VIN Tag Removal Opinions

Updated 1/11/15

There two types of opinions regarding the wisdom of removing the VIN tag during restoration:

Point:  Removal of the VIN tag is at best very risky as it could very easily cause the car to be a suspected rebody, something that could dramatically reduce the resale value of the car.  At the worst, it could be ruled illegal and you could be ruled guilty of fraud.  I am not a lawyer, so I can't give legal advice, so I highly recommend that you consult a knowlegeable lawyer before removing your VIN tag.   I would ask the painter to feather the paint around the VIN tag in order to aviod any appearance of impropriety.  A link to the relevent California Vehicle Codes is below.

Counterpoint: Careful reading of the California Vehicle Code seems to indicate that the notion that removal of the VIN tag is always illegal is false. The California Vehicle Code states that it is illegal to remove the VIN tag for the purpose of fraud or other forms of misrepresentation. However, in section 10750 (a) of the code it is clearly stated that it is not illegal to remove the VIN tag with written authorization of the "department". In section 10750 (b) it is stated that "restoration" of the VIN number is also allowed but again with permission of the "department".

The intent of the law is to make altering or removal of the VIN tag for fraud or misrepresentation illegal. Removal for the purpose of restoration is allowed. The question of "department" authorization is a sticking point. Many Tiger owners have removed their VIN tags in the course of restoration without "department" authorization. Clearly in most of these cases there was no intent to commit fraud. Unfortunately proving this after the fact may be difficult. It seems reasonable to assume that in a well documented case of removal for restoration that the DMV could be convinced to allow the retention of the original VIN tag. It also seems a certainty that in many of these cases you will end up with an assigned VIN number.

A good test would be for someone with a TAC sticker indicating "original rivets" who later removed the VIN tag for restoration to try and make this case. If this owner also had extensive photographic evidence of the restoration process perhaps his chances would be good of persuading the "department". I happen to know someone in just this situation. It would make an interesting test case but I doubt that he can be convinced to give it a try.

Editor's note (1/11/15):  I recently received an email from Jeff Spear pointing out that since the opinion piece below was written by Von Levandowski, US law has changed.  He pointed out that the current US code includes:

(b)(1) Subsection (a) of this section does not apply to a removal, obliteration, tampering, or alteration by a person specified in paragraph (2) of this subsection (unless such person knows that the vehicle or part involved is stolen).

    (2) The persons referred to in paragraph (1) of this subsection are-

(A) a motor vehicle scrap processor or a motor vehicle demolisher who complies with applicable State law with respect to such vehicle or part;

(B) a person who repairs such vehicle or part, if the removal, obliteration, tampering, or alteration is reasonably necessary for the repair;

(C) a person who restores or replaces an identification number for such vehicle or part in accordance with applicable State law; and

He does not say he recommends removing your VIN tag, but wants us all to be better informed.  He also recommends checking your local codes before making an informed decision.

I leave Von's post in place for historical reasons.

On Removing VIN Plates for Restoration (by Von Levandowski)

Editor's note: This is a fairly contentious issue in the Tiger community. Some people obviously feel
that the law is wrong or that it may not apply to them or are willing to take the risk in breaking it.
However, I feel that it is important for restorers to make informed decisions, so I have posted
Von's information to the site. Mark Olson

First post - 5/12/97

10.7.51 of the CA. motor vehicle code:

It is illegal to remove or alter the vin # of a motor vehicle.....Should an altered vin # be
encountered (which includes method of attachment) at best the tag is seized, and a state tag will
be placed on the vehicle in place of the original (that'll really help if you ever go to sell the car).
Should the vehicle not have a secondary #, to authenticate its identity, the vehicle will be crushed.

Tigers don't have a secondary vin placement, and the 302 engine might not be original, and neither
is that 5 speed, so those numbers aren't available to compare...Still wanna pop the tags???

