What Is A VIN Number? A Complete Guide

Every car can be easily identified via its VIN. The VIN is also important when trying to sell or buy a new or used vehicle. However, many Americans don't know what a VIN is, how to read one, or how they can find it in their cars.

This article will dispel the mystery surrounding VINs.

What Is a VIN Number?

A VIN is a vehicle identification number. Think of the VIN for your car as its specific and uniquely identifying code that distinguishes it from all other vehicles, including cars of the same make and model. Or think of the VIN as your car’s fingerprint. No two vehicles have the exact VIN.

Each VIN is comprised of 17 characters, including digits and capital letters.

What Does a VIN Number Tell You?

The VIN is more than just a random string identifying digits and letters. It also contains specific identifying information about your vehicle, such as the following:

  • Unique features of the vehicle
  • Vehicle specifications
  • Vehicle manufacturer

However, a VIN can also tell you something about a vehicle's history or who owned it before. For example, if a car's VIN is easily identifiable and doesn’t appear to be scratched off, it’s probably safe to buy. If the VIN is missing or if you see signs that someone tried to scratch off the VIN on the car’s dashboard, that may indicate that it is stolen or that something else illegal has happened to the car in its past.

How To Read a VIN Number

Reading a VIN number is straightforward because each part of the VIN denotes a different part of the vehicle. Therefore, learning to read your car’s VIN number will allow you to read the VINs of other vehicles in the future.

  1. VIN characters 1-3 – The first three characters of a VIN denote where the vehicle was built and the vehicle’s manufacturer. Additionally, the second, third, and eighth characters of a VIN tell you whether a vehicle is a flexible fuel vehicle, like a hybrid electric car.
  2. VIN characters 4-8 – The fourth through eighth characters of a VIN provide specific information about a vehicle, including its brand, engine size, and engine type.
  3. VIN character 9 – The ninth character for a vehicle identification number is unique. It’s a security code that identifies the VIN as authorized by the manufacturer. This is very important to determine whether a VIN is legitimate or if it has been fabricated by auto thieves/other individuals.
  4. VIN characters 10-17 – The last digits and letters of a VIN, ranging from 10 to 17, also have specific purposes. The 10th character tells you the model year for a car, while the 11th character tells you which manufacturing plant assembled the vehicle in question. Finally, the last six characters for a VIN are the serial number. Serial numbers are unique and help to identify a car from others of its make and model.

In most cases, you won’t need to read a VIN number by yourself. But an auto manufacturer, insurance company, or other organization may request that you read specific digits for your vehicle’s VIN so they can quickly learn important information about that car/truck.

Where Do You Find Your VIN Number?

Since VINs are so important, you can find them in three potential locations. This information can be helpful if you want to buy a used car at a car show and can’t find the VIN in one spot.

Look in the other locations to determine this information and write it in basic forms.

  1. The dashboard of your car – Most vehicle dashboards include the VIN. However, the exact placement of the VIN can vary from car to car. Be sure to check areas around the dashboard measures/lights, the steering wheel, the air-conditioning and radio controls, and even underneath the dashboard on the driver’s side seat. Your vehicle’s owner’s manual may include information about the exact location of the VIN.
  2. Insurance card/Insurance policy – You can also look for the VIN for a car in the insurance card or insurance policy documents. All the essential paperwork for a vehicle should have the VIN to identify the car relative to other vehicles of its make and model. The VIN can be placed in different spots on paperwork documents. Remember that all VINs are comprised of 17 characters, so count out the characters if you see a string of numbers and letters to determine if it’s a VIN.
  3. Vehicle title and registration – If you can’t find a VIN at the other two locations, check the vehicle’s title and registration paperwork. Again, any legitimately sold/manufactured/traded vehicle in America should have the VIN on the title and registration documents. If you can’t find the VIN, don’t buy the car – it could be stolen or illegally modified.

How To Find Your VIN Number Online

What if you came into possession of a vehicle without a readily identifiable VIN? In that case, you might be able to find the VIN for a car by inputting its information into online sources. Some of the best include:

  1. CarFax – This well-known online car detailed checker provides a free VIN check digit service to help you find the likely VIN for your vehicle. You’ll learn information like the motor vehicle type and any law enforcement warnings against it.
  2. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Vin Decoder Site – This is an official site run by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. It can help you both identify the VIN for your vehicle and “decode” it by analyzing the strings of numbers as detailed above. It may also be able to tell you the country of origin of your car, plus give information from the World Manufacturer Identifier (WMI)
  3. AutoCheck – Here’s another free resource that offers a VIN check. Input the current or apparent VIN you have for a vehicle, and AutoCheck will verify that it's legitimate. This is a beneficial resource for determining whether a used car is stolen or okay to purchase.

What To Do Next

Now that you know what a VIN number is and how to read one, you can buy or sell a vehicle without trouble, plus fill out important information for your vehicle’s tax and insurance forms. VINs are vital if you ever plan to ship your car using a vehicle shipping service.

Carvaygo is just the shipping service for you. We’re affordable, offer multiple vehicle shipping services, and work with leading vehicle transportation provider RPM to guarantee your car gets where you need it when you need it. Contact us today to learn more.

What Is in a VIN Number? | U.S. News
Everything You Can Learn from a VIN Number | DriveSafe Online®
What is a VIN (Vehicle Identification Number)?| AutoCheck

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