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Tampering with a vehicle’s VIN can cause problems for years and years to come. Unfortunately, this Chevrolet Corvette owner has had to deal with this exact scenario for years. Worst of all, it cost him over $50,000 just to keep his car.

Can you swap VIN numbers on a car?

front end shot of 1959 Chevrolet Corvette driving down the road
1959 Chevy Corvette | Rust/ullstein bild via Getty Images

Swapping a VIN plate to another car is a federal crime. However, removing the VIN plate from the vehicle is legal in most states, so long as it goes back on the same car. There are a few states where tampering with the VIN plate is illegal entirely. One such state is Kansas, which is where this unfortunate story unfolds.

According to Carscoops, Kansas resident Richard Martinez bought his dream car, a 1959 Chevrolet Corvette, from a dealership in Indiana in 2016. He spent $50,000 on it and had no idea it was about to get a whole lot more expensive.

Upon its arrival in Kansas, a state trooper performing a vehicle inspection noted that the Corvette’s VIN plate had screws instead of rivets. This is because the restorer of this Corvette removed the VIN during the restoration process. Of course, they put the plate back onto the car. However, even that is illegal by Kansas law. So, Kansas recognized that Martinez was not responsible for the VIN removal and was therefore innocent of any crime. However, the state still dictated that, by law, the car must be destroyed.

Martinez took this issue to court. The whole process was at a standstill until five years later, during the summer of 2021. The Kansas Justice Institute urged the court to protect the property rights of Martinez, especially considering his proven innocence.

On March 22, 2022, Governor Laura Kelly signed House Bill 2594 into law. The law exempts certain antique vehicles from seizures and VIN offenses. This way, next time someone who has a fully restored classic that’s had the VIN removed and replaced won’t run into this issue.

Unfortunately, both Martinez and the Corvette suffered over this legal battle.

1959 Chevrolet Corvette, Red, Sitting parked in a driveway
1959 Chevrolet Corvette | Joe Sohm/Visions of America/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

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Because of the law’s verbiage, Martinez did not have possession of the vehicle throughout the battle. Instead, it sat in various tow yards and a storage shed in Topeka, Kansas. As a result of its storage and moving, the Corvette suffered over $28,000 in damage. Unfortunately, this once beautifully restored classic is likely to need another restoration.
Martinez took another hit, too. According to the Carscoops article, the legal battle cost him over $30,000 throughout its duration in court. So, considering the car’s original cost, the legal battle, and the estimated damages, Martinez is in this Corvette about $108,000. Here’s hoping he can get some of his financial losses recouped by the state. Unfortunately, that likely implies another legal battle.

Ultimately, this is an unfortunate situation. It’s essential to make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into when buying a restored classic like this. You should always check your state laws and ensure you know the ins and outs of what was done to the vehicle before purchasing. Undoubtedly, the way the state handled this case and the car were both unforgivably bad. However, Martinez’s experience and battle can now help other classic car shoppers in the future.