KPRC 2 Investigates: Here are 3 ways you can make sure you don’t buy a stolen vehicle

Thieves are capitalizing on the shortage of used cars. They’re getting creative stealing and then selling hot vehicles to make a buck. Our KPRC 2 Investigates team is looking into three ways you can make sure you don’t buy a stolen vehicle.

HOUSTON – Thieves are capitalizing on the shortage of used cars. They’re getting creative stealing and then selling hot vehicles to make a buck. Our KPRC 2 Investigates team is looking into three ways you can make sure you don’t buy a stolen vehicle.

More people are buying used vehicles on websites

Inventory is low at traditional dealerships, so people are looking online now more than ever to find used cars at sites like Craigslist, Offer Up, and Facebook marketplace. But Houston Police Department Auto Theft Task Force Investigators say they are seeing a lot of stolen cars shuffled through these sites.

Where old school car thieves might jam a screwdriver in a vehicle’s ignition, today’s thieves are doing less damage to the cars they’re stealing.


#1 Inspect the key fob carefully

“Dealerships are getting ripped off more. Valets are getting ripped off more, so there’s a lot of new ways to get those key fobs,” said Sgt. Tracy Hicks, HPD Auto Theft Task Force.

Sgt. Tracy Hicks says criminals can reprogram random key fobs to start vehicles they don’t belong to. If you’re looking to buy a used vehicle, Hicks said you need to open up the fob and find the key inside.

“See if it fits in the door. If it’s a truck, see if it fits in the tailgate. See if it fits all the doors. Because if it doesn’t fit in that door, I promise you that car’s stolen and just walk away,” said Sgt. Hicks.

The same key that starts the ignition should unlock all of the doors.


#2 Beware of any seller who makes excuses about the title

Watch out for sellers who claim they don’t have a title, no matter the excuse. Often these fraud sellers try to stall the buyer.

“As soon as you pay me, I’m gonna go to the bank. I’m gonna get the title. When I get it, I’m gonna meet you again and sign it over to you,” said Sgt. Hicks. “Which 99% of the time that doesn’t happen. So please stop believing that.”

If you do buy a car without a title, you have to apply for a bonded title in order to get it registered and insured. And this is usually when buyers find out their new car was stolen. That’s when the police confiscate it and you will lose all of the money you paid for it.

KPRC2 Investigates bonded title issues. One car owner discovered his vehicle was stolen after trying to apply for a bonded title in Houston. (Copyright 2020 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.)

RELATED: KPRC 2 Investigates bonded title issues in Harris County.


#3 Check the title before buying

You can and should do a title check before you purchase any used vehicle from an individual. Any legitimate person selling a used vehicle should be okay with you checking the title and history. The title check will cost you about $10.

The Texas DMV has a title check search before you buy.

The consumer must:

1. Complete and sign the Request for Texas Motor Vehicle Information (Form VTR-275).

2. Certify by initialing their intended use of the information on the back of the form.

3. Submit a completed and signed Form VTR-275 with a copy of the customer’s government-issued photo ID, written authorization, and required documentation, if applicable, by mail. Or visit a Texas Department of Motor Vehicles (TxDMV) Regional Service Center for assistance.

4. Include payment ($5.75 for title history or $6.75 for a certified title history) in the form of a personal check, money order, or cashier’s check made payable to TxDMV. Do not mail cash. Fees are not refundable. If the requested information will be used for legal purposes, a “certified title history” is recommended.

To contact the department, you can visit http://www.txdmv.gov/contact-us.

You can also check the car history before buying on car buying websites. This may not be as easy because often these vehicles are in other states. We’ve told you before about the issues some of these online car websites are having.


About the Author:

Passionate consumer advocate, mom of 3, addicted to coffee, hairspray and pastries.