PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – A stolen car in the Portland Metro area was sold to a used car dealership in Portland only to later be sold to someone in Hawaii – and no one was the wiser. 

What makes this story even stranger is that the used car dealership and the DMV didn’t break any laws doing it.

Lauren Murdoch said her ‘99 Subaru was stolen in November 2021 with the title to her car and other personal documents inside. She reported the vehicle stolen to police and the Oregon DMV the next day.

After a year passed, she gave up hope.

So she went back to the DMV to recover her title, only to find out that her car was listed in the DMV’s database at Blue Line Auto group, a used car dealership in Southeast Portland, only two weeks after it was stolen.

“The DMV had the information, and if they would’ve just notified me when they got the information, I could have recovered my car,” Murdoch said.

Lauren’s car had not been flagged because, according to Oregon law, the DMV is only required to run a car’s VIN number to check if it’s stolen when someone comes in to transfer a car title into someone else’s name.

“It blows my mind that they’re not legally required to do that,” Murdoch said. “And it’s crazy that the DMV won’t notify somebody if their stolen car is entered into their system.”

Dustin Van Doozer, the owner of the Blue Line Auto dealership, was also shocked to learn about this.

“If a car can be popped around from my dealer inventory, sitting there for three or four months, go across the ocean and then be licensed in Hawaii and the DMV in Hawaii doesn’t catch this, the DMV in Oregon doesn’t catch this, the shipping company doesn’t catch this…that has to be fixed,” Van Doozer said.

Van Doozer has been in the used car business for more than two decades. He’s required to enter cars’ VIN numbers into his account with the DMV. All these years, he says, he thought the DMV’s system was making sure these cars were legitimate. 

“And if we enter this into a DMV website, this should flag immediately, this should pop up. There should be some way that we can enter a VIN number somewhere to where we can know instantly if a car is reported stolen at that moment,” he said.

Years ago, Van Doozer said dealerships used to be able to call law enforcement non-emergency to ask them to run a VIN number within minutes before buying a car.

“The sheriff’s office now requires us to send an email with the VIN number and they get back to you within three or four business days,” he said.

He said that delayed service doesn’t work for their business model, especially since weekends are their busiest, adding that “a legitimate customer might move on to another dealer.”

“And so back in the day, they used to do that and there is a way to do it,” Van Doozer said. “They’ve just gotten lazy and they don’t care anymore, essentially.”

Murdoch hopes her story about her stolen car can open people’s eyes to what she says is a “surprisingly inadequate” system.

“It’s a tragedy that Oregon, having such a problem with vehicle theft, hasn’t addressed this issue on a more systemic level,” Murdoch said. “I would really just like our legislators and ODOT to understand that we can do better; we can make a better net to catch vehicle theft.”

There’s currently a patchwork of statewide and national databases for stolen cars that DMVs use, but they’re not fully universalized across the U.S. –  nor fully required.

Had someone in Oregon bought her car from Van Doozer’s dealership and tried to transfer the title, then the Oregon DMV would have caught it. But because it was bought from someone outside Oregon, it didn’t raise any red flags.

Dave Adams at the Oregon DMV told KOIN 6 that Oregon is one of the worst states in the nation for car theft.

“When there is a stolen vehicle, people try to point blame, but the bottom line is there are bad people and they’re smart, and sometimes there’s nothing you can do to stop them from getting away with it,” Adams said.

Murdoch said she hopes her story reminds people to not leave important documents in the car.