Car News: Cloning Cars

Your weekly guide to all that sucks in the automotive industry, plus some good bits


Is it my eyes, or is that licence plate blurry?

Ever wondered why television shows blur the registration plates of cars appearing in reality shows? Two reasons: it could be the vehicle belongs to the celebrity in the scene broadcast and understandably they don’t wish followed by fans or fanatics. More likely, if a car is parked in a street scene, the plate is unfocused to avoid the car being cloned. The car’s identity is hidden deliberately to avoid the registration number stolen.

Cloning is gathering adherents in the closed world of the auto thievery set. A few years back there were just over a 1,000 cars cloned, last year there was closer to 5,000 cloned. Scotland is not immune, as I illustrate shortly.

How car cloning works

A cloned car is a vehicle that has been given a new identity.  The worry is what a cloned car can be used for: involved in an accident, a hit and run, a robbery. An unfortunate owner faces the stress of proving their innocence and demonstrating they’re not responsible for the illegal actions in question, a case of guilty until proven innocent.

Criminals find an exact match of a car they have stolen – same make, model and colour – and copy the identity of the legitimate vehicle. That’s achieved by stealing your car plates from the car, or they can get your plates made for their similar model by bribery, or a plate stamper who has the basic equipment in his shed – for a fat fee, of course.

They need false number plates to make the vehicle they have stolen appear legal. If they can be bothered to go further – the car for export, for example, they may also use a duplicate or stolen V5C logbook, the official owner document issued by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA). That covers them for unwanted inspections by a prospective buyer, or the police or customs. If hard-nosed professionals they might also change the vehicle’s identification number (VIN), the vehicle’s unique fingerprint, normally on the driver’s side at the corner of the dashboard at the windscreen.

With such sophisticated techniques used by fraudsters, it means that even if the buyer runs an online background check on the car, then the details may appear to be in order. To make matter worse, cloning is under-reported because victims will usually be unaware their plate has been cloned.

A true example

Here’s an example of how cloning can  cause as a lot of grief.

An East Kilbride motorist who fell victim to car cloning, is calling for a change in the law to crack down on the crime. James McLaughlin told the East Kilbride News he was “shocked” when he received a £90 fine for driving down a bus lane in Glasgow earlier this year. He was nowhere near the city centre on the night in question, but in bed at home in Calderwood after enjoying a few beers watching the Scottish Cup final.

A photo of his car, a grey Ford Mondeo, and license plate number, were clearly visible on the fines letter issued by Glasgow City Council. After failing to pay the fixed penalty on time, James was been driven to despair hit with surcharges taking the fine to £120.

“I knew this wasn’t my car. “This was actually Scottish Cup final day and at that time I was tucked up in bed after consuming a fair amount of alcohol. I was in no fit state to walk to Cathedral Street never mind drive down it. Then I remembered, about six weeks before I noticed a woman taking photos of cars in the car park outside my flat. I called the police to report it but by the time they arrived she was gone. I’ve seen this type of thing on TV programmes like Police Interceptors where people are cloning cars using their license plate numbers to carry out crimes and I realised I had been the victim of car cloning. I emailed the council who said I didn’t have enough evidence so I went to the police and got an incident report number to cancel the fine but I want to make other drivers aware of this. Vulnerable older people could be targeted, get a ticket and fork out the money not realising it wasn’t actually them driving.”

What to do to avoid car cloning

 When buying a second-hand car, use established dealers or make sure you visit a private seller’s own home. Never do the deal in laybys or car parks.
 If a car is being sold at well below its true market value, be very suspicious.
 Make sure you compare the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) with the V5C logbook and other supporting documentation.
 Never share any pictures of your V5C logbook online, and don’t give out the 11 or 12-digit Document Reference Number contained on the V5C.
 If you receive a parking or speeding ticket – or any other penalty notice – and you believe that your car has been cloned, contact the issuing authority, the police and the DVLA at once, and document everything you tell them in writing.


Lanarkshire idle anger

Can’t remember where, but about a year ago I read South Lanarkshire Council plan to fine drivers who leave their engine running. The council was planning some sort of anti-idle campaign. Does any reader know if they actually got as far as implementing the campaign, and did it succeed in its goals? A good number of cars have a stop-start  facility installed. (I find them annoying). Stop at the traffic lights and the engine switches off, hit the gas pedal and the engine starts up again. I’m sure it can’t do an engine much good over a long period, but there it is. Anyhow, I’d like to hear of the ‘Idle Anger’ campaign surely aimed at those sitting a long time. Did it happen?

Parallel lines

Thin rubber cables, two laid in parallel about two feet apart, are appearing across our city roads, courtesy of our Highways Departments. I assume they are counting traffic numbers in a given street at a given point, but are they checking speed levels? They aren’t “computer” cables in the conventional sense, they are traffic sensors. They use two so that they know what kind of vehicle it is, based upon the time difference between when the wheel crosses which sensor. The cables are hollow tubes that use the air pressure within them, compressed by a passing car tyre, to record the wheel passing over them. They can tell the direction by which is contacted first. I’ve got into my head they are also sneaky speed calculators, there for volume and speedsters. Correct?

