Although there are millions of cars out on the road, few car owners have heard of VIN etching. But, first things first. A VIN is a Vehicle Identification Number, and is essentially the “social security number” of your vehicle. The unique 17-character code follows your car throughout its life, and is typically noted on your vehicle registration, bill of sale, accident reports, and repair invoices. If you’re in the market for a used car and want to learn about its ownership and repair history, you use the VIN to research the car with a service like CARFAX.

A VIN is required under regulations administered by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The NHTSA’s rationale is that a VIN is important for identifying vehicles that may be subject to recalls because of automotive defects. The Vehicle Identification Number is also used by law enforcement to identify stolen and recovered vehicles, and by insurance companies to identify the vehicles they are insuring.

According to NHTSA regulations, the VIN must be visible “through the vehicle’s glazing from the outside when the observer is adjacent to the left windshield pillar.” That’s a complicated way of saying that you need to be able to see the VIN when you peer through the driver’s side front windshield. If you look through yours, chances are good that you’ll see a narrow strip with the 17-character VIN. The NHTSA also says that the VIN needs to be on a certification label (usually on the edge of the driver’s door). The Theft Prevention Standard, which was part of the Anti Car Theft Act of 1992, says that the VIN must be included on the following 18 parts of a motor vehicle:

1. Engine
2. Transmission
3. Right front fender
4. Left front fender
5. Hood
6. Right front door
7. Left front door
8. Right rear door (if present)
9. Left rear door (if present)
10. Sliding or cargo door(s)
11. Front bumper
12. Rear bumper
13. Right rear quarter panel (passenger cars)
14. Left rear quarter panel (passenger cars)
15. Right side assembly (multi-purpose vehicles)
16. Left side assembly (multi-purpose vehicles)
17. Pickup box and/or cargo box (light duty trucks)
18. Rear door(s), decklid, tailgate, or hatchback

With a thorough understanding of Vehicle Identification Numbers and where they are located, it’s time to delve into VIN etching. VIN etching is a process whereby a car’s VIN is essentially engraved into the vehicle’s windshield and windows. While there are do-it-yourself kits on the market, controversy arises over the practice of car dealerships forcing customers to pay for a VIN etching service when they buy new cars. Sometimes car dealerships sell VIN etching as a warranty, saying that the buyer will receive a discount if the vehicle is stolen and deemed a total loss, although it can be argued that it is essentially an insurance service. Seekamp vs. It’s Huge, Inc. (U.S. District Court, Northern District of New York, Case No. 09-cv-00018-LEK-DRH) is a class action lawsuit that alleges that Fuccillo Automotive Group and Universal Automotive Services knew that the sale of VIN etching “insurance” was deceptive. For more information about the class action, visit http://lemberglaw.com/class-action-fraud.php.

Tomorrow, we’ll discuss why proponents say that VIN etching is valuable.