When it comes to our vehicles most of us are aware of our license plate number but few of us give the vehicle identification number a second thought.
Unlike a license plate number, a vehicle identification number (VIN) is a number that stays with the vehicle forever. The VIN is always 17 digits long and provides important information about your vehicle, including the model, year, make and where it was made. The VIN is used to keep track of the vehicle’s maintenance and repair records. It is also the number the police will use if the vehicle is ever stolen.
Considering how important your vehicle’s VIN is, it shouldn’t be surprising to learn that you’re not legally allowed to alter the VIN.
The issue of VIN alteration is addressed in Vehicle Code 10752 VC. When you read through the law, you quickly learn that you’re not allowed to sell a vehicle if the VIN has been altered. Possessing a stolen or fraudulent VIN will also land you in legal hot water.
In some situations, altering a VIN is charged as a misdemeanor. When this happens the maximum sentence is up to a full year in county jail and/or of a fine of at least $250. It’s also possible that the judge will require misdemeanor probation and community service.
Many cases that involve the altering of a VIN are handled as felonies. In these situations, the maximum sentence is up to three years in jail and/or a $5,000 fine. The judge could also decide that to sentence you to felony probation.
Many charges of VIN alteration are added to charges of grand theft auto, knowingly acquiring stolen goods, etc.
Don’t panic if you suddenly learn that you’re driving a vehicle that has an altered VIN. As long as you can prove that you had no reason to suspect that the vehicle was stolen or that the VIN was altered when you purchased it, you will likely avoid criminal charges.
If you are unlucky enough to learn after a vehicle purchase that the VIN was altered, you need to become proactive. Don’t continue to use the vehicle with the hope that no one will ever find out about it. It’s in your best interest to contact a good lawyer with VIN alteration experience who will help you put together the proof you need to establish your innocence and also help you report the situation to the police.