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Wilson's Auto Restoration Blog

Here is Why You Check the VIN Before You Buy a Classic Car

You found the classic car of your dreams. The car checks out to be in great shape, there is a fair asking price and the paperwork all seems to check out. Time to make the purchase! But wait, have you checked the VIN? Does it match the VIN that is stamped in the frame or the VIN on another “secret” spot on the vehicle?

Always make sure to research the VIN number of any classic car or truck you intend on purchasing. There are services like VinFreeCheck.com and VIN Data that are a great place to start.

You can also check with the state that you are making the purchase in to ensure the vehicle pans out against its paperwork. There are many stories of people making a purchase in one state only to have their home state refuse to register a vehicle, or worse, for a classic car VIN that does not match.

We aren’t saying you need to have all matching numbers as the engine may have been replaced as well as other VIN related parts, but the registered VIN better match the stamped VIN on the frame or firewall, or you could find yourself in a less than desirable situation.

Take for example a man by the name of Richard Martinez who purchased a 1959 Corvette from a dealer in Indiana for $50,000 and then attempted to have it registered in Kansas.

When Richard tried to register the Corvette in the Kansas Highway Patrol found a discrepancy. The VIN tag on the door post did not match a VIN stamped on the frame. You would think that a dealership would have been a safe place to make a purchase like that, but they could have been none the wiser.

The state of Kansas told Martinez that the car was going to be seized under Kansas law, due to the VIN issue. Kansas law 8-116(b) prohibits “knowingly” owning or having custody or possession of a motor vehicle if the “original vehicle identification number has been destroyed, removed, altered or defaced.” The statute orders law enforcement officers to “seize and take possession” of such vehicles and the vehicles are treated as “contraband.” Generally speaking, the law says, “articles of contraband shall be destroyed.”

Now Richard found himself in a battle of litigation against the state in an attempt to keep them from destroying the car. It cost Martinez over $30,000 in legal fees to fight his case.

The state did not make claims that Martinez was guilty, but his classic Corvette certainly was. During storage, the Corvette was damaged which incurred close to another $30,000 to repair if he were to even win the case!

The case is still in litigation, since 2017, we will have to wait to see what the court in Kansas decides to do with the Martinez Corvette. We certainly hope that the courts can prove, or Richard’s lawyers cand disprove, that there are no stolen parts on the car. The car could very well just be a Frankenstein rebuild of sorts.

If Martinez can win his case, the state of Kansas has a statute where a new VIN could be assigned. The statute is vague on how exactly this happens. “If the highway patrol is satisfied that the vehicle contains no stolen parts the highway patrol shall determine the make, model and year of the vehicle, and shall assign” the vehicle a VIN that the state will accept as legal.

While it may sound like Martinez is getting the short end of the stick, which he is, we also understand why these laws exist. If vehicles could be bought and sold with bad VINs, we would be opening up the doors for all kinds of criminals and car thieves. Preserving the authenticity of classic cars and trucks in imperative in preserving their history and pedigree.

If the Corvette does come back as stolen, which it has yet to do, the vehicle will be returned to its rightful owner and Martinez will be forced to turn his legal actions toward the dealership that sold him the car.

This is one of many tragic examples we should all remember when making a purchase of a classic car or truck. It is imperative to check the VIN to make sure the vehicle is good to go. You can hire a professional to inspect the classic car, which we highly recommend, and ask them to specifically check ALL the VIN locations to make sure they match.

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