By the way, this is direct from an auto theft detective who worked 10+ years in CA. doing auto
theft investigations. He likened the scenario to when the Hells Angels would steal a Harley, and
swap out the case half with the vin number. A check of another component would reveal it to be
stolen. The bike was seized, then crushed, because it could not be returned in the illegally altered

The detective also mentioned that sometimes, if its impounded (dead on freeway, etc.) the
impounding CHP Trooper will check the vin-if he doesn't like what he's's the state's until
you satisfy them it's not stolen. You'll probably lose your Rootes vin tag, and get a state one when
the car is released. This same detective stated he had authorized several cars, and lots of Harleys
to be crushed in CA. because of vin tag problems.

So, does this apply nationwide? YES. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but vin tags are
mandated by law to stay put.

As I said yesterday, if yours have been popped, then that's that. Nothing you can do about it,
unless you could replicate the original exactly so that it would pass inspection. It will probably
never be an issue. The detective knew just in talking that the Tiger vin rivets were noticeably
different from american pop rivets, by the way.

Hopefully this answers some of those nagging doubts, and will put to rest the idea that popping
tags is okay to do.

Von Levandowski

Second post - 5/13/97

This is intended for those who are considering doing a full restoration, and who want to take the
serial number plate off the cowl.

In an effort to determine the accuracy of my statements I spoke to: a civilian inspector from the
Washigton State Vehicle Inspection Center, a local Auto Theft Detective who previously worked
for a large southern California police agency as an auto theft detective, the FBI and the National
Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

In 1968 there was a Federal Standards Act, which codified the placement and attachment method
of vin tags. This resulted in the familiar windshield placement of the vin, so that it became 'public',
and open to inspection by law enforcement without court order or permission. This was not the
first time that vins were mandated under Federal Law. Remember though, that vehicles are 'real
property', and have titles issued which use the serial number/vin to identify the vehicle.

Prior to 1958 the engine block number of each vehicle was the identification number used for the
vehicle-remember the Harley example? This also applied to cars, and when you exchanged the
motor in your pre-1958 auto, you were supposed to notify the State Dept. of Motor Vehicles to
have them record the serial number change. This was obviously cumbersome, and was changed.

AFTER 1958, Federal law amended the rules, assigning a vehicle I.D. number/serial number to
the CHASSIS of each car. This puts ALL of the 1960s Tigers within the rules regarding serial/vin
numbers. There is no federal law which allows these numbers to removed for restoration.

Regarding Due Process-since the Federal Law was instituted in '58, this arguement does not
apply. Since the engine number was used as the I.D. by the states prior to '58, this arguement still
does not apply. Sorry. Further, vehicle registrations are not governed by the Feds...we have
individual state plates, not a Federal License plate. In an instance where the Feds are absent, the
States are allowed to exercise their taxing authority (remember State's Rights?). In all 50 states of
the Union, vehicle licenses are handled under state authority.

The civilian inspector for WSP stated that a sure fire way to get a car flagged as a problem vin,
was to show up with glistening paint under the 32 year old vin or serial number plate. They will
flag the car, inspect the rivets, determine if they've been tampered with, require documentation,
and affix their own tag-often next to the original, using the same numbers. Remember, that if you
move to a different state (like to WA. for the big Microsoft/Boeing bucks), you will usually have
to get your car inspected before they will issue plates.

According to the detective who had worked in southern Ca., California Highway Patrol
inspectors see it the same way, and act in the same manner. In fact, just about all of the states
follow a similar program.

Per the FBI Agent, there is no Federal Law allowing vin tags to be removed for restoration, and
all of the vehicle registration issues are handled on the STATE level.

On the state level, cars without tags can get crushed-3 Tigers which were stolen and had the vins
popped were crushed in Santa Ana in about 1975...the parts had all been swapped around, and
the Judge ordered them destroyed because they could not determine real identity of any of the
cars, and a 1964 Corvette was crushed when the owner popped the tag for restoration, and had
no supporting documentation...a fact firsthand from a detective involved in the cases.

So, again I repeat. Do not remove your vin tags. Until someone can show me specific Title and
Section of the Federal code which refutes all of these people-many who are certified as experts in
a Federal Court of law, then the truth is your vin tags are there to stay.

I thought that citing California Motor Vehicle Code would be enough, hopefully you all will find
this more rational, and we can put this long abused practice to rest.

Von Levandowski

Editor's postscript: I'll bet you can get a good painter to mask the area around the tags and then
blend the new/old paint.

California VIN Laws

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