Stolen car check: How to check if a car is stolen

As a driver, you may take various precautions to protect yourself from car theft, such as keeping valuables out of sight, parking in well-lit areas, using a steering lock - or other car security measures.

The dangers of car theft are well known. However, when it comes to buying a used car, many consumers fail to consider the risk that sellers might be involved in the stolen car trade.

The consequences of inadvertently buying a stolen car can be severe. The police have powers to seize a stolen vehicle and return it to the original owner. This could leave you out of pocket – and put you at risk of prosecution.

What’s more, the chance you’ll encounter a stolen car on the used market is higher than you might think. Research from a leading insurance provider reveals that 130,389 cars were stolen in the UK in 2022 alone. Therefore, it always pays to err on the side of caution.

Fortunately, there are several methods at your disposal for verifying whether a car has been stolen. Running these checks will provide you with the peace of mind that a seller is genuine – or tell you to walk away from the sale!

In this guide, we will explain how to check whether a car has been stolen and what an online car check can tell you. We’ll also cover the precautions you should take to avoid buying a stolen car, what you should do if you discover you have – and whether you can get a refund.

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How to check if a car is stolen

You can discover whether a car has been stolen by running its registration number through a free car check service.

For example, the website can provide you with key details about a vehicle free of charge - and you can then check these against the information provided by the seller. A HPI check may also be able to tell you whether a vehicle has been stolen.

Checking the V5C logbook will also tell you whether the seller is the registered keeper. If they are not – or the V5C logbook is missing, walk away from the sale.

If a vehicle appears to be much cheaper than other cars of the same age and model, you should also treat this with suspicion. A quick search of a popular online car marketplace website will tell you what you should expect to pay.

Can I run a stolen car check online?

Yes, it is possible to determine whether a car is stolen by using an online stolen car check service.

What’s included in a stolen car check?

A stolen car check will usually include the following:

However, what is included may vary slightly depending on which service you choose.

How to avoid purchasing a stolen vehicle

  • Meet the seller at or near their home rather than at a car park or another location. (Don’t let them come to you).

  • Check the V5C logbook to ensure the seller is the registered keeper. (If they are attempting to sell a car without a V5C logbook, walk away.)

  • Check the VIN number if possible.

  • Check the price against the going rate for other cars of the same age and model.

  • Run a free car check on the vehicle and compare the information from the report to that provided by the seller.

  • Don’t commit to a sale if you have any doubts that the seller is genuine.

I’ve found out my car was stolen – what should I do?

The first thing you need to do is call the police on 101. They will request a few details about the car and provide you with a crime reference number. (This will be required when you contact your insurance provider.)

Then, contact your insurer immediately - and they will let you know whether you can make a claim.

How to report a stolen car

Simply contact the police to report a stolen car. They will ask for the relevant details and provide you with a crime reference number.

What happens if the car I bought was stolen?

Even if you weren’t aware that the car was stolen, the police will likely seize the vehicle and attempt to return it to the registered owner.

Can I get my money back for my stolen car?

The police won’t provide you with any compensation, as the car is stolen property - and you aren’t technically the legal owner.

However, if your car insurance covers ‘purchase of stolen vehicles’ you might receive some compensation. Whilst it’s unlikely that a car purchased from a dealership would be stolen, if this was the case, you’d be entitled to a full refund under the Consumer Rights Act.

Other Frequently Asked Questions

You can’t return the stolen car to the seller because this would constitute handling stolen goods, which would get you in much more trouble. Instead, you should turn the vehicle in to the police.

It can be almost impossible to tell the history of a car by simply inspecting it. Therefore, it is important to carry out an appropriate vehicle check so that you can buy with confidence.

If you know or suspect that a vehicle has been stolen, your next step should be to contact the police (on the non-emergency ‘101’ number) to make a report.

You will need to provide a few key details such as the car’s colour, make, model and registration number. Providing you have the registration number, you can retrieve the other necessary information using our free car check tool.

From here, the police will issue you with a crime reference number which you should quote if you wish to report the incident to your insurer - or claim a car tax refund from the DVLA.

You should tell the DVLA if your insurer pays out after you make a claim for your stolen vehicle. You can notify the DVLA that the vehicle has been ‘sold’ to the insurance company online via their website.

If you prefer to do this by post, you should complete the yellow ‘sell, transfer or part-exchange your vehicle’ section in your vehicle’s V5C logbook. Detach this section from the logbook and send it to the DVLA with a letter containing your insurer’s details (and stating when the payment was accepted).

You’ll then need to give the remaining part of your V5C logbook to your insurer. If your insurer asks for the whole logbook, you’ll need to send a signed letter to the DVLA including the following details:

  • Your insurance company’s details.
  • The date of the claim.
  • Your car’s registration number, make, model and colour.

This letter should be sent to: DVLA, Swansea SA99 1BD.

The overall recovery rate for stolen vehicles in the UK is approximately 50% according to the latest Government data.