Keeping Yourself Safe: 6 Ways To Tell If A Motorcycle Is Stolen


In a perfect world, we would assume that everyone’s stuff rightfully belongs to them. Unfortunately that isn’t always the case for some people. Vehicles are a hot commodity among thieves and motorcycles are a special target.

There could be multiple reasons why one would wonder if a certain motorcycle is stolen, but the most common reason was because they are interested in buying it. There are a few ways you can tell if a motorcycle is stolen.

How can you tell if a motorcycle is stolen? To tell if a motorcycle is stolen, you can have your local DMV run a VIN inspection, use online VIN inspection databases, contact your insurance and have them search their database, contact shops where the owner supposedly had the motorcycle serviced, notice any hesitancy from the seller, and see if the situation is all around too good to be true.

Purchasing a stolen motorcycle can put you in a world of mess. I’ve purchased close to 15 motorcycles in the last few years and have quickly been able to tell when I’m looking at a stolen motorcycle. This is what I’ve learned throughout the process.

How You Can Tell A Motorcycle Is Stolen

The majority of people out there are honest. But there are a handful that aren’t and they seem to make the game of buying a motorcycle even more difficult. There are people out there who steal motorcycles, sell them for cash, then run.

There are several ways you can prevent yourself from buying a stolen motorcycle; these ways will decrease your chances to making a poor financial decision.

DMV VIN Check: The first option you have to see if a stolen motorcycle is in your midst is to go in to your local DMV and have them do a VIN inspection for you. A VIN, or Vehicle Identification Number, is a code specific to the motorcycle. I recommend you go in person as most won’t do an inspection over the phone.

If you’ve looked at the motorcycle in person or if you happen to get it in some other way, have the VIN written down and prepare to give it to the employee that’s helping you. Most DMV’s will charge a small fee for doing VIN inspections, so make sure you have some money on hand. They will be able to give you a full history of the motorcycle including if has been reported stolen, is salvaged, etc.

Do Your Own Vin Check: If you’re in a bind and need to make a quick decision, a good way to see if the motorcycle is stolen is by doing your own VIN inspection. A rule of thumb I always follow is to never buy a vehicle without also receiving the title. See my article here to learn more about buying a motorcycle without a title.

When the seller presents a title, make sure the VIN on the title matches the VIN on the motorcycle. The VIN is located on or near the steering neck on most motorcycles. Make sure that the VIN sticker or stamp hasn’t been tampered with while you are matching up the numbers. If any numbers or letters were scratched out or it has clearly been replaced, that points to a stolen motorcycle.

If you’re still not satisfied about matching numbers between the title and the motorcycle itself, you can also use several online platforms that will provide a VIN report. Such places include the National Insurance Crime Bureau. They provide free basic VIN information and allow you to search up to five VIN’s within a 24-hour period.

Contact Your Insurance: Insurance can be helpful in more ways than just making sure you’re covered in the case of an accident. Whether you already have motorcycle insurance or you just have car insurance, you can call them and have them run a VIN inspection through their own data base.

If your insurance does this, this option is usually free because your insurance doesn’t want you to buy a stolen motorcycle either. With a quick five minute phone call, they will be able to tell you a basic but essential history of the motorcycle include whether or not it has been reported stolen.

Contact Places Motorcycle Was Serviced: It’s always a good idea to ask for service records of a motorcycle you’re interested in buying. This not only indicates how well the owner maintained the motorcycle, but it also gives you an additional outsider to call to to confirm true ownership.

Some owners may be wary of you taking pictures of service documents, but an honest seller shouldn’t have a problem with you writing down the VIN and the name of the shop indicated on the service papers. If a motorcycle is stolen, the perpetrator is not going to spend time or money and take it into a shop and have routine maintenance done on it. You can call these shops and confirm if the owner actually took the motorcycle in to get serviced.

Hesitancy From The Seller: Any time you are buying a motorcycle, pay close attention to how the seller reacts when you ask questions. Be prepared to ask a lot of questions aside from “is this motorcycle stolen?”

There are several things you can ask that will hint towards whether or not it is stolen such as “how long have you had this motorcycle?” “What’s your favorite thing about this bike?” and “What kind of gas mileage does this get?”

