Don't get caught buying a stolen car!

With almost 15 000 hijackings and 60 000 vehicles stolen in South Africa in 2016 alone, there is a good chance that the second-hand car you are considering buying could be stolen - particularly if one considers the fact that approximately half of these stolen and hijacked vehicles are sold back into the local market.

It comes as no surprise then that many unsuspecting motorists have their vehicles impounded or their insurance claims rejected because they unwittingly purchased a stolen vehicle. So, before you lose not only your car but also the money you paid for it, there are certain steps you can take to ensure that both the sale and the vehicle are legitimate.

Buy from a reputable dealer

You might have spotted the bargain of a lifetime online or in the classifieds of your local newspaper, but the best way of ensuring that you aren’t buying a stolen vehicle is to go through a reputable dealer. It would be in such a dealer’s best interest to ensure that the vehicles they sell are “clean”. There are, however, no guarantees, so it remains up to you as a savvy consumer to run several checks on a vehicle.

Basic background check

Whether you’re buying a second-hand vehicle through a dealer or a private seller, conducting a simple background check will ensure that you do not purchase a stolen vehicle.

Most of these checks revolve around the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), which is also referred to as the chassis number. Each vehicle has its own unique VIN, comprising 17 characters (capital letters and digits).

The easiest way to spot the VIN is to stand outside the vehicle on the driver’s side. The VIN is usually displayed in the corner of the dashboard where it meets the windscreen. Otherwise it can be located inside the door post.


  • Check that the VIN matches the number on the owner registration and roadworthy documents
  • Check that the VIN number has not been tampered with
  • Check that the address supplied by the seller matches the address on the registration and roadworthy documents
  • Check the service history of the car


Other important numbers to look out for are the chassis and engine numbers. If these do not correspond with those on the registration papers it could mean that the car has been tampered with or contains stolen parts. The chassis number is usually the last six digits of the VIN number, while the engine number consists of six digits and should be stamped on the engine.

It is also important that you establish whether or not there is any outstanding finance on the vehicle. Ask the seller for proof that all outstanding amounts have been paid, because if the full amount has not been settled with the finance house you can be held liable for payment or the vehicle can be repossessed. Contact the finance house directly if you’re unsure or suspicious of documentation provided.

You as the potential buyer have the right to query the origins of a used vehicle. If the seller, whether it be a dealer or an individual, is unwilling or unable to provide information or documentation, it is best to simply walk away from the deal.

How to check if a vehicle is stolen

Before you are able to check whether a vehicle has been listed as stolen, you will need the following information:


  • Year, make and model
  • Engine number
  • VIN/chassis number
  • Registration number
  • Colour
  • Mileage


Armed with this information, there are a number of ways to run a background check on a car, for example:

  • The SAPS or the Metro Police will be able to check whether a vehicle has been stolen and that the VIN/chassis and engine numbers are in accordance with the vehicle’s registration documents. This information is provided free of charge.
  • allows you to verify the VIN, year, make, model and variant of a vehicle. The report provided will also tell you if the vehicle has been listed as stolen by the SAPS. The cost involved is roughly R100.
  • is backed by TransUnion and supplies information such as mileage and car finance status as well as its status with SAPS. You have to register online to access the information and the cost is around R150.


Be smart

For many a vehicle is one of the biggest purchases you will make in your lifetime and caution must be exercised every step of the way! Take the time to do the necessary checks beforehand and you could save yourself much inconvenience and a lot of money!