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Can every single part of a car be replaced, and retain VIN?

Recently, I was considering what car would be the cheapest possible transportation, over a lifetime, and came up with the Nissan Tsuru: the early '90s-era Sentra still sold new in Mexico. 2000#; $9,500; EFI but without expense and complexity-increasing stuff like throttle-by-wire, 27 separate airbags, etc.

The downside is that the NissanB13 Sentra isn’t sold new in the US, and you cant import non-conforming cars newer than 25 years old into the US. Past precedent with the Mexibeetles says that as long as the firewall and floorpan remain from an older version driven down, you’ve just “repaired an existing vehicle” and you are legal to operate your '71 Superbeetle home.

So, can you replace the firewall at a later date, or do you need a new VIN? Same with a rusty floor: is it a “irreplaceable” part or not? (Like the story of the farmer who had “the same axe” for 40 years: replaced the handle twice, and the head 3x, but still had the same axe!)

Unless I’m missing something the only economically viable method would be to swap VIN plates and that would be illegal.

Bear in mind that in 1971 they didn’t have computerized modules with the VIN encoded and retrievable from them. If your frankencar has to be tested, it might not pass close inspection…

I’ll bet the laws vary from state to state. I’ll bet that some states would allow you to replace the firewall, and some won’t. I am also pretty sure that how much gets changed will matter for some states.

Pretty sure it would be a federal crime to bring in a new Tsuru and stick an old Sentra VIN tag on it, both for DOT and EPA. And a lot of effort and risk to just end up with a cheap outdated Sentra, to me…

Actually, if I did this, I’d use an importer, hire a Juarez garage ( for example), instruct them to build around the firewall and floorpan, but pay little enough that they’d most likely just swap VINs, without my “knowledge.”

Plausible deniability’s a beautiful thing!

Get in past customs…a 25+ y.o. Sentra only has to pass visual, most places, nobody need run OBD on it, ever.

If you replaced every single part on a car, it would be a whole new car as if you had assembled it from scratch. Why not just order a kit and assemble it yourself? It would be about half the work since you wouldn’t need to remove any of the parts you’d be installing.

So…what part determines the “identity” of a vehicle? The firewall? If I did a frame-off resto on my F150, and put a junkyard cab in place, is it now a different vehicle?

I’ll bet this comes up in classic car circles, where retaining “matching VINs” means $$$.

That sounds like a legal question.

So…what part determines the “identity” of a vehicle?

In the old days, the VIN plate and engine serialization were often tied together. The car had a build sheet that was often hidden somewhere (ex: top of gas tank) that defined all of the parts that went into that particular car. The body plate (ex: B pillar, door) details the body style, paint and trim options.

Later, bar codes were used and a central label was placed somewhere (ex: glove box) that served the same purpose as the build sheet but was more accessible.

AFAIK, the VIN plate is still the primary means of identifying the vehicle. The VIN is copied into the electronic systems and can be extracted when the car is “scanned” and compared against the hard copy.

WRT your example resto, if you swapped out the body component with the VIN tag, you’d also swap the VIN tag so as to retain your original. As long as it still meets the original configuration, no biggie. But in your first post you alluded to swapping VIN tags between two completely different cars. That is a no-no.

I can’t speak for the Tsuru but a lot of cars often have the VIN stamped in obscure places other than the dashboard tag and the door jam sticker; sometimes in multiple places on the same car.

I don’t know whether or not they still do it but Subaru used to stamp the firewalls and the floor pans underneath the rear seat with the VIN also.
That could create a real problem if for some reason a search was done and the VIN discrepancy was caught. More than likely it would be kiss the car good-bye at the very least.

Attached is a link to the federal VIN identification requirements.

Damn. For some reason, a direct link didn’t work, but this at least gives you an address to research.

sometimes in multiple places on the same car.
This is how they traced down the first bombing of the WTC, from numbers on the rear axle IIRC.

It’s going to vary by state probably. But your objective, it seems like a good idea.

Here in San Jose area there’s a house building technique called “keyhole remodeling”, where they remove the roof and walls with a team of workers, wall by wall. They have to keep one corner of the foundation, but can change the rest of the foundation however they like. They can add extra floors, change the entire architecture if they want, but as long as they don’t bring in a bulldozer and tear the old house down all in one day, they can end up with the house they want, the size the want, and only a few city permits required, and some saving on property tax increases, because it was a “remodel”, not a “new build”, even though the only thing left is the keyhole remaining from the old house.

A lot of pain, and not much gain

I’m sorry, but I just don’t see the point

I wouldn’t bother with that car, but if you really want to you need to find a crooked shop and have them switch VIN plates.

Yeah, not really likely I’d ever do this, but hearing that bit about keeping the firewall and floorpan got me thinking. I know that a “firearm” is the frame/receiver with the serial number, and everything else is “parts”; thought there might be a parallel.

P.S. About 10 years ago, I bought a '72 Honda CB350 in a state where it was registered by engine serial number, and brought it to a state where they did it by frame. Of course, the serial numbers didn’t match. Had the potential to be a real PITA.

Actually, federal law requires that VIN plates be mounted in a visible area of the dashboard in such a design that they cannot be removed without leaving evidence of their removal. Even a crooked shop won’t bother. They’d have to replace the entire dash and falsify the doorjam info for starters.

I once had occasion to try to order a VIN plate. I could not do so without completing a special form with the dealer and including either an accident report, a shop’s evidence (the old VIN plate) that the old one had been destroyed, or a police report. A new VIN number can be assigned by the state, but only after significant evidence that the car is actually a new creation.

It ain’t that simple.

And yes, if you try to register a bogus VIN number the state will probably catch it and you’ll get an unwanted knock on the door by the police VIN numbers are more than just ID numbers. They’re also used to detect theft and fraud.

A show on velocity about Texas car flippers (Texas Car Wars) recently had an episode where the husband/wife team bought a Mustang at an auction. They had a Mustang specialaist come in to so some bodywork for them. he hadn’t worked 10 minutes when he found evidence on one of the front inner fenders that the car had bogus VIN numbers. This was on the left front inner fender. A highway trooper who specialized in researching hot cars showed up, look at several other spots on the car and cofirmed it was hot. Now this was a late '60s Mustang, so yeah, there’s more than the one VIN tag. The upshot of the episode is that they were out a couple of grand when it was hauled off by the Trooper.

@TwinTurbo, a rear axle number is one of the 2 things that led to the arrest of OK City Federal building bomber Tim McVeigh. The Ryder truck was blown to pieces by a ton of explosive and the rear axle landed a block away with the numbers still intact.

McVeigh might have gotten away with it even then except for the fact that the car he was driving drew attention. My wife and I passed by the state trooper arresting him at the time and impounding his car although neither of us or the state trooper knew that McVeigh was behind the bombing.

His car was one a 70s era yellow Grand Marquis with the tail end dragging. It was covered in red dirt and had the out of state license plate hanging vertically by one screw. Throw in a little extra speed and a loaded firearm and off to jail he went; only for it to be discovered later on that he was behind the bombing.

If the bomber had bought a truck from an individual, scrubbed it of all IDs, and hit the interstate in a car that did not scream pull me over the case might have remained unsolved.

Laws vary from state to state and there are kit car websites that can shed a little light on things. You can build an early Camaro, Mustang, 32 Ford, Cobra and the like from restoration parts that include NO original parts and get the car registered. What you are suggesting doing could be considered fraud, not the same thing as building a car from parts at all. That said, there used to be a way to import cars not available here by adding emission and safety stuff not required. They were called Gray Market cars. Those laws have changed a lot over the last 25 years. There may still be a way.