These types of questions are only questions a true owner will know. Any hesitancy and lack of knowledge about the motorcycle may indicate it’s stolen. They may come up with an excuse such as they’re “selling it for a buddy” so they don’t know a whole lot about it. Even if that’s true, stay away because you want all your questions answered before making a big investment like this.

Too Good To Be True: Overall, try to notice the situation and if you have any uneasy feelings about it. Buying a motorcycle can often be an emotional thing, so try to look past that if possible. Go with your gut feeling because most of the time, your gut is right.

If the situation is too good to be true, it probably is. When someone steals a motorcycle, they want to get rid of it quickly which means they’ll sell for a really low price to get rid of it. The extra cash means no extra work on their part aside from stealing the motorcycle in the first place.

What To Do If You Find Out The Motorcycle Is Stolen

If you find yourself in the unfortunate case where a motorcycle you’re interested in turns out to be stolen, there are a few things you should do to ensure your safety and help authorities out.

First, never let the “seller” know that you know the motorcycle is stolen. Doing so will encourage them to relocate which leaves a dead end for authorities and the true owner will be less likely to get it back. You never know how the perpetrator will react to being caught which could potentially put you in danger.

As soon as you leave the presence of the seller, contact authorities immediately. Explain to them your situation and how you suspect the motorcycle is stolen. Provide the seller’s name, phone number, address, and as much information as possible for authorities to track them down.

After you’ve contacted authorities, do not involve yourself in the situation any more. Do not attempt to contact the seller anymore or park your car a few houses away from the seller to “see what goes down” when the police get there. Stay as far away from the seller as possible to ensure your safety.

What To Do If You’ve Purchased A Stolen Motorcycle

As unfortunate as it is, buying a stolen motorcycle isn’t unheard of. Despite all of the preventative measures you may have taken, some thieves out there know exactly what they’re doing and can still trick an unsuspecting buyer.

There are also situations where someone buys a stolen motorcycle and ends up selling it without registering it and without the knowledge it was stolen in the first place. So you could have bought a motorcycle from a sincerely honest person but you still fall victim of this situation.

Whether or not the seller was truly honest, you could still be held liable because you currently hold a stolen vehicle. If you were smart, you received a bill of sale from the seller proving the purchase of the motorcycle which holds some proof for you that you’re innocent.

Immediately contact the police and let them know what happened if you have purchased a stolen vehicle. This may result in the motorcycle getting confiscated and you losing all that money, but that’s better than getting pulled over and the police officer finding out your motorcycle is stolen and you potentially get in trouble with the law.

If you purchased a stolen motorcycle, you do have grounds to sue the seller whether or not they knew it was stolen. If they were the ones who stole the motorcycle, they may be hard to contact since they’ve probably already fled the state. This is why it’s so important to ensure a motorcycle isn’t stolen before you buy it.

Tips For Safely Buying A Motorcycle

In addition to the tips stated above, there are a few other measures you can take to make sure you are covered in case you’re looking at a stolen motorcycle.

After you’ve done a VIN inspection, always make sure you get the title from the owner before handing over the cash. Make sure their name is on the title. A seller could promise to mail you the title at some point, but it almost never works that way. I’ve had a few friends learn this lesson the hard way.

Try to meet the seller at their place of residence. It’s not always possible to do this as some sellers are wary of giving their address out to strangers, but knowing where they live can greatly help your situation and ensure the motorcycle is legitimate.

Always have the seller fill out a bill of sale during a transaction. This will provide proof of your purchase and will back you up in case it is stolen and you don’t find out until after you’ve bought it. This is a document that DMV’s require anyway to get the motorcycle registered.

Even if you have the cash to buy a motorcycle, using a loan to buy a it will be helpful in several ways. The bank will always make sure to do a thorough VIN check on the motorcycle before you purchase it and could be considered a type of insurance to ensure you are buying a legitimate motorcycle.

Related Questions

Should I buy a motorcycle that has been dropped? It is okay to purchase a motorcycle that has been dropped because the main consequences are mostly cosmetic. Have the seller define their meaning of “drop” and look for signs that the motorcycle may have been dragged rather than just dropped. See my article here for more information.

What are the most commonly stolen motorcycles? Though the specific types of motorcycles stolen every year differ, the most commonly stolen brand of motorcycles are Japanese motorcycles including Yahamas, Hondas, and Suzukis.

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