Altering or Removing a VIN (Colorado 18-4-420 (3) C.R.S.)
(Explained by Denver criminal defense lawyers)

explanation of a vehicle identification number

The Colorado crime of VIN tampering

It is a crime to knowingly alter or remove a vehicle identification number (VIN), manufacturer's number, or engine number with the intent to misrepresent the identity, or prevent identification of, a motor vehicle or major component motor vehicle part.1

Similarly, it is a crime to knowingly possess or transfer a vehicle or major component part if you know that the VIN, manufacturer's number, or engine number has been unlawfully altered or removed.

In Colorado, VIN tampering is prohibited under 18-4-420 (3) C.R.S. You violate this law when you knowingly do any of the following to a VIN, manufacturer's number, or engine number:

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

OR

  • when you possess a motor vehicle or part that anyone else has done any of these acts to.

Penalties for removing or altering a VIN

Altering or removing a vehicle identification number is a Colorado class 5 felony. Punishment can include:

  • 1-3 years in prison, and/or
  • A fine of $1,000-$100,000.

Additionally, a consequence of possessing a vehicle or auto part with an altered VIN is that it can be seized by Colorado law enforcement and destroyed by court order. To prevent this, if you have accidentally destroyed or altered a VIN or other vehicle identification, you can obtain a special replacement identification number from the Colorado Department of Motor Vehicles, as provided in 42-5-110 C.R.S.

Defenses to removing or altering a VIN

The best defenses to Colorado VIN tampering charges depend on the specific facts of your case. Common defenses often include, however:

You didn't know the VIN was altered

You are not guilty under 18-4-420 (3) C.R.S. unless you knowingly altered or removed the VIN, manufacturer's number, or engine number or knowingly possessed a car with removed or altered identification.

Under 18-1-501 (6) C.R.S. you commit a crime “knowingly” when:

  • You are aware that your conduct is one prohibited by a criminal statute, or
  • You are aware that conduct is practically certain to cause a result prohibited by a criminal statute. 

You didn't intend to prevent identification

In order to violate 18-4-420 (3) C.R.S., you must have intended to misrepresent the identity, or prevent the identification, of the vehicle or part.

So if, for instance, you were repairing an engine part and you accidentally defaced a number, you have not violated the law. However, you might want to contact the Colorado DMV for a replacement identification number in order to prevent the vehicle or part from being seized and possibly destroyed.

The car or part was discovered during an illegal search

A vehicle or part that was discovered as the result of an illegal search and seizure cannot be used as evidence against you in court.

If you believe you have been the victim of an illegal search, we invite you to contact us for a free consultation. Our Denver auto theft lawyers are more than happy to discuss all the best defenses to your Colorado charges of VIN tampering or possessing a vehicle or part with an altered VIN.

Call us for help…

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If you or someone you know has been charged with violation Colorado 18-4-420 (3) C.R.S. we invite you to contact us for a free consultation.

Our caring Denver auto theft lawyers know there are two sides to every story. Our job is to present yours and to fight to get the charges against you reduced or dismissed.

To speak to one of our knowledgeable Denver “chop shop” lawyers, simply fill out the form on this page, or call us at:

Colorado Legal Defense Group
1400 16th Street
16 Market Square
Denver CO 80202
720-955-6112

To learn about the related offense of owning or operating a chop shop, please see our article on Owning or Operating a Chop Shop in Denver, 18-4-420 (1) C.R.S.


Legal references:

  1. 18-4-420 (5)(b) defines “major component motor vehicle part” as:
    • (I) The engine;
    • (II) The transmission;
    • (III) A front fender;
    • (IV) The hood;
    • (V) Any door allowing entrance to or egress from the passenger compartment of the vehicle;
    • (VI) The front or rear bumper;
    • (VII) A rear quarter panel;
    • (VIII) The deck lid, tailgate, or hatchback;
    • (IX) The trunk floor pan;
    • (X) The cargo box of a pickup truck;
    • (XI) The frame, or if the vehicle has a unitized body, the supporting structure or structures that serve as the frame;
    • (XII) The cab of a truck;
    • (XIII) The body of a passenger vehicle;
    • (XIV) An airbag or airbag assembly;
    • (XV) A wheel or tire; or
    • (XVI) Any other part of a motor vehicle that is comparable in design or function to any of the parts that have been listed, or that have been labeled with a unique traceable identification number, by the manufacturer of the motor vehicle or part.

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