For microdot technology to be really effective, it should be fitted to vehicles by the manufacturers and not after-sale, the South African Insurance Association said.

For microdot technology to be really effective, it should be fitted to vehicles by the manufacturers and not after-sale, the South African Insurance Association said.

With the tiny coded dots applied to a car and all its components, the tracing of stolen parts and components is simplified. The microdots replicate the car's vehicle identification number (VIN) on up to 10 000 tiny dots, which are invisible to the naked eye.

Chief Executive of the South African Insurance Association (SAIA) Caroline da Silva said: "We would prefer the technology to be applied at the factory as the microdots would contain the vehicle's VIN.

"At the moment, the microdots that could be sprayed into the car (after sale) would contain a personal identification number."

Avis started using the technology last year and executive director Pat O’Brien said car theft had been one of the most difficult forms of crime to combat because of inadequate vehicle identification.

"Once the engine and chassis numbers are sheared off and key components replaced, there is little chance of the car ever being traced to the original owner," O'Brien said.


How this system works:

DataDots are made of a polyester substrate 1mm in diameter, with the 17-digit VIN or chassis number laser-etched on to each dot. The dots are sprayed on strategic parts of the car - from inside the glove boxes to all the engine components - with a special water-borne spray adhesive that has UV additives providing easy identification of sprayed areas.

The microdots are so hard to see that the only way they can be recognised is if the suspected stolen component is viewed through a specialised spotting scope. A detection kit consists of a 30x magnifying scope and a handheld ultraviolet lamp. Police, insurance and corporate investigators are supplied with these magnifying scopes and the adhesive is readily detected using a black or UV light.

Following the detection of microdots, the vehicle identification number of a part or panel can be cross-checked with South Africa’s central vehicle ownership database.

“DataDot makes it virtually impossible to effectively change the identity of a vehicle or to amalgamate several stolen vehicles into one,” CARtoday.com reported Andy Blew, managing director of DataDot South Africa, as saying.

“The system greatly improves the effectiveness of inspections carried out by transport agencies prior to re-registration or arising from written-off vehicle register queries.”

There are about six million cars in South Africa. Da Silva said about 115 000 cars were stolen every year.

Of these, only 40 per cent were recovered. More than half of the unrecovered vehicles were re-registered illegally, about 30 per cent were taken out of the country and 17 per cent sold in “chop shops”.

DataDots can be fitted for between R600 and R700 at about 150 outlets countrywide. They are endorsed by the SAIA, Savrala (South African vehicle rental and leasing association), the SAPS and Business Against Crime.