LOS LUNAS — Auto theft is an ever-present issue that requires constant ingenuity to combat, which is why new measures, such as vehicle identification number etching, are becoming more widely available.

VIN etching is the permanent engravement of your vehicle’s identification number on your car. It’s regarded as an effective way to prevent auto theft and it makes tracking down a stolen vehicle easier.

The Los Lunas Police Department’s auto theft unit, created in 2019, regularly hosts free VIN etching events for the community.

The next event will be held from 2-7 p.m., Friday, July 28, at the UNM-Valencia Workforce Training Center, 1020 Huning Ranch East Loop SW in Los Lunas.

“The VIN is specific to that car, kind of like a fingerprint is to you, so there should never be two alike,” said LLPD auto theft officer Miguel Lozano. “A lot of times when they steal the car, they take off the VIN sticker on your front window and door. They remove those to try and hide the identity of the vehicle. When we put it on the glass, it helps us to identify the car if it’s stolen and it helps prevent theft.”

Acid is dabbed on the sticker template to permanently engrave the VIN into the glass. The process typically takes about five minutes. Photo courtesy of LLPD.

Lozano said they etch the VIN number on all the fixed glass of a vehicle.

“It’s small, about three inches, we put it in the bottom corner so it doesn’t obstruct anything,” he said.

This helps prevent theft because many thieves who are seeking to sell a stolen car, or parts of it, have to replace all the glass, which is expensive and time consuming so chances are they will leave cars like that alone. Plus, trying to sell or dispose of a vehicle with a VIN etching carries more risk, which serves as a further deterrent.

Lozano said getting your car etched is a quick process, typically taking only five minutes.

“We’ll get their registration, driver’s license and we have a little waiver for them to sign, then we etch the car,” said Lozano. “It’s a free service the police department offers the community, and we hope to have (VIN etching events) regularly while the weather is warm …”

Lozano says he hopes more people look into VIN etching because it’s a huge help and it’s already assisted LLPD in recovering stolen vehicles.

“Also, depending on your insurance company, some see it as an anti-theft device, so a lot of times they’ll give the customer a discount for having some kind of theft prevention,” said Lozano.

Keep an eye on the LLPD Facebook page for future VIN etching events. The LLPD also hosts free VIN inspections at the police station about once a month upon request. To schedule a VIN inspection, call 505-839-3855.

LLPD Sgt. Buster Whitley, who oversees the auto theft division, says they have so far been very successful as a unit.

According to LLPD’s 2022 annual report, they received reports of 101 stolen vehicles, and made 51 arrests of individuals in stolen vehicles in 2022.

Whitley said they have so far recovered about 25 stolen vehicles this year and have made about 13 arrests.

Since the beginning of the year, Whitley said they have also conducted 25 operations utilizing surveillance, bait cars and saturation operations where they go out and look for stolen cars in various districts. They also keep tabs on locations associated with criminal activity related to auto theft.

“We are also capable of carrying out administrative inspections, where we will visit any location that is able to sell vehicles,” he said. “We meet with them and inspect their lot and records to ensure they are in compliance with laws.”

To further prevent your car from theft, Lozano shared some tips.

Park your car in the garage, and don’t leave your garage door remotes in your car. During the winter, do not leave your car running to warm up.

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Felina Martinez was born and raised in Valencia County. She graduated from the University of New Mexico in 2021. During her time at UNM, she studied interdisciplinary film, digital media and journalism. She covers the village of Los Lunas, Los Lunas Schools, the School of Dreams Academy and the town of Peralta.