What a VIN number can tell you
VIN numbers are like social security numbers for vehicles. They are unique alphanumeric identifiers for tracking information about a particular car, truck or recreational vehicle.
Knowing how to find a vehicle’s VIN number is essential for recalls involving your vehicle, and the VIN number is also necessary to obtain a VIN Verification Report, which provides you with vehicle name information, links, maintenance records, and other useful information.
How to find the VIN number of your vehicle
Since 1981, VIN numbers have always consisted of 17 digits consisting of numbers and letters. These numbers are listed on a small plate, usually located on the driver’s side of the dashboard, visible from the outside through the windshield.
On vehicles manufactured before 1981, VIN numbers are between 11 and 17 characters long, and are often located on the driver’s side of the dashboard.
Occasionally, VIN numbers are found in other places such as:
• inside the driver’s side door on the back of the door frame
• on the engine block, usually at the front
• under the spare tire.
You can also locate the VIN number by looking at the vehicle title, registration card and insurance documents. However, the actual number on the vehicle is the most important and reliable.
Utility trailers, campers, and boat trailers also have VIN numbers. On these vehicles, the VIN is often located on the side of the trailer hitch. On motorhomes, the label is usually located in the same place as on cars on the driver’s side of the dashboard. On travel trailers, the VIN tags are sometimes located inside the trailer cabinet.
Decoding your VIN number
A VIN number is not just a random string of numbers and letters. Each digit or group of digits refers to something about the make or design of the vehicle.
Starting with the first digit on the left, the VIN number tells you:
• Digit 1: Place of production
• Digits 2 and 3: Manufacturing company
• Digits 4-8: Engine type and size
• Digit 9: Manufacturer’s security code
• Digit 10: Model year
• Digit 11: Production facility
• Digits from 12 to 17: Serial number of the vehicle
Every vehicle manufacturer publishes a VIN number decoder to find out what each digit represents for their makes and models. You can find this information on the Internet by searching for the phrase ‘VIN number decoder’ and the name of the manufacturer.
When do you need a vehicle’s VIN number?
The VIN number of the vehicle is required when insuring the vehicle, during a manufacturer’s recall and when submitting a request for warranty service.
Another time the VIN number is useful is when you are buying or selling a used vehicle. If you’re shopping, using a VIN check on potential purchases gives you valuable information about a particular vehicle’s accident and maintenance history, product recalls, airbag deployment, ‘lemon’ status, previous owner history and current liens.
If you’re selling a vehicle, checking the VIN before putting up a for sale sign can alert you to potential problems or questions buyers may have so you can contact them ahead of time.
Learn how VIN lookuptea the length of the VIN numberand how to track your car ownership.