IN the past there were only two means of identifying a stolen vehicle if its number plates were removed or changed: the stamped vehicle identification number (VIN) and the engine number. Criminals found it easy to modify or clone those numbers, which led to stolen vehicles finding their way back into the used car market. Now imagine needing to modify 10 000 microscopic identifiers located throughout a vehicle to produce a similar level of criminal deception – it is a near-impossible task. This deterrent arose as a result of SANS 534-1 legislation that was passed in 2012: it made fitment of microdots compulsory to new vehicles and trailers. In fact, all vehicles that are submitted for police clearance need to be equipped with microdots as well.
What is a microdot?
A microdot is a tiny polymer disc measuring one millimetre in diameter. The microdot has either the 17-digit VIN or PIN laser-etched in it no less than nine times, which includes hidden security layers. The microdot information is accessible to law enforcement officers, insurers and motor industry employees by utilising an inexpensive UV light and a low-power microscope. DataDot has trained 16 000 SAPS members in the identification of microdots and supplied 12 000 kits for the purpose.
The application process and cost
Microdots are applied using a spray-on system. The dots and adhesive are sealed in a container that is attached to a compressed air supply and sprayed onto panels, the engine compartment and undercarriage (more than 67 locations). Before application takes place, the microdots are linked to the vehicle details and the details of the fitment are uploaded to the Department of Transport’s e-Natis system. The fitment process takes about 20 minutes and the one-off cost is around R500.
When is microdotting needed?
As of 1 September 2012, new vehicles and vehicles in need of a police clearance are legally required to bear microdots. A police clearance is needed when a new engine is fitted, the vehicle colour is changed or when a stolen vehicle is recovered, to name a few examples. Any owner is free to get their vehicle microdotted for security purposes – if they so desire.
Is microdotting successful?
Statistics show that when a vehicle is fitted with microdot technology (identified by a sticker on the vehicle), the risk of theft or hijacking decreases by more than 50%. The technology also prevents the sale of stolen vehicle parts and, according to DataDot, more than 14 000 vehicles have been recovered and identified since 2003 using the technology. The uptake of the technology has also led to the apprehension of hit-and-run suspects (see sidebar) and it’s gaining momentum in the cycling fraternity as a way to mark expensive bicycles (see www.cycleregister.co.za). The company expects the use of the technology to expand to include other valuable personal items.