Thanks in advance to anyone who could help. My wife and I bought a Sienna, 2001 in April, 2006 in Brooklyn, NY, via an ad in Craigslist, from a private owner. The minivan had Illinois plates (the owner said he lived partly in Chicago and in Brooklyn). Before buying, I ran a Carfax report on it and found that the guy had owned the van just for about to weeks, and the reported mileage at the time he purchased it was claimed to be exactly 40,000, while at the inspection a year before it was over 61K. In fact, the actual odometer reading at the time I saw the van was about 30K. Other than that, no other problems were reported. The van's condition was far from perfect, but it was running well, and upon my mechanic's repair estimate, I went on with the purchase, since the price was more than reasonable.
Three days ago, two police detectives called us home and asked to come outside where our minivan was parked. Upon brief inspection of the VIN on the dashboard and the driver's door (which were identical), they went under the hood, apparently inspecting the engine serial number, and concluded that the vehicle we own is not the one we think it is, that it was previously stolen, and we must return it to the rightful owner (the insurance company) ASAP. They agreed to give us a few more days since we already had some important arrangements, but tomorrow I have to meet one of them to give up our van to the police. They said we could sue the previous owner for the money we spent for purchase and repair but so far he's nowhere to be found, his phone# not in service, and the detectives did not appear eager to help me find him. I still hope to find the guy but I'm not thrilled at all about having to lose our only car at the time we need it most. By the way, the cops are real - I called the police bout them and the police said they actually talked to them about us. Another interesting detail: I contacted Carfax about the van, and they said that salvage title (!) was issued to the vehicle in December, 2006 by the state of PA (never been there since the time of purchase).
Sorry for the long story, but is there anything I can do except for trying to find and sue the seller, and is it inevitable that I'm losing the vehicle.
Another, more general issue is that unsuspecting buyers are totally unprotected against things like that because not only they have no way of knowing if a used car has legitimate parts, like engine or transmission, but they are NOT EVEN TOLD to look for issues like that. You fill out bill of sale, pay taxes and all kinds of fees, get official plates, get an inspection done, buy an insurance, all of it making your purchase completely legitimate, not like you bought a bike from some crook on the street for $20. A simple two-minute S/N verification at the time of purchase would've solved the problem and helped catch the thieves. Or there is something I don't get here?