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Ian Lind • Online daily from Kaaawa, Hawaii

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Consumer lawsuits say “vehicle theft registration systems” do not deter car thieves

December 23rd, 2009 · 9 Comments · General

New car buyers who pay an extra fee for a “vehicle theft registration system” that supposedly deters car thieves are probably wasting their money, according to evidence compiled in several lawsuits against local car dealers.

Despite testimony that the systems actually do nothing to deter theft, the Intermediate Court of Appeals ruled on Monday that the several Cutter car dealerships did not violate state law by selling the systems without first complying with state insurance laws, and that claims the dealers engaged in unfair and deceptive sales practices had not been properly made.

The case consolidated several similar lawsuits regarding these anti-theft products sold by Cutter and provided by Safe-Guard Products International, Inc. and Red Swan Incorporated.

The appeals court ruled the VTRs are legally “warranties” rather than “insurance”, and rejected the claims made on behalf of angry consumers who paid $169 to $399 to have an identification number etched into their vehicle’s windows, with the understanding they would be paid $1,500 or $2,500 if their vehicle were stolen.

Although the lawsuit was not successful, it did highlight questions about the effectiveness of these anti-theft systems.

An HPD officer in charge of car theft investigations testified that HPD officers do not use the systems to track stolen vehicles, and telephone calls to the companies were either not answered or yielded no useful information.

In their memorandum in opposition to the Motion for Partial SJ, Plaintiffs attached a declaration by Honolulu Police Department (HPD) Lieutenant Nobriga (Nobriga), in which he stated that he was in charge of the HPD Vehicle Theft Detail Criminal Investigation Division and was personally aware of the methods the officers in that division used to trace the ownership of stolen cars recovered on Oahu. Nobriga declared that “[i]n my experience, the non-[vehicle identification number (VIN)] etches by Safe-Guard and other commercial companies have never been used by the [HPD] in retrieving stolen vehicles, and I do not believe that they have any value in deterring auto theft in Honolulu.” Nobriga first learned of the Safe-Guard VTR approximately three months prior to making the declaration. He further stated that in the prior two to three months, officers under his direction had recovered about five to ten stolen vehicles that had window etches [VTRs], and in each case, when the officers called the 1-800 number associated with the etch [VTR], no one answered, the person who answered the call knew nothing about the situation or could not provide any information about the vehicle, or no one returned the message left by the officers.

Even a representative of one of the companies “could not specify a single instance in which a vehicle was recovered because of a VTR,” according to an interview transcript cited by attorneys in the case.

In addition, the cases cited legislative testimony by former state insurance commissioner Wayne Metcalf:

Metcalf further testified that “the [Insurance] Division’s investigation has found that the [VTR] is not used by any law enforcement agency on Oahu and is redundant to existing, more reliable, vehicle identification systems . . . . The product’s reputation among law enforcement as a method of theft deterrence is at best . . . dubious.”

Cutter, not surprisingly, defended the product.

Window etching deters theft because, among other things, the permanent code etched in the vehicle’s windows cannot be removed without breaking or noticeably marring the glass. Driving a stolen car with traceable, etched glass presents the risk of being caught and arrested if stopped by the police, who can easily trace the vehicle’s owner by calling the registration administrator. Stealing a vehicle with identification codes etched on the glass is unprofitable because glass replacement is expensive. Professional thieves recognize that vehicles with etched windows are traceable, glass is expensive to replace, and the automobile and etched glass are difficult to sell, even to illegal “chop shops.”

It looks like this is another one of those cases of “buyer beware”.

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9 Comments so far ↓

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  • stagnant

    Very interesting!

  • Savvy Consumer

    Buyer beware indeed. I’m not at all surprised to read about this. Car Dealers will engage in high levels of deception to make a buck. Hey, it’s a living…
    The truth is that the one deterrent that etching your VIN into your car window has is that it deters thieves who want to re-sell the car. In order for them to clone a VIN on the new vehicle they will have to replace all of the windows. If they are looking to strip the car or just take it for a joy ride, it will not deter them. It’s worth it to etch your VIN into your windows, but it should only cost you about $25 to do it yourself in 10 minutes. You can get a DIY kit at http://www.VINetcher.com for under $20 AND they will throw in a $15.95 IDsticker for free. The IDsticker is a real theft deterrent for any thief because it warns them that if the car is stolen people will get alerts on their phones and in their email to look for it and a reward will be offered for it’s recovery. It’s tied into http://www.StolenCarReports.com. Not worth the increased risk for a thief to steal your car. All of these genuine deterrents are actually dirt cheap. The car dealers are trying to rip you off. Just buy this stuff for yourself.

  • stagnant

    i’m curious to see if this is reported on in the mainstream local media (or has it been already?) since Cutter is a big ad buyer.

  • Bert

    Very interesting indeed! I am talking to a new car dealership right now and they say: “You will register or else you don’t buy a car from us.” I have asked them to explain why they make registration mandatory. The do not answer that question. Does anyone have an idea why a dealer would rather not sell than make the registration optional?

  • Steve

    I used this website to recover my stolen car http://www.stolen-property.com/, the thieves got caught trying to sell my car on Craigslist.
    As with most thieves, they turned out to not be all that smart.

  • Steve

    The best online stolen car database website that I discovered is http://www.stolenlostfound.net/, the online stolen car report appears on the search engines within a day. It is also packed with helpful stolen car info and auto theft prevention tips

  • Deanna

    I’m in the process of buying a used car, and the dealership has a fixed fee of $399.00 to the Vehicle Protection charge…they say the policy pays 5K if the car is stolen. They did not present the charge until the final paperwork was submitted. We walked.

  • joseph

    If you have full coverage most insurance companies cover theft anyway. What a racket!

  • Melissa

    We just bought a new car and a theft registry was an option and it was explained to us as an extra insurance option (not as a theft deterrent) and that our insurance company would give us a discount for having it since they will have to pay out less in the event of theft. We confirmed with our insurance and that was true. The registry paid for itself in just under two years from the insurance discount and will save us roughly 1K over the life of the vehicle on insurance. Not a huge monthly difference but pay $275, save $1275 in insurance premiums over 7-9 years we will have the vehicle, pocket the extra $1000 so it seemed reasonable to us.

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