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.
GROUSEY’S FOOTWELL FINDS
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?
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.