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CRM 1000-1499

1374. Effective Date - Motor Vehicle Identification Numbers

The provisions of 18 U.S.C §§ 511, 512, and 2321 were enacted into law on October 25, 1984, and became effective as of that date. The mandatory passenger car component identification (parts marking) standard became effective on April 25, 1986 and covered 81 passenger car lines starting with model year 1987. The number of lines subject to the parts marking standard has varied in each subsequent model year. In the future, parts marking may be extended to all passenger motor vehicle lines, depending on whether an evaluation of the Department of Transportation's parts marking program by the Attorney General determines whether or not parts marking substantially inhibits chop shop operations and vehicle thefts. See 49 U.S.C. § 33103.

While component parts have had somewhat limited protection under 18 U.S.C. §§ 511, 512, and 2321, that is not the case with the actual public vehicle identification number (VIN). While all "road" motor vehicles are required by Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 115 (49 C.F.R. §§  511.115 and 565.1 - 561.5) to have a VIN, this requirement was phased in over several years. Starting on January 1, 1969, all passenger cars manufactured in the United States or manufactured overseas on or after January 1, 1969, and subsequently imported into the United States were required to have a VIN. See 33 Fed. Reg. 10207, July 17, 1968. As a practical rule of thumb, this means that every passenger car from model year 1970 to date has been required by the Department of Transportation (DOT) to have a VIN. Until January 1, 1980, the VIN's characteristics (i.e., its length, the types and kinds of information encoded within particular positions or sections of the VIN, etc.) for passenger cars could be determined by each manufacturer.

Effective September 1, 1980, the VIN requirement was expanded to multipurpose passenger vehicles, trucks, buses, trailers, and motorcycles manufactured in the United States on or after September 1, 1980, and such vehicles manufactured overseas after September 1, 1980, and subsequently imported into the United States. Hence, for non-passenger motor vehicles a VIN has been federally required only for model years 1981 to date. See 43 Fed. Reg. 36448, August 17, 1978. The September 1, 1980 date was extended, however, to January 1, 1981, for two manufacturers (Fruehauf Corporation and Rolls-Royce Motors International), see 45 Fed. Reg. 12255, February 25, 1980. January 1, 1981, reflects the date used by those two manufacturers to start their 1981 model years. The September 1, 1980 date was the changeover date in the 1981 model year for most other manufacturers. VINs are also now required to follow a 17 character format. See 49 C.F.R. §§ 511.115 and 565.1-561.5. The 17 character VIN format was applicable to passenger cars as of January 1, 1980 and as to other vehicles as of September 1, 1980 (except for those vehicles manufactured by Fruehauf Corporation and Rolls-Royce Motors International in which case the effective date was January 1, 1981). See 43 Fed. Reg. 36448, August 17, 1978; 45 Fed. Reg. 12255, February 25, 1980.

Accordingly, after October 25, 1984, the falsification or removal of any VIN required by the DOT on a motor vehicle is a federal crime under 18 U.S.C. § 511. Motor vehicles which have had their DOT required VINs falsified or removed after October 24, 1984, are subject to seizure and forfeiture under 18 U.S.C. § 512. Persons trafficking in motor vehicles with DOT required VINs that have been falsified or removed after October 24, 1984, are subject to prosecution under 18 U.S.C. § 2321. See 130 Cong.Rec. S13584 (daily ed. October 4, 1984). See also H.R.Rep. No. 1456 on H.R. 4178, 96th Congress, 2d Sess. 25-26 (1980); 125 Cong.Rec. 12244 (1979).

[cited in Criminal Resource Manual 1366; JM 9-61.700]