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VIN Switching is a technique used by thieves to disguise the identity of a stolen vehicle. They will replace the VIN on a stolen vehicle with one that is not associated with an active theft record. The thief will try to re-sell the stolen car to an unsuspecting buyer.
In addition to manually switching the VIN labels, the thieves will usually also develop fraudulent titles and registrations to further convince the buyer that the vehicle is not stolen.
Another form of VIN Switching is the Salvage Scam. When a vehicle which is extensively damaged, burned, or stripped of parts and deemed not worthy of repair, it is referred to as "salvaged". Car thieves will use a phony name and address to buy a salvaged vehicle solely for it's VIN and title. They will then steal a car matching the make and model of the salvaged vehicle and then switch the stolen VIN with the VIN from the salvaged vehicle. The perpetrators then claim that the vehicle has been rebuilt and register the car under the same name used to by the salvaged vehicle. They are then free to re-sell the stolen vehicle to an unsuspecting purchaser.
Click on video to see an NBC News report on VIN Switching
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A VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) is an identifier number that is used to differentiate between different makes, models and characteristics of the many vehicles manufactured all over the world. Much like a social security or social insurance number, every vehicle made is assigned a unique 17 digit VIN which is stamped on a metal plate or printed on a label and attached to the vehicle in several locations.
The VIN is most easily viewed on the driver-side dashboard through the windshield, or on the driver-side door frame, but may also located on other areas of the vehicle. (See graphic below). Law enforcement agencies can use the VIN to determine if a vehicle has an active theft record and has been reported stolen.
Sample Vehicle Info Tag with VIN, Barcode and Other Info
Typical VIN Locations on a Vehicle
Detroit automobile manufacturers began stamping and casting identifying numbers on cars and their parts in the mid 1950's . The primary purpose of this Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) was to give an accurate description of the vehicle when mass production numbers were starting to scale in very significant numbers. The early VINs came in a range of variations depending on the individual manufacturer at that time.
In the early 1980's the US Department of Transport (USDOT) required that all road vehicles must contain a 17 character VIN. This established the standard fixed VIN system which major vehicle manufacturers use currently. The result was a unique identifier number for each individual vehicle that rolled off an assembly line.
Digit 1 - Country of Manufacture
Identifies the country in which the vehicle was manufactured. For example: USA=1 or 4, Canada=2, Mexico=3, Japan=J, Korea=K, England=S, Germany=W, Italy=Z
Digit 2 - Manufacturer
Identifies the vehicle manufacturer. For example; Audi=A, BMW=B, Buick=4, Cadillac=6, Chevrolet=1, Chrysler=C, Dodge=B, Ford=F, GM Canada=7, GM USA=G, Honda=H, Jaguar=A, Lincoln=L, Mercedes Benz=D, Mercury=M, Nissan=N, Oldsmobile=3, Pontiac=2 or 5, Plymouth=P, Saturn=8, Toyota=T, VW=W, Volvo=V
Digit 3 - Vehicle Type/Division
Identifies the vehicle type or manufacturing division.
Digits 4-8 - VDS (Vehicle Descriptor Section)
Digits 4 through 8 of the VIN mare used by the manufacturer to identify attributes of the vehicle. They can identify vehicle features such as body style, engine type, model, series, etc.
Digit 9 - Check Digit
The check digit "character or digit 9" in the sequence of a vehicle identification number (VIN) built beginning with model year 1981 (when the 17 character digit format was established) is used to verify that a VIN is legitimate.
Digit 10 - Model Year
Identifies the model year. For example: 1988=J, 1989=K, 1990=L, 1991=M, 1992=N, 1993=P, 1994=R, 1995=S, 1996=T, 1997=V, 1998=W, 1999=X, 2000=Y, 2001=1, 2002=2, 2003=3
Digit 11 - Assembly Plant
Identifies the assembly plant where the vehicle was manufactured.
Digits 12-17 - VIS (Vehicle Identifier Section)
The last 8 characters of the VIN are used for the identification a of specific vehicle. The last four characters shall always be numeric. Identifies the sequence of the vehicle for production as it rolled off the manufacturers assembly line.
Mouse over the VIN characters to show what each digit or group of digits represents.
READING A VIN