What Is VIN Etching?

The process of VIN etching your vehicle's glass could help prevent theft and might even save you money on car insurance.

Vehicle identification number on car windowGetty Images

Article QuickTakes:

As with many vehicle features and some simple technologies, the process of vehicle identification number (VIN) etching all of a vehicle's glass was born as a hedge against theft. Magnetic pellets in the ignition keys of GM cars in the 1980s, rolling codes for electronic key fobs, and uncopyable keys themselves were all measures against the same end — preventing theft. VIN etching a car's glass with the 17-digit, globally standardized VIN became a way to prevent the trade of stolen parts. If the glass has the original vehicle's VIN etched into it, a thief has a harder time re-selling those parts. VIN etching also became a small deterrent to potential thieves in the first place. While seemingly a clever plan, does VIN etching really work? The answer is yes, although it's not as simple as it seems.

What is VIN etching?

First, let's explore how it works. You can have your car VIN etched at a dealership, a repair shop, or body shop. It's done using either chemicals, a mechanical medium, or a laser and requires no more than an hour to complete. It does not obstruct your view or change the car's appearance, as the font size of the VIN etching is generally quite small. But many studies have shown it to drive away some thieves. If a thief aims to sell your stolen car, mismatched VINs between the car's actual VIN plate and the glass make it a far tougher sell, so the thief must replace all the glass (which is a royal pain for someone looking to turn a stolen car quickly without additional cost or hassle).

How Can I Get My Glass Etched?

The cost to VIN etch your glass varies depending on where you have it done. Dealerships may charge as much as $250 or even more, whereas do-it-yourself kits can cost $20 to $30 online or at retailers like auto parts stores which can yield excellent results for a fraction of the cost. (These are usually kits that use chemicals, but handled safely and responsibly, they shouldn’t pose much danger.)

Some police departments support VIN etching to the extent that they might even offer it as a free service during public events or fund drives. Also, if you're a member of AAA, you can inquire with your local chapter about having them etch your glass, too. They actually offer the service to members and even non-members for a fee.

Do Some Homework Before You DIY

A number of insurance companies offer discounts to owners who VIN etch their cars, but this is where things get a little murky. Check with your insurance company before assuming you'll be charged less if you opt to VIN etch your car. Some insurers will require a form that certifies a professional did the etching in order to qualify for any discount, which obviously poses a problem for those who might be interested in doing it themselves with a DIY etching kit. And if your insurance company does offer a discount for VIN etching, it will only affect the comprehensive portion of your insurance, as that's the coverage invoked should you incur a loss.

Even if your insurance company offers no incentive for you to VIN etch your car's glass, you can still have that small measure of prevention by potentially warding off a thief.

This site is for educational purposes only. The third parties listed are not affiliated with Capital One and are solely responsible for their opinions, products and services. Capital One does not provide, endorse or guarantee any third-party product, service, information or recommendation listed above. The information presented in this article is believed to be accurate at the time of publication, but is subject to change. The images shown are for illustration purposes only and may not be an exact representation of the product. The material provided on this site is not intended to provide legal, investment, or financial advice or to indicate the availability or suitability of any Capital One product or service to your unique circumstances. For specific advice about your unique circumstances, you may wish to consult a qualified professional.
author photo
Jim Resnick
From racing exotic sports cars, to ranking new cars, to peeling back layers of cover up in an exhaust emissions scandal, Jim has chronicled the automotive sector for decades. Jim has also worked inside the corporate headquarters of three carmakers, and therefore understands how the automotive sausage is really made. But Jim’s affinity for vehicles takes a back seat to finding the truth and the cultural implications of modern transportation. He has also lectured at universities to engineering and policy students and faculty on the industry's relationship with legislation in the wake of the diesel exhaust emissions scandal several years ago. Put simply, Jim reports on autos, mobility, tech, car culture, and the traffic jam of topics within.