VIN tag of 1995 Chevrolet Caprice, by Flickr user Ingue86Enlarge Photo
It appears that Faisal Shahzad, who allegedly attempted to set off an incendiary or explosive device inside a Nissan Pathfinder in New York City's Times Square last week, didn't know a lot about cars.
He (or perhaps someone else) had filed off the rusty 1993 Pathfinder's 17-digit vehicle identification number (VIN) tag, visible through a corner of the windshield.
But he was apparently unaware that new cars have the VIN in multiple locations throughout the vehicle.
The bans are currently imposed between 42nd and 47th streets, as well as between 33rd and 35th streets at Herald SquareEnlarge Photo
This practice, instituted in 1981, was intended to fight car theft in two ways: It let a vehicle's original VIN be located even if a different dash tag was substituted (to re-title a stolen car), and it let law enforcement officers identify the source of parts stolen from vehicles later dismantled in "chop shops" for their engines, transmissions, and major body panels.
Today, VINs may be found on a vehicle's dash panel, firewall, engine, steering column, radiator-support bracket, door or door post, inner fender liner, or other places--depending on manufacturer.
Some car-theft experts even advise etching a vehicle's VIN onto the windows, on the theory that it will deter thieves who would have to replace every window to resell it if stolen.
In the case of the Times Square Pathfinder, New York Police Department Detective John Wright found the VIN on its engine block.
That led officers to the vehicle's Connecticut title, and its last registered owner, who had sold it to Shahzad via Craigslist. The telephone number Shahzad gave the previous owner proved to be the break they needed.