How to run a free check to help protect you from car cloning

Car cloning is where the registration number of a car is copied or ‘cloned’ and applied to a stolen car to mask its true identity. It’s a growing problem. That’s why Total Car Check has recently launched a free tool that helps car buyers to identify cloned vehicles. We explain below.

A growing problem

In April 2022 Transport for London (TfL) reported a 857% increase in the number of penalty charge notices (PCNs) being cancelled due to cars being cloned.

Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) data suggests between July 2021 and September 2022 over 12,000 Brits received fines, penalties and letters displaying the registration of their vehicle, that they did not recognise.  A sign of cloning. This is up from only 4,000 cases in 2018.

Vehicle crime has been on the rise overall, with the Home Office reporting almost 102,000 cases in 2022, up 7% from 2021. 

How does car cloning work?

Cloning acts as a facilitator to vehicle crime, helping criminals to move and sell stolen vehicles.  More information is provided in one of our earlier blogs here.

There are 11,000 Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras in the UK.  These constantly read vehicle number plates to help locate criminals and stolen vehicles.

Applying the plates of a legitimate car, to a stolen one, means that ANPR cameras will not flag the vehicle as stolen.

Criminals usually seek to clone a number plate of a car that is the same make, model and age as the car they’ve stolen.  This makes it tricky for the police to spot a stolen car.

Criminals mostly search for a vehicle they want to clone. They then get number plates made up that copy it.  Once the false plates are fitted to the stolen vehicle this becomes a driving offence in itself.

Another approach car thieves undertake, is stealing the plates from a car.  It’s less subtle because will lead to the plateless car owner reporting the issue to the police. But there have been cases of this activity in recent years nonetheless.

Police stopping car cloning drivers

The victims of cloning

There are two victims where cloning is concerned.  The person who has had their car cloned and the person that buys a stolen cloned car.

If your vehicle has been cloned you may start receiving fines and penalty notices through the post.  

These will have nothing to do with your driving or where you have parked. Rather the activities of thieves driving a car with the same plates as yours. 

To have these penalties quashed you will need to prove your innocence. This may lead to a lengthy appeal process.

Buying a cloned stolen car is by far a worse outcome.  Once the police establish the car you bought is stolen, it will be taken from you and returned to its original owner. You will lose the funds you’ve paid and have very little protection under UK law.

How do you protect yourself from car cloning?


Total Car Check provides the only free UK VIN check which can help protect you from buying a cloned vehicle in the first instance. Watch our explainer video below.

You will need to register for free on the Total Car Check website or app. Then just run a free initial check when you are logged in to use the VIN check tool.

Signs your car has been cloned and how to respond

If you start receiving parking or speeding fines through the post you don’t recognise then this could be a sign your car has been cloned. Don’t just contact the authority issuing these, also make a visit to your local police station or call 101 to report a possible case of cloning.  Also contact the DVLA to change your vehicle’s registration number. This will ensure you no longer receive the fines.

Total Car Check comment

We recommend that all car buyers visit, view and test drive a vehicle first before they buy it and part with their hard-earned cash.  This helps ensure the vehicle is roadworthy and provides an opportunity to carry out some other important checks.

One vital check, that can only be undertaken when viewing a vehicle, is to see if its VIN matches the registration plate number.  This helps to check the vehicle isn’t a clone.  Total Car Check has recently made this check free to the public on our website and app.

We aim to encourage a culture of ‘check before you buy’.   This helps deter criminals from undertaking vehicle crime in the first instance and makes the car market-place safer for car buyers and traders.

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