Tampering With a Vehicle Identification Number (VIN)
Vehicle Code 10802 and 10750

California has two laws that make it a crime to intentionally or knowingly alter or destroy a vehicle identification number (VIN).

Vehicle Code 10750 VC is the less serious of these two crimes. Under this section, it is a misdemeanor to intentionally alter or destroy a VIN in any way.

Violations of Vehicle Code 10750 VC can be punished by:

  • up to one year in county jail, and/or
  • a fine of up to $1,000.1

However, prosecutors may charge you with the more serious crime of Vehicle Code 10802 VC if the VIN is tampered with in order to:

  • misrepresent or hide the identity of the vehicle or the part,
  • for the purpose of selling or transferring it.

Vehicle Code 10802 VC is a California “wobbler” offense.2 A “wobbler” is a crime which can be charged as either a felony or a misdemeanor.

If charged as a California misdemeanor, Vehicle Code 10802 carries a penalty of:

  • up to one year in county jail, and/or
  • a fine of up to $1,000.3

If charged as a California felony, however, the penalty is:

  • 16 months, or two or three years in county jail, and/or
  • a fine of up to $25,000.4

California Vehicle Code 10802 VC is often charged in conjunction with:

Defenses to charges of altering a VIN

Possible defenses to charges of VIN tampering include (but are not limited to):

  • You defaced the VIN accidentally,
  • You tried to hide the vehicle's identity, but you didn't change the VIN,
  • The VIN was previously altered by someone else,
  • You weren't altering the VIN so that it could be sold, or
  • The police only discovered the altered VIN because they violated California’s search and seizure laws.

Our firm's lawyers include former prosecutors and cops. We now learn what we have used to defend clients accused of vehicle offenses and other California crimes.

To help you understand the laws on tampering with VINs, our California criminal defense attorneys discuss the following, below:

  1. What is a vehicle identification number (VIN)?
  2. Intentionally altering a VIN -- Vehicle Code 10750
  3. Altering a VIN for the purpose of misidentification – Vehicle Code 10802
  4. Difference between Vehicle Code 10750 and 10802
  5. Penalties for altering or destroying a VIN
  6. Defenses to VIN tampering charges
  7. Related offenses
    1. Vehicle Code 10801, operating a chop shop
    2. Vehicle Code 10803 VC -- Buying /possessing vehicles with tampered VINs
    3. Vehicle Code 4463 VC – vehicle registration fraud
Vin-barcode

1. What is a vehicle identification number (VIN)?

A "vehicle identification number" is the:

  • motor number,
  • serial number, or
  • other distinguishing number(s), letter(s), mark(s), or information,

used to identify a motor vehicle or motor vehicle part or for the purpose of vehicle registration.5

All motor vehicles have a unique vehicle identification number (VIN). The VIN appears on:

  • California DMV vehicle registration paperwork, and
  • a metal plate that is usually attached to the dashboard on the driver's side of the vehicle.6

There is also a copy of the VIN in six or seven other places in the vehicle. Law enforcement uses these hidden copies to identify a vehicle when the public VIN has been altered or removed.7 Possible places for these copies of the VIN include the:

  • frame,
  • engine, or
  • body of the vehicle.
More-vin-locations

2. Intentionally altering a VIN -- Vehicle Code 10750

California Vehicle Code 10750 PC makes it a misdemeanor to:

  • intentionally deface, destroy, or alter a VIN, or
  • place or stamp a VIN or other ID number on a vehicle except as assigned by the California DMV.8

3. Altering a VIN for the purpose of misidentification – Vehicle Code 10802

California Vehicle Code 10802 VC makes it is a crime to:

1. knowingly:

  • alter,
  • counterfeit,
  • deface,
  • destroy,
  • disguise,
  • falsify,
  • forge,
  • obliterate, or
  • remove


a VIN;

2. with the intent to:

  • misrepresent the identity of,
  • or prevent the identification of


a motor vehicle or motor vehicle part;

3. for the purpose of:

  • sale,
  • transfer,
  • import, or
  • export.9

The actual sale, transfer, import, or export does not need to be completed. As soon as you change the VIN for one of these purposes, you are guilty of violating Vehicle Code 10802 VC.10

4. The difference between Vehicle Code 10750 and 10802

Both Vehicle Code 10750 and 10802 apply when you alter or destroy a VIN other than by accident.

