What is VIN Switching (aka VIN Cloning)

Car VIN Cloning Switching

There are around 700,000 car thefts each year in the US, according to the FBI. In many cases, the cars are stolen so they can be used for selling the parts, however, thieves have a more profitable way to sell a stolen car and it’s known as VIN Switching or also referred to as VIN Cloning.

Your VIN is known as your ‘Vehicle Identification Number’ and is unique to your vehicle. It is supposed to be fixed permanently on your car’s body and other parts and is the only reliable way of tracing the history of your vehicle and confirm you own the title. Changing a VIN is illegal.

How VIN Switching Works

VIN Cloning is a sneaky process. Here is how it works:

  • Your car is stolen by thieves.
  • They find a vehicle model close to yours.
  • They copy the VIN from the other vehicle.
  • They make a fake plate with the VIN for your car, making it easy to sell.

The worst part of it all is that you think you’re buying a car with a clean bill of health, but in reality it is coming with a masked history. In fact, even perfectly respectable dealers can sell you a VIN-cloned car without even knowing it. And, if your car was in fact stolen, police can actually seize the car and you are out of the money you spent on it.

Protect yourself from VIN Switching

There are some things you can do to protect yourself from buying a stolen car.

Check the Seller’s Address

Always get the seller’s address and meet them at their home or place of business. Criminals won’t provide you with an address. If the seller is legitimate, they won’t have any issues with you coming to their home or place of business.

Check the Documents

Carefully review all documents given to you. Check for forgeries. Also, check the VIN on all documents (title and service records) and your car’s dash, frame and sticker. The VIN should be consistent. Look for signs that it could have been tampered with.

Get a Mechanic

A professional mechanic will thoroughly check your car and make sure there are no anomalies.

It’s also important to ensure you have a good auto insurance policy in the event your car is stolen. Things happen all the time and you will want to be prepared.