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The car you bought is stolen

It is an offence for a dealer or private seller to sell a car or other vehicle that is stolen. If it turns out you have bought a stolen car, you will probably have to give the car back. You will not automatically get your money back or any compensation.

This page tells you what to do if you find out the car you bought is stolen.

How can you tell if the car you bought is stolen?

A stolen car might be ringed (a ringer), which means it has been given another car’s identity. Usually another car currently on the road or one that has been scrapped or burnt out following an accident.

It is difficult to spot a ringed car without getting a history check. It might come to light if you have an accident or your car undergoes a police check.

Other warning signs that a car might be stolen include:

  • the seller couldn’t give you the registration document (V5C)
  • there are spelling mistakes or no watermark on the V5C
  • the name and address on the V5C don’t match the details the seller gave you
  • the identifying numbers on the car don’t match the numbers on the V5C
  • areas of glass with identifying numbers etched on them have been damaged or tampered with.

Have you committed a crime?

Handling stolen goods is a crime but you're unlikely to be arrested if you didn't know the car had been stolen.

Tell the police as soon as you discover or suspect you've bought a stolen car and don't use it. If you don't report it and you carry on driving it, you could be arrested for handling stolen goods.

If you want to try to get your money back

If you want to get your money back, you will have to take the person who sold you the car to court. This is easier said than done, as you will need to be able to trace the person. It can also be a slow and expensive process.

Get independent legal advice before you start court proceedings.

If you want to try to keep the car

If you want to keep the car, you will need to show you are entitled to ownership. This is known as having good title. You'll have to go to court where a judge will decide whether you should be allowed to keep the car. The court process can be long and the car is likely to be impounded until a decision is made.

This is a very complex area of law and can be slow and costly. Get independent legal advice before you start court proceedings.

Next steps

►Help and advice on taking court action