Section 10802 describes a larger number of wrongful acts than Section 10750. But the biggest difference between the code sections is one of purpose.

Vehicle Code 10802 requires proof that you altered a VIN with the specific intent to misrepresent or hide the identity of the vehicle or part so that it could be sold or otherwise transferred.

Vehicle Code 10802 VC was passed with “chop shops” in mind.11 Chop shop operators often dismantle parts from stolen vehicles and combine them into a new vehicle. They do this in such a way that it is impossible to tell it has been done without looking at the VIN.

Other Vehicle Code sections aimed especially at chop shops are:

  • California Vehicle Code 10801, operating a “chop shop,” and
  • Vehicle Code 10803, buying or possessing vehicles or parts with multiple VINs.

However, even though Vehicle Code 10802 was passed to help combat illegal chop shops, it applies to anyone who tampers with a VIN so that a vehicle or part can be wrongfully sold.

5. Penalties for altering or destroying a VIN

California Vehicle Code 10750 VC can only be charged as a misdemeanor. It carries a penalty of:

  • up to one year in county jail, and/or
  • a fine of up to $1,000.12

California Vehicle Code 10802, on the other hand, is a “wobbler” offense. This means the prosecutor can charge it as either a felony or a misdemeanor.

If charged as a misdemeanor, violation of California Vehicle Code 10802 can be punished by:

  • up to one year in county jail, and/or
  • a fine of up to $1,000.13

If charged as a felony, however, Vehicle Code 10802 carries a possible penalty of:

  • 16 months, or two or three years in county jail, and/or
  • a fine of up to $25,000.14

The judge also has the discretion under either code section to suspend your sentence and place you on:

If you are placed on probation, you may spend little or no time in jail. However, you will be under the supervision of the court for a number of years. During that time you will be subject to certain restrictions, which may include:

  • Community service or labor, such as Caltrans roadside work,
  • Not associating with gang members (if applicable),
  • Regular meetings with a probation officer (for felony probation), and
  • Not violating any other laws.

If you violate any conditions of your probation, the judge has the option to revoke your probation and send you to jail to serve your sentence.

6. Defenses to VIN tampering charges

There are numerous defenses to charges of VIN tampering, especially under Vehicle Code 10802. These are just a few:

  • You defaced the VIN accidentally

    Example: John decides to replace his dashboard because it is cracked. But he doesn't know how to remove it from the vehicle. He ends up smashing it with a hammer and accidentally damaging part of the VIN.15

  • You tried to hide the vehicle's identity, but you didn't change the VIN

    Example: Karla and Kenny robbed a convenience store. Afterward, they swapped license plates with another vehicle. Even though they tried to hide the car's identity (and are guilty of other crimes), they aren't guilty of VIN tampering because they did nothing to change or hide the VIN.

  • The VIN was previously altered by someone else

    Example: Abe's hobby is buying cheap cars at auction, then fixing them up and selling them. While he is working on a car he bought, Abe notices that the VIN on the engine block doesn't match the VIN on the dashboard. He sells the car anyway. Since the VIN was already changed when Boris got it, he is not guilty of VIN tampering.

  • You weren't altering the VIN so that it could be sold

    Example: Laurence stole a car so he wouldn't have to take the bus to work. To keep the car from being discovered, he altered a “3” in the VIN and made it look like an “8.” Laurence has altered a VIN in violation of Vehicle Code 10750 VC. But because he wasn't doing it so that the car could be sold, he isn't guilty of violating Vehicle Code 10802.

