Here’s Why You Should Keep Your Old VIN NumbersS

I recently had my morning routine disturbed. Those of you with a morning routine will know exactly what I mean when I say this is a major problem. Right, morning routiners? All I want to do is peacefully start each day the same way: wake up at 10 am, spend about 40 minutes on Bring a Trailer, then think to myself “Nah, I don’t need to write a column today” before napping until approximately 3 pm. Is that so much to ask?!

My routine was disturbed during that second part; the bit where I go on Bring a Trailer. That’s because I logged on one morning after waking up bright and early, around 9:45, to discover a familiar face staring back at me: my old 1993 Mercedes 500E.

Regular readers will know I owned a 500E because I wrote about it in my book, where I fondly described it as “not particularly remarkable.” But I miss it, largely because of its unique history: it was built by Mercedes, then Porsche, then Mercedes, then Porsche, then Mercedes again in a complicated process that could’ve only been devised by Germans. Fortunately, all that complexity had a purpose: after five trips between factories, each 500E came out looking just like a standard E-Class, except with flared fenders.

Anyway: my old 500E startled me because it looks a lot different than it did when I owned it. I bought it after the original owner traded it in on a Fiat 500, which meant it was in pristine condition aside from what can only be described as “elderly smell.” But the new owner changed that by adding new wheels, a new grille, and possibly lowered suspension. And as I sat there, still in bed, looking it over, I couldn’t help but think: Are those clear side markers from an FD RX-7?

No, what I was really thinking is: What the hell happened to all of my other old cars? As car geeks, I think we all wonder this from time to time. Is it still out there? Is the new owner taking care of it? Or did he give it to his son, who took it to college and bet his fraternity brothers that he could drive it down a concrete staircase?

To answer these questions, I did what any normal, well-adjusted individual might do: I spent the next four hours digging through paperwork to find the VIN number of every single car I’ve ever owned. And after that was successful, I turned to AutoCheck for an update. Here’s what I discovered.

1998 BMW M3 – Crashed by Some Guy in Ohio

Here’s Why You Should Keep Your Old VIN NumbersS

I bought my E36 M3 from a used car dealer in a seedy part of town who insisted I make the cashier’s check not to his dealer, called something like A & B Performance Sales (Motto: We bought all these cars at auction!), but to him personally. I sold my E36 M3 a few months later when I discovered that just because Road & Track said a car was good in 1995 doesn’t mean that same car is good today, with 130,000 miles on the odometer and dubious Dinan modifications under the hood.

Anyway: only a year after I ditched the E36 M3, it was crashed by a guy in Ohio, towed from the accident scene, repaired, and issued a rebuilt title. If you’re out there driving it, good for you, and if the gearshift lever comes off in your hand I promise that isn’t my fault.

1995 Toyota Land Cruiser – Exported to Togo

Here’s Why You Should Keep Your Old VIN NumbersS

I bought this 80-series Land Cruiser on a whim at a public auto auction, drove it for a few months, then sold it to Carmax for exactly what I paid: twenty-five hundred bucks. Interestingly, Carmax didn’t put it on their front line. Why not? Could it have been the body damage? The 237,000-mile odometer reading? The knocking noise coming from the engine? The fact that the rear seat was so sticky you had to wonder if the previous owner’s occupation was “Coca-Cola Spiller”?

We’ll never know. What we do know is that people in West Africa don’t seem to mind these issues. Just days after Carmax wholesaled my Land Cruiser, it was exported to Togo, where it’s probably been attacked by lions who could smell the dried-out Coca-Cola from the jungle.

2001 Toyota Prius – Crashed by a Kid in Nashville


Here’s Why You Should Keep Your Old VIN NumbersS

I bought this 2001 Prius for basically nothing from a friend who was moving to New York City. Eventually, however, I quit my job and no longer needed a commuter car. So I listed the Prius on Craigslist, where I received dozens of e-mail offers, nearly all of which were for penis enlargement pills.

After weeks, then months, I finally got some interest: a kid in Nashville called, e-mailed, and texted, for weeks, asking every question he could possibly think of. (“Can you send me a video where you roll down the passenger side rear window?) Finally, on the day he was coming to get the car, he had a flat tire halfway between his house and mine. He arrived hours later with a new tire on his friend’s car and handed over the cash. Three weeks later, he totaled the Prius.

2002 Mercedes G500 – Absolutely Nothing at All



Here’s Why You Should Keep Your Old VIN NumbersS

After just a month in my G-Wagen, I discovered that the frame, the exhaust, the brake lines and basically everything out of plain sight were rusty. Really rusty. I mean incredibly rusty. Like, when you got the thing on a lift, it kind of looked like Robert Ballard had brought back my G-Wagen as a souvenir from the Titanic.

So I sold it to Carmax, who drove it around the block and promptly offered me clean wholesale. Since that day – the day I transferred the title to Carmax in January 2012 – there hasn’t been a single event on the AutoCheck. My theory is it’s bouncing from used car auction to used car auction, and it’s so rough that even Russian exporters won’t touch it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is when you know you’ve hit rock bottom.

2006 Lotus Elise – Driven (A Lot)



Here’s Why You Should Keep Your Old VIN NumbersS

As many of you know, I bought my Lotus in San Francisco and drove it home to Atlanta, where I spent the next six months trying to convince my friends that they wouldn’t be killed if they rode in it. I sold it in December 2011 with around 30,000 miles, and the next owner sold it in 2012 with 46,000 miles. These days, it’s in Abilene, Texas, with a whopping 56,000 miles on the odometer. 56,000 really uncomfortable miles.

So there you have it, folks: proof that keeping your old VIN numbers can yield a surprising amount of entertainment. I strongly suggest that all you readers run your own AutoChecks to see where your old cars have ended up. Unless, of course, you’re one of those people who would cry if he found out the ’88 Beretta he owned in high school is now wasting away in a junkyard outside St. Louis. In that case, just carry on with your morning routine.

@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars. He operates PlaysWithCars.com. He owned an E63 AMG wagon and once tried to evade police at the Tail of the Dragon using a pontoon boat. (It didn't work.) He worked as a manager for Porsche Cars North America before quitting to become a writer, largely because it meant he no longer had to wear pants. Also, he wrote this entire bio himself in the third person.