Yesterday, we discussed the Vehicle Identification Number, which is like your car’s unique fingerprint. It’s the number that is used by everyone from car manufacturers to insurers to law enforcement to track your vehicle. The VIN is visible through the driver’s side windshield, and is mandated to be included on 18 different parts of a motor vehicle. We also touched upon VIN etching, where a vehicle’s VIN is etched onto the windshield and/or windows. The practice of VIN etching begs the question….Why? Today we’ll explore the possible explanations.

The primary rationale for VIN etching is that it is a theft deterrent. When a car is stolen, it’s typically “chopped” in order to sell its component parts. Proponents of VIN etching say that a vehicle’s windshield and window are valuable, and that VIN etching makes these parts less profitable to a potential thief, who will (in theory) instead steal a vehicle without VIN etching.

This is a bit counterintuitive. First, VIN etching isn’t particularly eye-catching, and it seems farfetched that a thief would immediately look for – or be able to see – VIN etching (particularly at night). He may see a large decal that announces that the car has VIN etching and then avoid stealing it; if that’s the case, it may be more valuable to have a decal than the actual etching.

Second, it makes more sense that other strategies would be more effective in deterring car theft. For example, there is an array of common sense behaviors (don’t leave your keys in the ignition; park near the entrance of your destination, where foot traffic will be higher; don’t leave valuables in plain sight; lock your car; park in a garage) that take your car out of contention as an easy target. There are also myriad devices you can use, such as car alarms, steering wheel locks, smart keys, and hidden switches. And, of course, you can always stick on ominous sounding decals that would make a would-be thief think twice.

In addition, there don’t seem to be any statistics to back up the claim that vehicles with VIN etching are stolen less often than other types of auto theft deterrence.

A secondary rationale is that having VIN etching reduces your insurance premiums. It appears that some insurers do offer a discount in some states. However, several consumers on online discussion boards reported that the savings was six dollars over six months. Others reported that their insurance companies said that the consumers already had the maximum discounts allowable, and that VIN etching wouldn’t provide additional savings.

If VIN etching is of questionable value, why do car dealerships promote the practice? While some state laws mandate that car dealers provide the service, no state mandates that consumers purchase it. It appears that, although do-it-yourself kits VIN etching kits are readily available starting at twenty dollars, dealers often charge between $100 and $300 for the service. 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 the offer 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 delve into greater detail about car dealerships and VIN etching.