If every single part of a car gets replaced

Ok, I admit this is sort of a nonsensical question. But there may be some practical implications with the DMV. I got to thinking about it after reading a blurb on the ancient philosophical puzzle called “The Ship of Theseus”. That puzzle goes: If every part of a ship is replaced over the course of time, does it still remain the same ship?

So say – over the course of many decades – every single part of a car was replaced. Something like this could happen I suppose, like if was a collector car and worth a lot of money or had sentimental value to the owner. The engine, transmission, chassis, body, wiring harness, eventually everything could all get replaced. After replacing every single part, would it be the same car? Would the DMV consider it to be the same car? Or would it have to be re-registered as a different car?

There was a legal situation much like this, when people went to import Mexi-Beetles (made until the early 21st century). It was illegal to import a late-model Beetle (did not comply woth a bunch of Fed regulations)–BUT–if you drove a beater Beetle south, and retained at least the firewall and floorpan, it was considered an “extensively renovated” US-model beetle.

Could you, later on, replace the firewall or floorpan if it rusted out? Dunno…

IIRC, DMVs usually identify cars by their chassis number.
So, even if everything else is replaced, as long as the original frame is retained, it remains the same car.

If you swap in a different frame, then it is a different car–or at least that is my understanding.

Generally the chassis registration number prevails. In a uni-body car, the basic body shell would constitute the car. In case of a pickup truck, the frame would be the basic vehicle.

Some years back someone calculated that all the parts of a car, if bought seperately, would cost 2.5 times the already assembled unit from the factory; “therefore the parts manufacturers were making “immoral” profits”".

Never mind the economies of scale and logistics savings!

I do remember some company in Texas buying up basic beetle wrecks with intact floors and refurbishing them with new and rebuilt parts. Those “new” beetles did not have to meet the newer emission and safety standards. Not sure how well they sold.

The simpler version of that paradox is:

This is my grandfather’s axe. My father replaced the handle and I replaced the head. But it’s still my grandfather’s axe.


an axe is the head. its now your axe

It seems like the legal ownership would still reside with the original owner, your grandfather.

But what if someone found and repaired one of the old handles, and one of the old heads, and constructed another ax. Who’s would that be?

Finders, keepers. Losers, weepers. :wink:

Here’s what happens when VIN plates are forged:

Where this situation is more likely to occur is when someone turns a 1920 Model T into a custom T-Bucket, with a V-8 engine, automatic transmission, modern drive train and rear end. As long as you have the part where the chassis number is stamped on, it can be registered as a 1920 Model T.
There’s a parallel situation with firearms. The part that has the serial number stamped on it is the “firearm”, everything else is just parts.

The VIN tag is essentially the car. It is attached to the drivers side under-dash. Technically, it is illegal to remove and swap it to another car. In practical terms, it happens, especially with vintage restorations. Reproduction bodies of certain cars can be used to “repair” the parent car. I.e a 1969 Mustang with a rotted body has it replaced with a Dynacorn body with all the good parts swapped over including the VIN tag. Per the DMV, it is the same car. There still remains some of the original car.

Lets say you have million dollar vintage Ferrari. It gets crashed. You have all the paperwork, the piece of car that holds the VIN and the VIN stamping on the frame and the matching engine and transmission. It costs 1/2 million to repair. It is still the original car and is worth $1M. Again, there still remains some of the original car.

So the answer is No, every part can’t be replaced because “every” would include the VIN tag. If you exclude the VIN from the discussion, then Yes you can replace every part BUT you better have lots of documentation and be able to prove you are not committing fraud to avoid taxes or smog checks or skirt import laws.

“Here’s what happens when VIN plates are forged:”

Some of this sounds a lot like the way Carroll Shelby began the Cobra business in the first place !

That would be an indication you own a suburu

It isn’t that easy to replace a VIN tag. I had to do it once on a Toyota. It required a police report or a body shop report PLUS return of the destroyed tag and could only be done through a Toyota dealership via a very specific protocol. I had to research all the requirements at that time and found that VIN numbers and VIN tags are very tightly controlled by federal regulations. Requirements for the manufacturer are that the tag not be able to be removed without its destruction. Toyota has a TSB that defines the protocol for a replacement.

I did find out at the time that new VIN numbers can be issued through a state, but to a very defined set of control criteria.

There was an episode of Texas Car Wars a while back where one shop bought a junked Mustang that they were planning to fix and flip. After they got it back to the shop, one of the guys noticed an irregularity with one of the VINs on the frame. They had a Sheriff come and run the VIN, and found it was stolen. Goodbye Mustang. Fortunately they hadn’t done much to it yet.

Today, there are VIN’s all over the place on a vehicle…But on pre-1970 cars, the VIN is only attached in one or two places and re-builders know where those places are and they know how to move them so even God can’t tell they have been moved…That’s how you turn a Plymouth Belvedere 225 Slant Six into a Road Runner…An $800 car is transformed into a $60,000 rare collectors item…

Unless you know what to look for (the kind of tag and/or screws that the VIN or ID is on) you could overlook the changed VIN. For some as long as the tag on the dash matches the paperwork they’re happy. But if you bring in a used car from out of state (we bought a Volvo from relatives in Hawaii and shipped it to Washington in '86) You most likely go though an inspection with the state patrol. No sweat on a car with all the paperwork and correct vin tags.

I remember that episode jesmed1. Felt sorry for the shop. They didn’t really do anything wrong. We (viewers) never did find out if they got their money back from the auctioneers, or did we? can’t remember.

There was an episode of Chasing Classic Cars where Bonham Auctions was getting ready for their annual spring Amelia Island auction in Florida. Florida DMV showed up at the last minute demanding to inpect all of the cars. They wanted the auction to pull 16 of the cars because during the course of the car’s restoration, the VIN tags had been reattached with new rivets, and they didn’t like that.

And wasn’t famed customizer Boyd Coddington in legal trougble over fishy VIN tags and non-matching titles at the time of his death? I seem to remember a lot of very expensive cars being impounded by the state of California over it.