Vehicle Code 10750 VC - Altering or Changing a Vehicle Identification Number

California Vehicle Code 10750 VC is the California statute that makes it a crime for a person to intentionally alter, change or destroy a vehicle identification number (VIN).

Examples of illegal acts under this statute include:

  • Marco changes a few numbers on his Mazda's VIN in an attempt to make it look like an upgraded edition.
  • Samuel completely destroys his car's VIN for the sake of doing so.
  • prior to selling her Honda, Kelly alters a few numbers on the car's VIN while trying to change the perceived age of the vehicle.

Defenses

Luckily, there are several legal defenses that a person can raise if accused of a crime under Vehicle Code 10750. These include showing that an accused party:

  • had authorization from the DMV to alter a change a VIN;
  • defaced a VIN by accident; and/or,
  • was unaware that the identification number was changed by someone else.

Penalties

The crime of altering or changing a VIN is charged as a California misdemeanor (as opposed to a felony or infraction). As such, it is punishable by:

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

Our California criminal defense attorneys will highlight the following in this article:

porsche vin
Vehicle Identification Number of a Porsche

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

A "vehicle identification number" is a:

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

A VIN is used to identify a motor vehicle or a motor vehicle part. It is also used for the purpose of vehicle registration.1

All motor vehicles have a unique identification number and it is located on:

  1. California DMV vehicle registration paperwork, and
  2. a metal plate that is usually attached to a vehicle's dashboard on the driver's side.2

There is also a copy of the VIN in six or seven other places in a vehicle. Law enforcement use these hidden copies to identify a vehicle when the public VIN has been altered or removed.3 Possible places for these copies include a car's:

  • frame,
  • engine, or
  • body.

2. What is the legal definition of altering or changing a VIN?

California Vehicle Code 10750(a) states:

"No person shall intentionally deface, destroy, or alter the motor number, other distinguishing number, or identification mark of a vehicle…without written authorization from the department…"4

Please note that this code section uses the word, “intentionally.” This means a defendant is guilty under VC 10750 only if he altered, destroyed, or changed a VIN with the specific purpose of doing so.

Also note that Vehicle Code 10750 does not apply to:

  • owners of a vehicle that attempt to refurbish or restore the auto's VIN, or
  • manufacturers when they place a new number on a new vehicle or its parts.5
attorney making a good defense
A good defense can often get a charge reduced or even dismissed.

3. Are there legal defenses if accused under VC 10750?

A person accused under Vehicle Code 10750 can challenge the accusation by raising a legal defense. A good defense can often get a charge reduced or even dismissed. Please note, though, that it is critical for an accused to hire an attorney to get the most effective defense.

Three common defenses to VC 10750 accusations are:

  1. authorization from the DMV;
  2. accident; and/or,
  3. previously altered.

3.1 Authorization from the DMV

Recall that Vehicle Code 10750(a) incorporates the language, “without written authorization from the department.” This means that a person violates the code section if they alter or change a VIN and the DMV never authorized such actions. Therefore, a valid defense to a VC 10750 accusation is for a defendant to show that he may have changed a VIN, but he did so with the DMV's authorization.

3.2 Accident

Also recall that a person is only guilty under VC 10750 if he “intentionally” defaces, destroys or alters a VIN. This means he has to commit such actions with the specific purpose of doing so. Otherwise, if he lacks the intent, or alters a VIN on accident, he is not in violation of the law. For further discussion, please see our page on "accident" as a defense to a criminal charge.

3.3 Previously altered

Sometimes a person might purchase, or otherwise receive, a vehicle whose VIN has already been changed or altered. If this is the case, the party is not in violation of Vehicle Code 10750. A person only commits an illegal act under this section if he himself, or arguably his agent, changes or alters the VIN.

4. Penalties, Punishment, and Sentencing

The crime of destroying, defacing, or changing a VIN is charged as a California misdemeanor. As such, it is punishable by:

  • up to one year in county jail; and/or,
  • a fine of up to $1,000.6

In lieu of imprisonment, a judge has the discretion to impose misdemeanor probation, or “summary” or “informal” probation.

man behind bars
The crime of destroying, defacing, or changing a VIN is charged as a California misdemeanor.

5. Related Offenses

There are three crimes related to a violation of VC 10750. These are:

  1. altering a VIN for the purpose of misidentification – VC 10802;
  2. buying/possessing vehicles with tampered VINs – VC 10803; and,
  3. vehicle registration fraud – VC 4463.

5.1 Altering a VIN for the purpose of misidentification – VC 10802

California Vehicle Code 10802 makes it a crime for a person to alter a VIN for the purpose of misidentification.

A person is guilty under VC 10802 if he tampers with a VIN in order to:

  • misrepresent or hide the identity of the vehicle or the part,
  • for the purpose of selling or transferring it.7

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

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

  • up to one year in county jail, and/or
  • a fine of up to $1,000.8

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 $25,000.9

5.2 Buying/possessing vehicles with tampered VINs – VC 10803

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.

Again, a wobbler can either be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony.

If a VC 10803 violation is charged as a misdemeanor, the crime is punishable by:

  • up to one year in county jail, and/or
  • a fine of up to $1,000.10

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 $30,000.11

However, if a defendant purchases the vehicles or parts with tampered VINs, then under VC 10803(a), he can be punished by:

  • two, four, or six years in county jail, and/or
  • a fine of up to $60,000.12

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

5.3 Vehicle registration fraud – VC 4463

California Vehicle Code 4463 VC, fraudulent vehicle registration, makes it a crime to alter, forge, counterfeit, or falsify any of the following with fraudulent intent:

  • a certificate of ownership,
  • a vehicle license plate,
  • vehicle license stickers, or
  • a California DMV registration card.13

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

  • blank,
  • incomplete,
  • canceled,
  • suspended,
  • revoked,
  • altered,
  • forged,
  • counterfeit, or
  • false.14

Finally, Vehicle Code 4463 makes it a crime for a party to try to pass off as genuine a registration card, license or stickers which he knows are false, altered, forged, or counterfeited.15

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 $1,000.16

As a felony, it is punishable by:

  • 16 months, or two or three years in county jail, and
  • a fine of up to $10,000.17

Were you accused of destroying, defacing or altering a vehicle identification number in California? Call us for help…

california vin defense attorneys
Call us for help at (855) LAW-FIRM

If you or someone you know has been accused of a crime, under Vehicle Code 10750 VC, we invite you to contact us for a free consultation. We can be reached 24/7 at 855-LAWFIRM.

(For similar accusations or charges in Colorado, please see our article on Altering or Removing a VIN (Colorado 18-4-420 (3) C.R.S.)).

Legal References:

  1. See California Vehicle Code 671 VC.

  2. See People v. Joiner (2000) 84 Cal.App.4th 946, rehearing denied, review denied.

  3. See same.

  4. California Vehicle Code 1750 VC. This code section states:

    (a) 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.

    (b) This section does not prohibit the restoration by an owner of the original vehicle identification number when the restoration is authorized by the department, nor prevent any manufacturer from placing in the ordinary course of business numbers or marks upon new motor vehicles or new parts thereof.

  5. California Vehicle Code 10750(b) VC.

  6. California Penal Code 19 PC.

  7. California Vehicle Code 10802 VC.

  8. See same.

  9. See same.

  10. California Vehicle Code 10804 VC.

  11. California Vehicle Code 10803(b) VC.

  12. California Vehicle Code 10803(a) VC.

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

  14. See same.

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

  16. California Vehicle Code 4463(a) VC.

  17. See same.

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