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Should I pay my car dealership for VIN window etching?

When I was leasing my Toyota RAV4, the dealer said the government required them to have the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) etched on the windows and I would have to pay extra for it. Is there really a law requiring window etching? What is the law called? -- Jay, Toronto

Your dealer's legal knowledge sounds a bit sketchy. There's no law in Canada that says a car's Vehicle Identification Number has to be etched on windows, says Transport Canada.

"The Government of Canada does not require the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) to be etched on a vehicle's window for new or imported vehicles," says Transport Canada spokesperson Maryse Durette in an e-mail. "We are not aware of any provincial requirements for window etching of the VIN."

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The law does require cars to be branded with their VIN -- a code unique to each vehicle -- but by the manufacturer, not the dealer. Section 115 of the Canadian Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (CMVSS) requires that the manufacturer mark the VIN onto vehicles "clearly and indelibly and in such a manner that it cannot be removed without damaging or defacing the plate, label or vehicle..."

The idea behind window etching is that a car thief will think twice about stealing your car because, if he takes it to a chop shop to sell the parts, glass marked with the VIN number will be a lot less valuable.

There are also companies who mark vehicle windows -- either by etching or with stickers they say cannot be removed -- with their own numbers. Dealers sell these services, which offer compensation if a marked vehicle is stolen.

Sometimes, the fee for etching or these services are already printed on the sales agreement -- but you're free to turn it down.

"Does etching work? It depends on who you ask," says Pete Karageorgos, Ontario Manager, Consumer & Industry Relations, with the Insurance Bureau of Canada. "The companies who promote them say it's a deterrent. It might well be."

It's up to consumers to decide whether they want to pay for these etching services, but they do need to know that they're free not to buy it, he says.

"It's not mandatory, it's an option," Karageorgos says. "I just purchased a car and I got it. Why? It's the next most expensive thing I own after my house."

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Karageorgos says some insurance companies might offer discounts for etching, but you'd have to check with your provider.

Buying VIN etching from a dealer can be expensive. Consumer Reports says dealers spend maybe $90 on it, but charge up to $1000.

Some U.S. states do require dealers to offer VIN etching to consumers, but none of them require consumers to buy it. CR suggests getting an etching kit and doing it yourself.

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