The automotive industry uses the Vehicle Identification Number (or VIN) to identify every car, bus, truck, and motorcycle. You could say that a car’s VIN is similar to its fingerprint. But what is a VIN, and what information does it contain about your car?
What Is a Car VIN?
The Vehicle Identification Number is a car’s unique identifying code. The VIN is made of 17 characters, including capital letters and digits, and the car manufacturer stamps it on the car during the assembly process.
By checking the car’s VIN, you can find out details such as the country of origin, manufacturing year, engine size, or body type, amongst other information.
How to Read Your Car’s VIN
At first sight, the VIN code may look like a randomly generated code used to identify each car. But your car’s VIN contains more info than you think, and this is how you can read it:
- World Manufacturer Identifier (WMI): Characters 1-3. Contains data about the car manufacturer.
- Vehicle Descriptor Section (VDS): Characters 4-8. Reveals car’s characteristics such as engine and transmission type, engine size, model, and so on.
- Vehicle Identifier Section: Characters 9-13. Data about where the car was assembled, year of manufacture, and the car’s serial number.
If you want to check out more details included in the car’s VIN, check out the picture below.
Do All VINs Have 17 Characters?
There are two cases when a car’s VIN might not have 17 characters:
- The car was manufactured before 1981. Until 1981, there wasn’t a standardized VIN format, and their format varied from one manufacturer to another. In general, older cars’ VINs are between 11 and 17 characters long.
- The car’s owner scratched off the characters. This is a big red flag if you want to buy that car or parts from the car as it could’ve been stolen or seriously damaged, and the owner is trying to keep this information from you.
Why You Need to Know a Car’s VIN
As mentioned, every car has been assigned a unique VIN, and every event is registered using the vehicle’s VIN. You can find out about a car’s accidents, overhauls, previous owners, and additional information about the car’s history by using a VIN decoder.
You’ll get a detailed report that will help you avoid getting scammed when looking online for a second-hand car or build trust with a potential customer if you are the seller.
If you keep your car’s title and registration in the glove box, you should take a photo or write down the VIN. If your car or parts from your car get stolen, the police will enter the VIN in national and international databases to find and return your stolen car or parts.
Also, if some parts are worn out and you need to keep up with your car maintenance, you should check your car’s VIN, so you can buy the right parts.
Where Can You Find a Car’s VIN?
If you need your car’s VIN, there are multiple places where you can find it:
- Vehicle title and registration.
- Insurance policy.
- The windshield’s bottom corner, on the driver’s side.
- Under the bonnet, close to the latch.
- On the door pillar, on the driver’s side.
- The engine block.
Keep in mind that scammers might glue stickers with a different car’s VIN to hide accidents or any other problems regarding the car they want to sell. So if you want to buy a car, check for a VIN that was stamped by the manufacturer. Also, make sure the car has the same VIN on multiple parts.
Check Your Car’s VIN
If you plan on buying a car, the first step is to check the car’s VIN. Even if you don’t find any issue within the history report, take a test drive and ask a mechanic to check the car before buying it.
Additionally, you can use an app to help you buy your next car.