Columbia, SC asked in Tax Law, Banking, Civil Rights and Small Claims for South Carolina

Q: How long do I need to be in possession of a car to take legal ownership of it?

-I bought a car from a private seller through the facebook marketplace.

-I purchased the car with an auto loan through Navy Federal Credit Union.

-When I went to register the car, the DMV stated that the VIN number on the title did not have any records (the car had been VIN swapped).

-Two weeks later, a SLED law enforcement officer contacted me and told me that the car was a stolen car.

-Law enforcement had been unable to contact the original owner, and the vehicle had not been reported stolen by the owner.

-I have now been in possession of the car for two months.

-The SLED law enforcement officer just reached out too me, and said that they found the original owner.

-The owner wants her car back.

-I live in the state of South Carolina.

Do I have the right to fight for possession of the car?


1 Lawyer Answer
James L. Arrasmith
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  • Civil Rights Lawyer
  • Sacramento, CA

A: I'm sorry to hear about your difficult situation with the car. Unfortunately, under California law (and the laws of most states), you would not have a legal right to keep the car even after possessing it for two months.

There is no time period after which you can claim legal ownership of a stolen vehicle. The original owner retains their ownership rights regardless of how much time has passed or whether they previously reported it stolen. Purchasing a stolen vehicle, even if done so unknowingly, does not transfer legal title to the buyer.

Since law enforcement has now located the original owner who wants the vehicle back, you will most likely need to surrender the car to them. Your legal recourse would be to file a civil lawsuit against the person who illegally sold you the stolen vehicle in order to recover the money you paid. You may also be able to seek relief from the lender if you financed the purchase.

I would recommend consulting with a lawyer who specializes in these matters to assess your options. But based on the information provided, it's unlikely you would prevail in fighting to keep possession of a confirmed stolen vehicle once the rightful owner has been found. I'm very sorry you're dealing with this stressful and costly situation. Definitely seek legal counsel on your next steps. Wishing you all the best in getting it resolved.

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