Where is my VIN number? The vehicle identification number, or VIN number, is a unique code that identifies an automobile.
It’s a car’s ID number. No two cars on earth have the same VIN number.
The 1953 Chevrolet Corvette was the first car with a VIN number. It was stamped on a metal plate and mounted to the driver’s side doorpost.
Where Is My VIN Number (1954-1968)?
Other automakers in the United States started using VIN numbers in 1954. Each maker had its own system. They placed the VIN number in different places.
- Steering column inside the engine compartment
- Dashboard below glovebox
- Driver’s side door post
- Other places
Where Is My VIN Number (1969-1980)?
In 1969 the federal government mandated car makers to emboss a VIN number on every vehicle. It required that the VIN be visible from outside the car near the left pillar of the windshield.
Where Is My VIN Number (1981 and Later)?
In 1980, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration created a new rule that took effect starting with year model 1981. All over-the-road vehicles would have a 17 digit VIN number made up of numbers and letters.
VIN numbers do not use the letter “I” because it’s easy to confuse with the number 1. They don’t use “O” or “Q” to avoid confusion with the number 0.
Nowadays the International Standards Organization (ISO) sets the standard for creating a VIN number for on-road vehicles worldwide.
Where Do I Find My VIN Number?
You can see the VIN number embossed on a plate mounted to the dashboard. It’s positioned far forward on the driver’s side so that it’s visible from outside, looking through the windshield.
Other places where the VIN appears on many cars are:
- Engine block
- Radiator support frame
You can also find the VIN number on the car’s documents:
- Insurance card
- Bill of sale
How Is a Vin Number Used?
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) requires automakers to issue a recall when there’s a safety problem with any of their vehicles.
Title and Registration
Each state records the VIN on the car title and registration papers. Since the VIN number is unique, it matches the title and registration to a particular car.
Insurance companies record your VIN number for 2 reasons:
- When you register your car, your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles will check that the VIN number on your insurance card matches the VIN on your car. This is how they can tell you’re properly insured.
- When you buy a used car, the insurance company checks to see if it’s been declared a total loss. A totaled car that’s been repaired poses some safety risks. Most companies won’t insure them.
When you take in your car for service or repairs, the tech records your VIN into a database.
The tech also refers to the VIN to match up the right parts.
Records of your visits to an auto shop appear on a vehicle history report such as an AutoCheck report.
A law enforcement officer might look at a car’s VIN:
- To verify it matches the car’s registration
- If a license plate search returns a different car
- To identify an abandoned car without license plates
- To ID a car damaged in an accident and can’t find the plates
The US Department of Justice created the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS) to combat car theft and fraud.
- Car cloning. The criminal replaces the VIN plate with a forged plate bearing the VIN number for another car. It’s a legit VIN for a similar vehicle. He then registers in another state.
- Title washing. When a car is declared a total loss in an insurance claim, it gets a branded title. The fraudster registers in a state that doesn’t recognize the brand.
If the criminal tries to register in another state, the NMVTIS returns “VIN already in use.”
A vehicle history report can tell you a lot about a car’s past. For example, a report from AutoCheck, a PrivateAuto trusted partner can reveal:
- Open recalls
- Flood damage
- Fire damage
- Title liens
- Reported stolen
- Total loss
- Odometer rollback or not actual miles
- Rental, taxi, lease, or government use
- Salvage title
- Structural or frame damage
- Maintenance and repair history
What Does the VIN Number Say About the Car
A VIN number had 3 sections
- World Manufacturer Indicator (WMI)
- Vehicle Descriptor Section (VDS)
- Vehicle Identifier Section (VIS)
World Manufacturer Indicator
The first 3 characters of a VIN number make up the World Manufacturer Indicator (WMI). It tells you the country or region where the car was made. VIN numbers beginning with numbers 1 to 5 were built in North America
- USA - 1, 4, or 5
- Canada - 2
- Mexico - 3
In some countries, the second character represents the manufacturer.
- Ford - F
- General Motors - G
- Toyota - T
For many countries, the first 2 characters represent the country. Depending on the country, the third digit may represent the automaker or a category of vehicles.
The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) assigns the WMI to each automaker.
Vehicle Descriptor Section
Positions 4 to 9 of a VIN number are the vehicle descriptor section (VDS). This may include info like the model, body style, and drivetrain. Each carmaker has its own system for the VDS.
A lot of manufacturers use the 8th position as an engine descriptor when the model comes with different engine sizes.
North American automakers use the 9th position in a VIN number as a check digit. It’s there to detect input error. It’s known as a check digit. When you plug the other 16 characters into a mathematical formula, they return the check digit.
You can find check digits in many long and complex codes.
- Universal Product Code (UPC)
- International Standard Book Number (ISBN)
- Bank Routing Numbers
Algorithms in computer data entry systems use the digit to check for entry errors.
- Single-digit errors - 1 instead of 2, R instead of T, etc.
- Transposition - 1CG instead of 1GC
- Phonetic - “eighteen,” “eighty”
Vehicle Identifier Section
The 10th to 17th positions identify the particular vehicle. Automakers in every country use position 10 to indicate the year model.
Some makers, such a General Motors and Chrysler, used letters to encode the year. Beginning with “A” to represent 1980, each letter of the alphabet represented the year models until 2000.
In 2001 they began using the last digit of the year to identify the year model. For example, 1 for 2001, 2 for 2002, and so on.
In 2010, they returned to using letters to represent the year model.
For cars made in North America and China, the 11th position is the plant code. Each maker has its own set of plant codes. The remaining positions indicate the production number.
How To Get Info On a VIN Number for Free
There are many places where you can look up some basic info about a car. This can come in handy if you’re shopping for a used car. It lets you get a snapshot of the car’s condition before paying for a vehicle history report.
The National Insurance Crimes Bureau VinCheck tool will reveal if a car is stolen or has a branded title.
The federal government recall website has a VIN lookup to find safety recalls. It only shows open recalls. That makes a good place to see if you need to get a recall defect corrected.
Driving-Tests.org VIN lookup tool returns the car’s specs.
VinFreecheck.com shows the status of flood records, salvage or lemon title, and the number of owners. To get accident reports and other vital info, you have to upgrade to a paid report.
On cars made before 1969, you’ll find the VIN plate in different locations. Some common locations are the driver’s side doorpost, steering column, and the dashboard below the glovebox.
Cars made 1969 and later have the VIN number on the driver’s side dashboard. It’s visible from outside the car looking through the windshield.
Year model 1980 and earlier have VIN numbers of 11 characters or fewer.
Many cars have the VIN stamped on the chassis.
You can also find your car’s VIN on documents such as the title, registration, and insurance card.
You can research a car’s history with its VIN number. A vehicle history report can show the car’s maintenance records, accidents, title liens, and more. PrivateAuto recommends AutoCheck, the best value for the price.
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