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VIN Etching: Deter Car Thieves

Published: April 2019

Since 1981, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has required that every vehicle manufactured and sold in the United States is assigned a vehicle identification number, commonly called a VIN. The purpose of VINs is to help law enforcement trace and recover stolen vehicles and parts, as each VIN can be tracked back to a single vehicle. Edmunds notes it typically is on a small plate attached to the dashboard on the driver's side of the vehicle. It may also be imprinted on other major components of the vehicle, as required by the Federal Motor Vehicle Theft Prevention Standard.

Learn more about VIN etching and how it may help protect your vehicle.

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What Is VIN Etching?

Labeling the windows of your car, truck or SUV with its VIN may be an effective tool when it comes to theft prevention. VIN etching, as it's commonly known, can be a cost-effective method for doing this if your vehicle did not come with the windows marked already. Angie's List states that car dealers and local police departments often provide etching service. You can also purchase etching kits (check online or at an auto parts store) and do the work yourself. Typically, it only takes about 10 minutes to etch the windows.

The process should not damage your windows, says the Arizona Automobile Theft Authority (AATA). Etching should only affect the outer layer of the glass, and the etching is approximately 2 inches wide and a quarter inch high — so it should not interfere with your view.

How VIN Etching Deters Thieves

Sometimes, car thieves swap the VIN plate on the dashboard with a fake one, says the AATA. This essentially changes the identity of the vehicle and makes it hard for police to track. However, if the windows are etched, each piece of glass will also have to be swapped out. This costs time and money and cuts into any profit the thief can make selling the stolen vehicle. If the would-be thief notices the window etching, they may simply move on and look for an easier target.

How VIN Etching Can Help Recover Your Car

If your car is stolen, the NHTSA says you should immediately contact the police and provide relevant information, including the VIN. You can find the VIN on your insurance card or statement as well as the car's title. (Don't forget to contact your insurance company, too.) This information will be entered into a national police database, according to the St. Paul Auto Theft Unit. Police can easily spot window etching, says the AATA, and having that information on the window may help them recover your vehicle.

As a car owner, you may take steps like locking your car and parking in well-lit areas to help deter thieves. You may want to consider VIN etching as another line of defense.

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