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Are you looking to purchase a used car and are wondering why this term keeps popping up in all your research? Or do you require a spare part for your car and need information about the specifications? Whatever the reason that’s brought you here, knowing your VIN and understanding its significance will make a huge difference in the long run.

What Is It?

A VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) is a code completely unique to every car on the road made of up seventeen characters comprised of both digits and capital letters. They were first introduced in 1954 and became standardized in 1981, meaning that no car built within the last thirty years will possess exactly the same characters. A common error is believing that a chassis number and a VIN are different: they are in fact interchangeable. A chassis – the base frame of a car – is in most cases where the VIN is found, so there’s no need to be confused any longer!

man fixing a registration plate

Why Does it Matter To Me?

So, why should you care if each vehicle on the road has a set code impossible to remember off the top of our heads? As a matter of fact, the standardization of VIN’s has greatly benefited the automotive industry for the last thirty years by giving buyers and sellers unlimited access to the back-story of every vehicle. This way, you can check if that used car you’ve been thinking of buying has been involved in a serious crash, when it was last inspected and when it changed ownership.

Additionally, the VIN prevents thousands of potential car thefts every year. Although an officer still cannot check and verify a VIN plate in a vehicle without a search warrant, we have made great progress in stopping these criminals over the last few decades. Unfortunately, even though the VIN system is comprehensive, many ‘baddies’ of the automotive world have managed to find a way around it. This is by transferring a VIN from one car to another – which is known as ‘VIN cloning’ and is a highly illegal way to hide stolen cars. Therefore, if the VIN number within the vehicle itself differs from any documentation concerning the vehicle, our advice is to walk away immediately.

Where Can I Find My VIN?

For such an important code, so many of us have no idea where to locate a VIN. Our first piece of advice is to check the underpart of the vehicle; in most cases, it’s usually stamped into the chassis of the car. Open the driver’s side door jamb and it will look like a sticker. If it’s not there, it should be on the driver’s side dashboard: we find that standing outside the vehicle on the driver’s side and looking at the corner of the dashboard where it meets the windshield is the most effective way to locate it. We recommend checking both codes beside each other – there have been so many cases in which drivers have purchased a part for their car to find that the driver’s side door has been replaced or repaired and no longer has the correct VIN – and therefore, the new part doesn’t fit.

If you’re still struggling to locate this elusive code, your best bet would be to leaf through any documentation you have about the vehicle such as insurance policies and car manuals. There are several sites online which can even identify your VIN by your license plate. If all else fails, contact your car dealership.

How Is a VIN Made Up?

So we now know why a VIN is important and where to find it, but what do the jumble of digits and letters actually mean? The seventeen characters on a VIN are in no way random; each digit is specifically selected for a reason.

The first part of the VIN number identifies where the vehicle was manufactured. The very first digit of the VIN determines the geographical area in which the car was built. For example, the VIN of a car made in the USA will begin with either a 1,4 or 5.

The characterization of the vehicle itself is revealed in the second part of the VIN. This refers to the weight of the car if it has two doors or four doors and other specifications.  For instance, digit number eight tells us information about the car’s engine.

Finally, the last part of a VIN is an identifier. The last six characters are the vehicle’s serial number which each car acquires on the assembly line.

The most fundamental digit in a VIN is digit number nine, otherwise known as the ‘check digit’. Based upon a mathematical formula created by the U.S Department of Transportation, the ‘check digit’ is obtained when the other digits in the VIN undergo calculations which allow computers to instantly tell if a VIN has a fault. Although this all seems pretty complex and a little dull, this system of decoding has been perfected over the years to make it nearly impossible for anybody to tamper with it.

Can I get a Replacement VIN Plate for my Vehicle?

In theory, it’s possible. However, this process will not be at all easy. Our first bit of advice would be to not lose your VIN plate in the first place! Watch out if you’re rebuilding or modifying your vehicle that your VIN doesn’t get lost forever. If however, you’ve stumbled upon this site having just realized that your VIN plate is gone then don’t worry, you can apply for a new one. You must first provide proof that this replacement is needed, then consult your owner’s manual for your VIN. Likewise, contact your local State Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to inquire about what must be done next. Before calling up or going into the office, gather together every piece of information you have on the vehicle. Don’t worry if an investigation on your vehicle is carried out; you’re not in trouble! This is just to verify the destruction of the VIN.

For all the reasons listed above, the VIN acting as your car’s fingerprint is beneficial in more ways than one. Good luck and Happy VINning!

Sources:

  1. Vehicle identification number – Wikipedia
  2. What is a vehicle identification number – Auto Check

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