What is car cloning and ringing?

One of the most important reasons for undertaking a Total Car Check is to ensure that the vehicle you are buying is not reported as being stolen. Unlike many of our competitors Total Car Check provides a free stolen check. Why? Because stolen cars are the reason we exist. So cloning and ringing of stolen cars is something all motorists should be aware of.

Our founder, David James decided to set up Total Car Check after he discovered that his parents had bought a stolen car (which also had its radio stolen!). They lost both the car and the funds they used to pay for it. Our objective has always been to provide as much information as we can for free so that our users don’t suffer the same fate as David’s parents.

Below we run through how cloning and ringing practices are used by criminals and what you can do to protect yourself from buying a vehicle subject to these activities.

Hooded man breaking in to car at night
Hooded man breaking in to car at night

Stolen vehicles

Stealing a vehicle is one thing, but once it has been reported as stolen it becomes a difficult thing to sell. This is because traders and many consumers run vehicle checks like a Total Car Check before they buy. The police record the vehicle as stolen and send this data to trusted data companies like Total Car Check to help make used car buyers aware. So criminals have to attempt to hide the fact a vehicle is stolen and make it look legitimate. That’s where cloning and ringing comes into play.

So what is cloning and ringing?

It’s the two main practices used by criminals to hide the fact a vehicle has been stolen and help legitimise it.


This is where the number plates of a stolen vehicle are removed and replaced with the registration number from a legitimate vehicle. Criminals that are good at cloning will often identify a legitimate vehicle with the same make, model, colour and age as the stolen vehicle. They will then duplicate its number plate and apply it to the stolen vehicle.

Cloning and ringing
Cloning and ringing


If the vehicle has been reported as stolen then its registration number will be added to the Police National Computer (PNC). The PNC is connected to thousands of Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras across the UK road network and on police vehicles. As soon as a vehicle is detected by a camera the local police force will be notified. A cloned stolen vehicle will not be detected by these cameras. Applying the number plate of a legitimate vehicle means that unless the police do a physical check the stolen vehicle will most likely go undetected.


Ringing goes a step further and is quite often used in tandem with cloning. It is where criminals attempt to change the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) and forge or change the vehicle registration certificate to match the new VIN. The VIN is a unique number given to every vehicle manufactured in the world. So ringing aims to completely change the identity of the vehicle to avoid detection.

VIN number
VIN number

VIN number

The VIN is normally found in three locations on a vehicle as outlined below. It is: etched into the metal structure or a plate in the engine bay; inside the door usually using a sticker; and on the windscreen using a strip encased in plastic.

Three VIN locations on a car
VIN locations

V5C registration certificate

You cannot put a vehicle on the road or sell it without a V5C registration certificate from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) which documents the vehicle’s VIN. Criminals will therefore attempt to forge or change an original certificate so that it marries up with the new VIN number they’ve applied to the stolen vehicle.


The criminals are attempting to cover themselves in the event the vehicle is inspected. If they do a good job then only a thorough inspection will help identify if ringing has happened. The good news is that it is rather difficult to change the VIN number in the three formats it is provided in (as above) and not easy to change a V5C. This practice therefore tends to be undertaken by organised criminal gangs who use highly skilled mechanics.

Vehicle Identity Check scheme (VIC) and ringing

Between 2003 and 2015 the Vehicle & Operator Services Agency (VOSA) and Driver Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) ran the VIC scheme. Its aim was to protect drivers and vehicles from ringing. In the mid-to-late 1990’s vehicle crime escalated and ringing was very much one of the practices used. Criminals stole vehicles, had them written-off, repaired and then applied for a new V5C registration certificate to put them back on the road. The issuing of the V5C helped to legitimise the vehicle and enabled it to be sold on.

VOSA document explaining the VIC inspection scheme

The VIC scheme required that where a written-off vehicle was repaired and returned to the road an inspection had to be undertaken and passed prior to a new V5C being issued. The aim was to identify ringing. But the scheme was scrapped because it was costly and only identified a relatively small number of ringed vehicles. It also created bureaucracy for insurers and salvage businesses.

A Total Car Check report will tell you if a vehicle has been subject to a VIC inspection. If this is the case you should be wary of the vehicle. It can be driven if it has not been stolen and passed a VIC test. But you need to have proof from the seller that this is the case. The vehicle will have previously been written-off and therefore its value will have diminished as a result.

How can I protect against cloning and ringing?

As you may have guessed you will need to do a physical check of the vehicle. Buy a Total Car Check Gold Check and follow our Used Vehicle Buying Advice. On this webpage we provide a 10-step guide to viewing and checking vehicles outlining what you should do before you shake hands and send across the funds.

What other scams should I be aware of?

Take a look at the last blog we posted on vehicle scams here. Familiarise yourself with this activity and it could help protect you from being a victim of fraud.

Leave a Reply