  • The police only discovered the altered VIN as the result of an illegal search

    Example: A Riverside Police Department officer gets an anonymous tip that Marcus alters VINs on vehicle parts in his backyard. The officer waits outside Marcus' house until he hears the sounds of power tools. Then he enters Marcus' yard without a warrant, inspects the vehicles and discovers altered VINs.

    Because the tip was anonymous and without corroboration, the officer may have violated California search and seizure laws. Marcus' California criminal defense can file a motion to suppress evidence under California Penal Code 1538.5 PC. If the motion is granted, the case against Marcus will likely be dismissed.

7. Related offenses

7.1 Vehicle Code 10801, operating a chop shop

California Vehicle Code 10801 VC makes it a crime to knowingly own or operate a “chop shop.”

A “chop shop” is anyplace where someone:

  1. alters, dismantles or stores a stolen motor vehicle or vehicle part(s),
  2. for the purpose of hiding the identity of the vehicle or part or selling or disposing of it.16

Vehicle Code 10801 VC is a wobbler offense.

As a misdemeanor, it carries a possible sentence of:

  • up to one year in county jail, and/or
  • up to a $1,000 fine.17

As a felony, operating a California chop shop carries a sentence of:

  • up to four years in county jail, and/or
  • a fine of up to $50,000.18

7.2 Vehicle Code 10803 VC -- Buying /possessing vehicles with tampered VINs

California Vehicle Code 10803 VC, buying or possessing vehicles with tampered VINs is an offense related to VIN tampering.

Vehicle Code 10803 VC makes it a “wobbler” offense to buy or possess more than one vehicle (or parts from more than one vehicle) with altered VINs for the purpose of selling them.

As a misdemeanor, California Vehicle Code 10803 is punishable by:

  • up to one year in county jail, and/or
  • a fine of up to $1,000.

As a felony, possessing such vehicles or parts is punishable under Vehicle Code 10803(b) by:

  • 16 months, or two or three years in county jail, and/or
  • by a fine of up to $30,000.

However, if you purchase the vehicles or parts with tampered VIN, then under Vehicle Code 10803(a), you can be punished by:

  • two, four, or six years in county jail, and/or
  • a fine of up to $60,000.

An exception is for motor vehicle scrap processors who legally processes motor vehicles or parts by crushing or compacting, but who do not remove the VINs during processing.

7.3 Vehicle Code 4463 VC – vehicle registration fraud

California Vehicle Code 4463 VC, fraudulent vehicle registration, makes it a crime to alter, forge, counterfeit, or falsify:

  • a certificate of ownership,
  • a vehicle license plate,
  • vehicle license stickers, or
  • a California DMV registration card

with fraudulent intent.19

It also makes it a crime to possess or display a registration card or stickers which are:

  • blank,
  • incomplete,
  • cancelled,
  • suspended,
  • revoked,
  • altered,
  • forged,
  • counterfeit, or
  • false.20

Finally, Vehicle Code 4463 makes it a crime to try to pass off as genuine a registration card, license or stickers which you know are false, altered, forged, or counterfeited.21

California Vehicle Code 4463 VC is a wobbler offense.

As a misdemeanor, the penalty is:

  • up to one year in a county jail, and
  • a fine of up to $1,000.22

As a felony, it is punishable by:

  • 16 months, or two or three years in county jail, and
  • a fine of up to $10,000.23

Call us for help...

Help-support-call-us

For more information about California's VIN tampering laws, or to discuss your case confidentially with one of our criminal defense attorneys, please don't hesitate to contact us at Shouse Law Group. Our California criminal law offices are located in and around Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, San Jose, Oakland, the San Francisco Bay area, and several nearby cities.

Additionally, our Las Vegas Nevada criminal defense attorneys represent clients accused of violating Nevada's criminal laws. For more information, we invite you to contact our local attorneys at one of our Nevada law offices, located in Reno and Las Vegas.

