Should You Buy a Vehicle That Was Stolen? The Implications and Considerations

Should You Buy a Vehicle That Was Stolen? The Implications and Considerations
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Entering the used car market can be quite an adventure, with many factors to consider before purchasing. One situation you might encounter is the prospect of buying a previously stolen vehicle. It’s uncommon, but it’s the sort of scenario that leads to many questions. 

Is buying a previously stolen vehicle worth the caveats and downsides? Are there any upsides, and what are the potential legal or financial consequences? Let’s dive in and explore all of the pros and cons.

Interested in a used car? Find out if it was a former stolen car with 50 vehicle history reports per month with a Bumper subscription!

The history of the vehicle

First, a little terminology. A vehicle that has been stolen and subsequently recovered is called a “theft-recovered car.” Often, a theft-recovered vehicle will be given a branded title by an insurance company. 

A branded title is normally applied to a car to indicate that the repair cost is more than the vehicle’s actual value. However, that’s not necessarily the case where theft-recovered cars are concerned. The following states will apply a branded title to theft-recovered cars regardless of the condition in which they’re recovered:

  • Arizona
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Illinois
  • Maryland
  • Minnesota
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon

Whether a vehicle bears a branded title or not, its history is crucial when assessing its value and reliability, and this is especially true for theft-recovered vehicles. Many tools, like the vehicle history report, may shed light on any theft reports associated with a car. 

Decode a VIN and get its vehicle history report right here!

Why you should check a car’s history

Checking a car’s history is an important first step when shopping for used vehicles, whether you’re aware of a theft in its history or not. At the very least, it can often reveal that an incident has occurred. 

When a car is labeled as “previously stolen,” it might have been recovered by the police and returned to either the insurance company or the original owner. It’s essential to understand this history as it can impact the car’s legal standing, value and may raise red flags around maintenance or damage. 

Try our VIN lookup or license plate search on a used car you’re interested in to fully verify specifications and to inquire about any recalls or known issues.

What happens if you buy a stolen car unknowingly? If the car is still listed as stolen in the database, it could lead to serious legal troubles, including possible arrest or seizure of the vehicle. Ensure that the car’s status is cleared and no longer listed as stolen before purchasing. If you buy a stolen vehicle, you may find that you have no recourse for recovering your money if it’s seized by law enforcement.

That said, buying a theft-recovered vehicle with a cleared (even branded) title carries no legal consequences. As long as it’s been processed through the system by the insurance company or owner, there is no legal liability attached to buying a theft-recovered vehicle. 

Insurance considerations

Some insurance companies might hesitate to cover a previously stolen vehicle, fearing potential claims or complications. If they do provide coverage, the premiums may be higher. 

You also need to consider that while the initial cost of a theft-recovered vehicle will likely be lower, insurance companies are unlikely to pay even that amount if the car is totaled or stolen again. Always consult your insurance provider about a car’s history before finalizing your purchase.

Vehicle condition

Stolen vehicles may have been misused, damaged or had parts removed. Because the theft represents a blank spot in a vehicle’s history, it’s impossible to tell for certain what kind of damage may have been inflicted, or what kind of modifications may have been introduced during that period. 

It’s also unlikely that proper maintenance was conducted during the period a vehicle was stolen, which can lead to additional issues. Collector cars are especially vulnerable to depreciation in these cases if significant changes have been made to the original build or features of the vehicle. 

Avehicle recall check could help ensure that all essential parts are original and that the car hasn’t suffered significant damages post-theft. Moreover, a comprehensive inspection by a trusted mechanic can provide insights into any hidden issues.

Resale value

A car’s history can significantly affect its resale value. Vehicles with a theft record might depreciate faster, and potential buyers might be hesitant due to the associated risks. Platforms like Bumper’sMarket Valueappraisal tool can help assess how much a car’s theft history might affect its price.

Also bear in mind that, beyond any actual depreciation below the purchase price of the vehicle, a theft-recovered car may be more difficult to sell in general. The perception that theft-recovered vehicles are less reliable than other cars can make it harder to find a buyer. 

Presenting potential buyers with proof that you’ve done your homework to ensure the vehicle is in good condition even post-theft, and providing documentation about its history and condition, are a great way to make a theft-recovered car more palatable to buyers (and potentially even increase its resale value).


While purchasing a previously stolen vehicle might come with a discounted price tag, the potential legal complications, insurance issues and hidden damages can outweigh the initial savings. Thorough research, utilizing tools like thevehicle history report andmarket value, can guide your decision and ensure you’re making an informed choice. 

Remember, transparency and diligence are key when navigating the complexities of the used car market. It’s especially critical when approaching a car bearing a theft-recovered branded title to ensure that it’s been properly processed. So do your homework, be thorough, and you can not only avoid some very serious legal and financial pitfalls, but be better prepared to market the vehicle if you decide to resell it down the line.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I trust a seller claiming the stolen vehicle was recovered and is now legally clear?

Always verify independently. Use platforms like thevehicle history report to confirm the car’s status and avoid relying solely on the seller’s word. While this is important for any vehicle, it’s absolutely essential for theft-recovered vehicles, where you could be legally and financially liable if you purchase a stolen vehicle.

How can stolen vehicle information impact its market value?

A theft record can lead to quicker depreciation and a lower resale value due to potential damages and the associated risks. Value is tied to perception, and the perception of theft-recovered vehicles can be a black mark against them. It is possible to somewhat mitigate that factor with extensive documentation and thorough history reporting.

Can modifications or replaced parts indicate a vehicle was stolen?

Not always, but a mismatch of parts or questionable modifications can be red flags. Always investigate further, and bear in mind that these kinds of aftermarket alterations will especially impact the value of collector vehicles.

Is it harder to get financing for a previously stolen vehicle?

Some lenders might be hesitant due to the associated risks and potentially reduced resale value. It’s always a good idea to consult with your financial institution beforehand.

About Bumper

At Bumper, we are on a mission to bring vehicle history reports and ownership up to speed with modern times. A vehicle is one of the most expensive purchases you'll likely make, and you deserve to have access to the same tools and information the pros use to make the right decisions.

About Alan Bradley

Alan Bradley is an experienced tech writer and journalist, and has been covering the auto industry in a freelance capacity for more than a decade. He’s brand agnostic, owning cars from manufacturers both foreign and domestic, and currently owns an EV (a Nissan Leaf). Alan is a huge proponent of sustainability and carbon neutral manufacturing, and is a massive fan of Formula One and Formula E. He received his Bachelors of English Literature from the University of Buffalo at Amherst.

Disclaimer: The above is solely intended for informational purposes and in no way constitutes legal advice or specific recommendations.