How to Spot a Cloned Car

When it comes to buying a used car, one of the things you really want to avoid is buying a car that has been cloned. If the price of a car seems to good to be true, then there’s every chance that it could have a sinister history, and you should walk away.


What is a Car Cloning?

Car cloning is very much like identity theft, except it applies to vehicles, instead of people. In a nutshell, criminals steal a car (or repair a written-off one), then give it the same identity of another legally registered car that fits the same description. This is done by changing the number plates to the same ones as the original car, altering the VIN number on the illegal car and then issuing a fraudulent logbook in order to make it look legitimate. The result of this is two identical vehicles (clones) being on the road at the same time.

The trouble is that only one of these is a legally registered car. Therefore any crime committed in the clone will lead right back to the innocent owner of the legitimate car. In the majority of car cloning cases the honest owner has no idea that their car has been cloned until they receive a parking charge notice or fine in the post.


How Common is Car Cloning?

How rife is this problem? You may not think it is common, but it is a massively increasing crime right now. Some police forces around the UK estimate that up to 20% of cars on the road are running on cloned plates.

Due to high insurance costs coupled with the cost of living crisis, a lot of motorists are illegally running on fake cloned plates. Many do not stop to consider the real victims – this is not a victimless crime.

The DVLA do not currently make car cloning statistics public, but there is increasingly a call for them to do so.

Spotting a Potential Clone

There are a few things that you should avoid when buying a used car, to reduce the risk of buying a cloned car. These are:

  • Paying cash. Paying in cash means that there’s no traceable transaction to prove that you own your car. Should you be found to be driving a cloned car there’s no way to prove that you own it.
  • Grabbing a bargain. All cars have a market value that is quite solid. If you see a car that is more than 30% cheaper than the market value then alarm bells should ring – there may be something not quite right.
  • Buying the car in a public place such as a car park or petrol station. If the previous owner has nothing to hide then they should be selling it from their home.


The solution: Cloned Car Check

There are a number of things that you can check when looking at a car to help identify whether it has been cloned or not.

  • Complete an online car check, by entering the vehicle plate. This will include a V5C check (logbook check) against known stolen logbook numbers. That way you can identify if the car is possibly a clone or not.
  • Check the V5C logbook, and make sure that the vehicle’s number plate matches that on the car.
  • Also check the VIN number on the logbook matches the VIN number stamped on the car. Check as many locations as possible. Typical locations are under the bonnet, below the windscreen and on the driver’s door sill.
  • Ensure the address on the logbook matches the rough location of the car. For example, the nearest city.
  • Know the market value of the car. That way if the owner is selling it suspiciously cheap you will know. If the car is a bargain then the seller is looking for a quick sale – so you have to ask yourself why.
  • Never pay cash. Car cloners don’t want to be traced, so only offer to pay with a traceable method. Also avoid paying part-cash, especially if the cash proportion is high.
  • If you are buying the car via a private sale then make sure you visit the registered keeper’s address.

If you have already bought a cloned vehicle then report it to your local police force. For example, Met Police in London have a specific page on their website about reporting cloned vehicles.

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5 thoughts on “How to Spot a Cloned Car

  1. My astra hatch has been cloned not a copy though, there’s someone in west London driving around in a large white van with my number on it, police have been informed got the crime number also DVLA informed, I think the plates might have been stolen before the dealer bought it as it has shiny new plates with dealers name on them, or they where stolen while the dealer had the car, but surely he should of reported it either way. Hoping the cops catch up with them soon, not holding my breath though.

  2. Great read! I recently helped a friend avoid purchasing a cloned car by checking the license plate The website flagged the vehicle as having a cloned license plate, which prevented my friend from being scammed.

  3. Thank you for this, it is very helpful, we can see now that in hindsight our van has been cloned. Sadly the police are not helping us at all!

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