VIN Switch: a Way to Make a Stolen Car Legit Overnight

How to make a stolen car legit

Today, we are talking about the topic of when a car is too damaged to consider buying, and then the VIN is switched to another car. I’ll use a 488 as an example, and let’s say it has frame damage. So, people do keep a damaged vehicle in a heartbeat. The term ‘frame damage’ can be misleading. It’s not always structural or affecting the car’s performance. It’s more about the perception of frame damage that seems worse than it is. For instance, a car has a wheel issue, which is minor. But when evaluating its history, what has been fixed and what hasn’t is necessary. This leads me to today’s main discussion—how people make a stolen car legit.

Why Would Anyone Buy a Salvage Car?

Fire and flood damage are two types of damage you would generally avoid, even more than lemon cars. Sure, replacing a whole wiring harness isn’t ideal, but it’s manageable. However, fire or water damage brings problems such as mold. So, this makes repairs too expensive to be economical. The reason anyone would choose to fix a salvage car is to legitimize a stolen one and sell it. This process is also known as salvage switch. So, the stolen car takes over the salvage status and is repaired and rebranded as ‘rebuilt’ or ‘reconstructed’, depending on the state.

How to Make a Stolen Car Legit with Salvage Switch

Let’s focus on fire damage today. This can easily make any insurance company total a car. Are you in? Let’s see how someone can make a stolen car legit.

1. Find a Fire Damaged Vehicle

Let’s say I’ve found the least valuable car on the planet—a fire-damaged 2006 Maserati Quattroporte. Mileage doesn’t even matter. In perfect condition, this model might fetch $10,000 to $15,000. But with fire damage, it’s just a burnt shell, especially the interior.

How to make a stolen car legit

You might see YouTubers taking on such projects. They might spend $80,000 fixing a car like this, not for its actual value, but for the content. There was a popular video series where someone restored a completely burnt American muscle car. While it’s fascinating to see the transformation, it’s not something you’d want to do. YouTubers have a unique angle; they invest in content, not necessarily in the car’s value. So, spending $80,000 on a car worth $20,000 can still make sense if the content brings in revenue.

2. Acknowledge That a Salvage Car Has Value

Fire-damaged cars are generally something you’d want to avoid, but there’s one reason why someone might consider buying one—to front it for a stolen car. When you go online, you might wonder how these cars have any value at all. You’d think a fire-damaged Maserati, for example, would just be crushed and scrapped, as that seems to be all it’s worth. However, there’s a hidden value in these severely fire-damaged cars that most people don’t realize. To understand this, you need to think from a different perspective.

3. Switch the VIN

The value of a salvage car lies in its use for stolen cars. Thieves are interested in the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). If they steal a car, they are not concerned about the car itself, but rather the title. As long as the title is valid, you can assign it to any car. So, you find a stolen car, and it doesn’t matter if it’s just a frame or a fire-damaged rebuild; it’s still a stolen car.

The next step is to fake a VIN number, using the VIN from the fire-damaged car. This allows you to register, insure, and even sell the stolen car. People might not pay a high price for a car that’s been rebuilt after a fire, but if it looks clean and passes through inspections, it can still be sold.

This is why you might see bids on what looks like a pile of molten metal from a Ferrari. There are stolen Ferraris out there, and someone needs that VIN number. The hidden value in a fire-damaged car is that, no matter what, it’s always worth as much as the VIN number. However, the VIN number on a fire-damaged Camry, for instance, isn’t worth much. Someone might steal a Camry and use a fire-damaged Camry’s VIN for a small amount, but they might not even bother moving it from the junkyard.

Fire Damaged Cars Are Still Valuable Out There

How to make a stolen car legit

Fire-damaged cars have value only in this specific, dubious context. It’s best to stay away from them, as they can cause a lot of problems. The metal is compromised from the heat, making it unsafe to drive. But if you’re not looking to drive, rebuild, or use the car in any legitimate way, the only option is to switch the VIN number, and that’s what some people do to make a stolen car legal.

The kind of fire damage I think is okay would be something like a small engine fire, but not one that damages the frame or completely engulfs the car. The car might look okay after a bit, but one still has to be cautious. This is especially true for cars on YouTube channels that are being showcased as the next big thing. Many of these cars have a history or a story – they might have been in bad shape, fixed up superficially, and look decent from a distance. But realistically, they are not always safe to drive.


So, that’s my take on cars with fire damage—they can be used to make a stolen car legit through the process of VIN switching also known as salvage switch. As for other types of damage, I’m fine with it getting banged up as long as the structure is sound. I’ll just keep replacing parts. It’s like tires – you don’t worry about how many sets it’s gone through. The car’s value doesn’t change if there’s nothing reported on the CARFAX or the vehicle history. Even if it’s on its 8th set of rims, it doesn’t affect the car’s value. I see replacing non-structural parts like fenders and bumpers after damage in the same way.

Read alsoHow Many VIN Locations On a Car?

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