Buying a Vehicle

When Buying a Vehicle, Don’t Get “Taken for a Ride”

Use NICB’s Free VINCheck® Service

Cars for Sale

NICB's VINCheck is a free service provided to the public to assist in determining if a vehicle has been reported as stolen, but not recovered, or has been reported as a salvage vehicle by cooperating NICB member insurance companies. To perform a search, a vehicle identification number (VIN) is required. A maximum of five searches can be conducted within a 24-hour period per IP address.

Beware of “Cloned” Vehicles

Vehicle cloning is a highly lucrative crime. Enterprising criminals can copy a VIN from a legally owned and documented vehicle sitting in a parking lot, on the street or at a vehicle dealership. The copied VIN is then used to create counterfeit VIN tags. Car thieves often travel across state and international borders to sell vehicles at the highest prices. Because most licensing agencies do not check for duplicate ownership when an out-of-state ownership document is surrendered, the odds of discovery are fairly low.

Here’s How the Scam Works

  • The criminal steals a vehicle similar to the one with the legitimate VIN.
  • The stolen vehicle’s true VIN tag is replaced with the counterfeit VIN tag, making the stolen vehicle a “clone” of the original.
  • The criminal sells the “cloned” vehicle to an unsuspecting buyer, typically using counterfeit ownership documents or documentation they have obtained under false pretenses.

Avoid Being Taken

  • If you buy a “cloned” vehicle, it is never really yours. If and when the VIN-switch is discovered, the car you paid for will be confiscated and returned to the original owner or the insurance company if a theft claim has already been paid.
  • Be careful about purchasing a used vehicle from someone you don’t know who is running an online ad and using a cell phone number.
  • Check the vehicle’s VIN with appropriate government agencies or your state bureau of motor vehicles.
  • Conduct a title search of the vehicle.
  • Analyze the ownership pattern for any new or late-model vehicle with no lien holder (i.e., no outstanding car loans – the seller tells you the car is “paid off”).
  • If possible, ask someone from your insurance company to inspect the vehicle prior to purchase.
  • Trust your instincts – if you don’t like the answers you’re hearing or if the deal sounds too good to be true, walk away!

Water and Vehicles Don’t Mix: Don’t Get “Flooded Out”

A “flood vehicle” is one that has been completely or partially submerged in water to the extent that its body, engine, transmission or other mechanical component parts have been damaged. If the vehicle is damaged to the point of being inoperable, the owner’s insurance company will settle the claim for a total loss and then sell the vehicle as a “salvage” vehicle at an auto auction.

In some cases, dishonest dealers and other individuals can buy these vehicles, dry and clean them and sell them to unsuspecting buyers as used vehicles. Many of these vehicles come on the market after natural disasters, such as storms, hurricanes or other natural disasters involving flooding. Dishonest dealers often transport these vehicles to other states and fraudulently obtain a “clean” title (a crime called “title washing”).

Owners who do not have insurance covering vehicle flood damage can clean up their vehicle and offer it for sale themselves, without disclosing the damage. Because they did not report a loss to an insurance company, they will still have the original “clean” title for their vehicle.

Don’t Purchase a “Washed-up” Vehicle: Take these Preventive Measures

  • Don’t Purchase a “Washed-up” Vehicle: Take these Preventive Measures
  • Buy from a reputable car dealer.
  • Inspect the vehicle thoroughly – look for water stains, mildew, and sand or silt under the carpets, floor mats, headliner cloth and behind the dashboard.
  • Check for recently shampooed carpet.
  • Inspect the interior upholstery and door panels for fading.
  • Check for rust on screws in the console or areas where water normally wouldn’t reach.
  • Check for mud or grit in the spare tire compartment, alternator crevices, behind wiring harnesses, around the small recesses of starter motors, power steering pumps and relays.
  • Check inside the seatbelt retractors by pulling the seatbelt all the way out and inspect for moisture, mildew or grime.
  • Check door speakers, which are frequently damaged by flooding.
  • Look under the hood for signs of oxidation. Pull back the rubber “boots” around electrical and mechanical connections for these indicators. Ferrous (containing iron) materials will show signs of rust; copper will show a green patina; aluminum and alloys will have a white powder and pitting.
  • Ask about the vehicle’s history, and whether it has been in any accidents or floods.
  • Inspect the title and ownership papers for any potential or questionable salvage fraud.
  • Conduct a title search of the vehicle.
  • Have a certified mechanic inspect the vehicle prior to purchasing it.
  • Trust your instincts – if you don’t like the answers you’re hearing or if the deal sounds too good to be true, walk away!

Download Vehicle Resources

You can find more information in NICB’s "Vehicle Cloning" brochure (English or Spanish).

These are in PDF format. If you don't have it already installed, download Adobe Reader.


Report Fraud

If you suspect fraud activities, contact NICB.

  1. Call 800.TEL.NICB (800.835.6422)
  2. Submit a form online.