One of the most important numbers you will be concerned about in your life, aside from your driver’s licence number, is your car’s Vehicle Identification Number, or VIN. This is the number used to identify your vehicle out of all the other millions of cars in North America.
Typically, you will find this number stamped in a variety of places in your car, like on the floorboard near the driver’s seat, on the dashboard, inside the door, and even on the engine. This number is so important that Canada has laws that relate specifically to the VIN and makes it illegal to tamper with it.
1. What is VIN?
According to the Criminal Code of Canada, section 353.1, it is illegal to wholly or partially alter, remove, or obliterate a vehicle identification number on a motor vehicle. There are some exceptions to this law, like if someone needed to remove a VIN in order to legally modify the vehicle, but anyone who does it with the intent to cover up a crime is guilty of an office and could spend up to five years in jail.
2. A VIN is like a vehicle’s fingerprint
So all that is interesting, but how does it affect you?
Police say that VIN cloning is just like identity theft for humans, but on motor vehicles. Cars, boats, snowmobiles, trucks, and even bobcats all have identities – VINs – that criminals can steal and clone. A VIN is like a vehicle’s fingerprint, and if someone clones that VIN and puts it on a similar vehicle in order to pass it off as legitimate, the actual owner of the real vehicle’s VIN is a victim, as is the person who buys the vehicle with the fake VIN.
3. Your VIN might be cloned
Typically, shady sellers will have a stolen or damaged car that they want to sell. They will go to a buys parking lot and find a car of the same make, model, and colour of the one they want to sell, and copy its VIN. They will use that info to get a better history report for the car they’re selling, in the case of damage, or to make sure that the car doesn’t flag as being stolen.
When a cloned vehicle is discovered by police, it is seized, regardless of who owns it. If you’ve bought the vehicle in good faith, not knowing it is a cloned vehicle, it doesn’t matter, the police will still take it, and you’re out of luck.
4. Your safety measures
Here’s how to protect yourself from a bad deal:
- Look at the VIN and try to see if it has been tampered with. Make sure to check all the possible locations where a VIN might be found. Make sure all the numbers match and that the plates look legitimate.
- Be especially cautious when making a purchase from a private seller, or a car advertised online.
- Before you sign any papers, get a photocopy of the seller’s ID.
- Run the vehicle’s identification number through the Canadian Police Information Centre and the Insurance Bureau of Canada websites, both of which are free, to see if the vehicle has been written off or stolen.
5. Get professional help
If you’re thinking of buying a car, it’s always a good idea to perform a VIN look up to learn about the vehicle first. You should get a professional to look at any car you’re thinking of buying. A mechanic can usually tell if a car’s been damaged in an accident or has water damage, and can steer you away from purchasing a bad car.