to as the VIN. This is a unique number assigned specifically to the vehicle. Only one car can have a particular VIN and it is never shared with another car or cancelled and reassigned to a new vehicle. The VIN can be found on a plaque in the corner of the car’s dashboard, on the vehicle’s title paperwork or registration cards and on insurance policy documents.

Step 2

Visit the National Insurance Crime Bureau website. This website provides criminal information associated with insurance claims. If a vehicle you want to purchase was reported stolen to an insurance company and never recovered, the VIN Check on the website will let you know. Visit the website at nicb.org and click the “VIN Check” tool to start your search.

Step 3

Contact the state Department of Motor Vehicles where the car is registered. The state DMV may have information about stolen vehicles reported to local authorities that may not appear on the nicb.org website. Some states, such as Colorado and Florida, allow you to perform a free VIN check on the state website. Other states may require you to fill out and submit a form to obtain VIN information. Since each state operates differently, contact the state DMV and ask how to perform your search.