Vehicle identification numbers (VINs) are a 17-character sequence providing important information about your vehicle that can be used by law enforcement agencies and vehicle insurance companies. Each of the characters carries meaning about the vehicle’s nation of origin, manufacturer, vehicle type, body type, model year, place of manufacture, accident history, and more.
The United States Department of Transportation standardized VINs in 1981, with their protocols being adopted by Canadian agencies for consistency across North America. No two vehicles produced within a 30-year period of one another can have the same VIN, which can typically be found in several places:
- On a sticker or metal plate just inside the driver-side door.
- Inside the glove compartment.
- On the dashboard on the driver’s side of the vehicle, which can be seen through the windshield.
- On the vehicle’s engine block, hood and/or bumpers.
While VINs are a way for law-enforcement agencies and insurance companies to keep track of vehicles and help ensure its true identity, they can be used for a lot more. Thieves are often on the lookout for an opportunity to steal VINs, which they can then use for profit.
How do thieves get a hold of VIN numbers?
Given that VINs are perfectly visible through your windshield, they are very easy to steal. Anyone can just walk by your car, take a fast photo of your VIN, and then walk away again unnoticed. This is called “cloning.” If you can, it’s advisable to cover up the VIN on your dashboard with tape or a piece of paper.
Other ways thieves can get a hold of VINs are to forage through junkyards for desirable makes and models or rent a vehicle from which they then snag the VIN.
What thieves do with your VIN
Thieves, who are often crafty individuals (unfortunately), have come up with a number of different ways to make use of stolen VINs.
- Thieves copy (or clone) a VIN from a legally registered car and then make counterfeit VIN plates that they will install onto a stolen car (of similar make and model), which they then sell. Unfortunately for the buyer, once a car insurance company determines that the VIN and the vehicle have been stolen, it can be seized by law enforcement.
- A stolen VIN can be used to register illegal vehicles, or even no vehicle. With just a VIN and some basic information about the vehicle it came from, thieves can make up a fake bill of sale, obtain registration and car insurance, and then write it off for the payout.
- Thieves will buy or acquire a badly damaged car and use a false name for the title. The vehicle is then officially listed as “salvaged” and the crook uses both the title and a stolen VIN on a stolen car that is a similar make and model. It is then far easier to sell on the black market.
How to check if your VIN is secure
All Canadians can use the CARFAX Canada website to obtain a free VIN report on their vehicle. The report will include accident and damage records, where your vehicle was last registered, any available vehicle history in other countries, whether it has ever been declared stolen, and more. You can use this report to compare with your own knowledge of the vehicle.
Car owners can also check the VIN in all of the different places it is found in your vehicle and look to make sure it hasn’t been tampered with and is the same everywhere.
If you suspect your VIN has been stolen or altered, contact CARFAX, your car insurance company, and, of course, the police immediately.
Get more from Lane’s Insurance
Lane’s Insurance is a leading Alberta-based brokerage, offering highly competitive rates on vehicle insurance and all other insurance needs. We are here to help you keep your vehicle insurance costs low and to ensure you are fully protected at all times. Among our expert insurance brokers we have decades of experience in the often confusing insurance industry, and we are always your allies in the insurance world. We work for you, not the insurance companies. Contact us at our Calgary, Edmonton, Banff and greater Alberta offices to see what we can do for you.