Self-drive robotic vehicles

So far, I remain to be convinced of the benefits of self-driving cars. Reverse parking by AI computer might be a boon to those with back or neck pain who find it difficult to look behind them as easily as an owl might, or are spatially challenged, but experiments to have cars drive down a motorway while we are asleep (I exaggerate only a little), creep me out. The joy of driving a car is taking command, making split second decisions, all good to keep the intellect in trim. We are sitting, sedentary, but the windscreen is an interactive television screen in which you must participate.  If you have an accident in one, who is to blame, the computer or the driver? Others are struck by the same dilemma, the growth of AI intelligence. Moral Crumple Zones: Cautionary Tales in Human-Robot Interaction, is a fascinating academic paper by Madeleine Clare Elish, an anthropologist who works at the Data & Society institute in New York. If you’ve time, Google it and have a glance. Meanwhile, I’ll drive, thanks.



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11 Responses to Car News: Cloning Cars

  1. Hugh Wallace says:

    My new (to me, as of November 2018) Ford has an idle cut out function but it seems to have a mind of its own and only works from time to time and often for no discernible reason (and, yes, I have read the manual and that was not an entirely illuminating experience).

    The two tubes you describe do indeed measure speed and direction. I think they are placed 1m apart (but the precise distance doesn’t matter) and the time difference between one being pressed and the second can be used to determine your speed quite easily but I’m not sure how they could determine what type of vehicle has driven over them. I suppose they could determine the axle weight of a vehicle travelling across them but that would also depend on tyre diameter and whether or not it had double axles as this would change the pressure exerted on the tube. To calculate the length of the vehicle (more accurately, the length of the wheel base) you would need some other means of measure the speed of the vehicle independently of the test strips. Essentially, such devices are used as traffic counters & speed measuring devices (a single strip could simply be used to determine traffic count).

  2. Grouse Beater says:

    The cables are appearing all over the place, must be a survey, for what reason I can’t tell, but expect they will disappear in a couple of weeks. Not seen public announcements. To tell vehicle type, I wonder if it relies on length – quick pass, small car, and so on. Yes, idle cut-outs are temperamental. Others have told me this. (Daughter has one on her car.) Been searching for information on durability; guess car makers keeping it to themselves.

  3. greig12 says:

    I’ve switched the stop start off on my Subaru partly because I don’t do a lot of urban driving but mostly because I think that in the long run it’s a wasteful gimmick.I don’t know if the function adversely affects the engine but I know from reading the manual that cars equipped with it are fitted with a heavier duty battery than those without. This of course means more expense come battery replacement time. I wonder how any environmental cost benefit analysis works out in terms of heavier duty battery and any other related upgrades versus actual fuel saved. Given also the greater strain on the starter motor and the rest of the ignition system due to constant stop starts, I don’t believe its necessarily a desirable feature when making second hand purchases. Starter motors have probably been beefed up also and they wont be cheap to replace either. In cars with high mileages there’s even wear and tear on the flywheel to consider (if modern cars still have such a thing).

    The second hand buyer of course isn’t really considered when cars are at the design stage and I think at the end of the day this is probably one of these gizmos/sales ploys that sounds good but doesn’t bear close scrutiny. The sprat to catch the whale as my grandad was fond of saying.

  4. Grouse Beater says:

    I think I would agree with all of that, Greig. A lot of Smart cars have the stop-start function and their batteries are tiny. Like the flaky ’emissions control’ it is as you say, a novelty to hoodwink the buyer into thinking they are environmentally friendly and saving petrol.

  5. angusskye says:

    It is actually quite easy to obtain a number plate for a cloned car. A quick google on “show plates” brings up plenty of businesses that supply these without proof of ownership of the vehicle. They keep themselves legal by stating that their products are not for road use.

    I had not thought of the “dark side” of this business, having used this online ordering service several times for things like the inclusion of my own business’s name, saltire, etc. Sometimes I have had to send a scanned copy of the V5C (easily forged for a scan I would think), sometimes not. My new Burgman scoot was the most recent one I used this for – a slightly smaller than legal plate that I am fairly sure I will never be pulled over for.

  6. Grouse Beater says:

    I got my plates made by Halfords – they screwed up one – and as you suggest, they wanted to see V5 document. Didn’t know there are outlets who will sell you a number merely on your request. That’s bad news.

  7. broonpot says:

    I had my plates stolen (outside the house!) last year and received a parking ticket but was able to point out the vehicle was a 2-door coupe while mine was a 4-door saloon. Also, fortunately the ticket was issued 2 hours after I reported the plates stolen to the police. I also took the precaution of reporting the theft to my insurance company as I was concerned the plates might be used during a crime. I now have a dash cam with a parking function (activated if the car is bumped etc)

  8. Grouse Beater says:

    I didn’t expect to receive an account of a plat theft so close to home. You did the right thing getting onto the police and insurance before the thieves wreaked havoc. Dash cams are now all the rage – don’t know about you, I’ve found myself watching late night car crash shows recorded on those things – I suspect they’ll become standard in modern cars, front and rear.

  9. broonpot says:

    Yes, some You Tube dash cam footage is scary and ‘entertaining’. Touch wood, I have not experienced anything worth sharing. However, it’s only a matter of time, given the amount of driving I do in Italy.

  10. angusskye says:

    On my way home today from Inverness, doing much as usual checking registration plates on other vehicles for “origins” (beats train spotting) it struck me that with a no deal brexit it will almost certainly be illegal to drive a UK registered vehicle on the continent with plates that include the EU flag. We know how strictly the French in particular enforce laws regarding such as emergency kits so I’ll wager that they are rubbing their hands at the thought of all that potential revenue from fining UK drivers. Prepare for the Great Plate Shortage!

  11. Grouse Beater says:

    You bet. Car travel in Europe is going to be a real hassle. And we will meet with localised resentment over the UK not paying up. Better sharpen up your Scottish accent.

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