Legal references:

1 California Penal Code 19 PC.

2 California Vehicle Code 10802 VC: Any person who knowingly alters, counterfeits, defaces, destroys, disguises, falsifies, forges, obliterates, or removes vehicle identification numbers, with the intent to misrepresent the identity or prevent the identification of motor vehicles or motor vehicle parts, for the purpose of sale, transfer, import, or export, is guilty of a public offense and, upon conviction, shall be punished by imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170 of the Penal Code for 16 months, or two or three years, or by a fine of not more than twenty-five thousand dollars ($25,000), or by both the fine and imprisonment, or by up to one year in the county jail, or by a fine of not more than one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both the fine and imprisonment.

3 Same.

4 Same.

5 California Vehicle Code 671.
(a) A "vehicle identification number" is the motor number, serial number, or other distinguishing number, letter, mark, character, or datum, or any combination thereof, required or employed by the manufacturer or the department for the purpose of uniquely identifying a motor vehicle or motor vehicle part or for the purpose of registration.
(b) Whenever a vehicle is constructed of component parts identified with one or more different vehicle identification numbers, the vehicle identification number stamped or affixed by the manufacturer or authorized governmental entity on the frame or unitized frame and body, as applicable, and as defined in Section 670.5, shall determine the identity of the vehicle for registration purposes.

6 See People v. Joiner (2000) 101 Cal.Rptr.2d 270, 84 Cal.App.4th 946, rehearing denied, review denied.

7 Same.

8 California Vehicle Code 10750 (a) PC: No person shall intentionally deface, destroy, or alter the motor number, other distinguishing number, or identification mark of a vehicle required or employed for registration purposes without written authorization from the department, nor shall any person place or stamp any serial, motor, or other number or mark upon a vehicle, except one assigned thereto by the department.

9 California Vehicle Code 10802 VC, endnote 2.

10 People v. Joiner, endnote 6.

11 Same at 965-966, quoting Legis. Counsel's Dig., Sen. Bill No. 73, (1993 Reg. Sess.) 2 Stats.1993, Summary Dig. p. 139 (“This bill would make it a felony or a misdemeanor, with prescribed punishment, to knowingly and intentionally own or operate a chop shop, as defined, or to engage in other specified conduct relative to vehicle identification numbers, as defined, of motor vehicles or parts with the intent to misrepresent the identity or prevent the identification of the vehicles or parts....”).

12 California Penal Code 19 PC.

13 California Vehicle Code 10802 VC, endnote 2.

14 Same.

15 See People v. Jeffers (1996) 41 Cal.App.4th 917, 49 Cal.Rptr.2d 86 (“A person who commits a prohibited act ‘through misfortune or by accident, when it appears that there was no evil design, intention or culpable negligence' has not committed a crime.”

16 California Judicial Council Criminal Jury Instructions (CALCRIM) 1752:

A chop shop is a building, lot, or other place where:

1. A person alters, destroys, takes apart, reassembles, or stores a motor vehicle or motor vehicle part;
2. That person knows that the vehicle or part has been obtained by theft, fraud, or conspiracy to defraud;
AND
3. That person knows that the vehicle or part was obtained in order to either:
a. Sell or dispose of the vehicle or part;
OR
b. Alter, counterfeit, deface, destroy, disguise, falsify, forge, obliterate, or remove the identity, including an identification number, of the vehicle or part, in order to misrepresent its identity or prevent its identification.

17 Same.

18 California Vehicle Code 10801 VC: Any person who knowingly and intentionally owns or operates a chop shop is guilty of a public offense and, upon conviction, shall be punished by imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170 of the Penal Code for two, three, or four years, or by a fine of not more than fifty thousand dollars ($50,000), or by both the fine and imprisonment, or by up to one year in the county jail, or by a fine of not more than one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both the fine and imprisonment.

19 California Vehicle Code 4463(a)(1) VC.

20 Same.

21 California Vehicle Code 4463(a)(2) VC.

22 California Vehicle Code 4463(a) VC.

23 Same.

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