895 Words on Paper Tracing a VIN (…yes, really)

I’ve been in a lot of ridiculous situations involving cars. There was the one time I slid into a cornfield in the middle of the night and was rescued by a guy in overalls who took off in my car while his friend and I stood in the cornfield and watched him drive away. There was the time in Texas when I was driving my parents minivan and got into a minor accident and was told by a Texan police officer that he was liable to take me to jail for being an out-of-state driver who hit a Texas driver. There were all 9823740837289473 of the times the Black Death has left me stranded in our tumultuous three-year relationship.

However, in light of sheer absurdity, conducting a pencil tracing of a VIN for the state of Pennsylvania ranks near the top of the all-time ridiculous list.

Let’s begin with a spoiler alert: I bought a new (used) vehicle. More on that to come, along with what is sure to be a long and bitter eulogy for the Black Death. For now, let’s focus on the wonder that is Registration Requirements in Pennsylvania. Specifically, the pencil tracing of the VIN.

When I called the DMV to talk about what I would need to register a car (other than a PENNSYLVANIA license, an entity that I soon learned was necessary for every aspect of the car buying process, and honestly I’m surprised I’ve been allowed to buy groceries for the past 9 months without showing proper Pennsylvanian identification at the register), I thought I must have misunderstood the part about “VIN tracing.” At first, I figured it was a piece of car terminology I had yet to encounter, perhaps some sort of vehicle history I could look up and submit by using the VIN.

No, no. It’s an actual tracing. Using paper and a pencil. To make a pencil tracing of a number electronically identified on every other record needed to register the vehicle.

For those of you who have lost track of the past few years, it is currently 2014. Apple just released news of a phone that will account for barometric changes and compute them in relation to your overall personal fitness level. I routinely see and talk to people on the other side of the world by the magic that is Skype and Google Hangouts. I can order ice cream online and have it arrive at my doorstep, still frozen, days later. And yet to legally register a car in Pennsylvania, I need to whip out a paper and pencil and set to work… tracing.

Now, this sounds inconvenient enough to begin with, right? But have you ever tried to fit your hand, a piece of paper, and a pencil in the unreasonably small space between the windshield and the plate where the VIN lives on the dashboard? No? Well then let’s talk about it, because my experience is still fresh and venting is necessary.

After talking with my insurance company tonight, I double checked to make sure I have everything I need to register the car and realized I still needed to do the VIN tracing. (A fact that elicited the obligatory eye roll from me, because, really? I mean, really. Why is this a thing???)

So I set out with a pencil and a piece of paper, thinking that this was a highly unnecessary, but still highly achievable, task.

Three pencils, four pieces of paper, 30 minutes, and one very dramatic lament of “WHAT IS HAPPENING TO MY LIFE?!?!?” later… I still had nothing. Including any of the previously established jewels in my heavenly crown. I donated them all to profanity as I tried to shove my finger between the dash and the windshield in order to gain greater space for tracing.

It was at this point that I remembered the definition of insanity: doing the same action over and over again and expecting a different result. There is never a good time to ask Google “how to do a VIN paper tracing” and feel good about your intellectual capacity afterward, but this was clearly that time.

After reading several messages boards containing helpful responses such as, “Seriously? they make you do that in Pennsylvania?” I found a response from a guy who talked about finding a VIN number on [car part that I also had to Google and have since forgotten].

“UNDER THE HOOD!” I thought. I’d check under the hood!!! And so I ran back downstairs and out the door with pencil #4 and paper #5 in hand, determined to find something traceable under the hood. And I did!!! The VIN was stamped on [miscellaneous car part] at the back, so I stretched my arm out with paper in hand to finally take hold of what had been promised, the elusive VIN tracing…

…when I came to the unfortunate realization that my arms were too short to reach all the way back there and actually trace anything.

Which is why, if you looked in the parking area outside of my apartment this evening at 7:45pm, you would have seen me standing on a chair, fully stretched across all the things that lie beneath the hood, in an effort to secure anything that looked like it could pass for a paper tracing of a VIN.

I think it’s safe to say the new car and I have bonded.



7 thoughts on “895 Words on Paper Tracing a VIN (…yes, really)”

  • We just bought our first home and relocated to PA so we are in the process of doing this right now. We tried paper and pencil, chalk, and yes….play-doh (which, for the record, my husband learned is not acceptable to the state of PA) I wanted to take a picture of the VIN (and possibly us attempting the rubbing) but that does not work either. Unreasonable for sure! We will have to check under the hood. Based upon other things we have read, I believe it is on the “struts”. Thankfully hubby knows what that means/is tall enough to reach! Funny/sadly accurate article👍🏼

  • This is my second hour long trip to Harrisburg and back…all because of a TRACING of my VIN number, or better yet, a PHOTO, which can do easily doctored with PS! All three documents I have including the TITLE all have the VIN number on it, but nope, they sent me home and now I’m, shall we just say, upset. One of the most ridiculous laws ever, besides PA’s beer laws, that’s another story!

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