Car manufacturers assign every new vehicle a unique vehicle identification number, or VIN. The VIN is like a Social Security number for a car—it's a 17-digit identifier that tells you where and when the vehicle was made and provides important information about car style, engine size and trim.
Government agencies and private businesses use the VIN to record events in the vehicle's history. Vehicle registration, safety recalls and accident reports are all tied to the vehicle identification number; a VIN number lookup may even reveal the owner of the vehicle.
If you're buying or selling a used car, it's a good idea to understand how a VIN number search works and the type of information it might reveal.
Already own a vehicle? Run a VIN lookup to track the estimated value of your car over time and check on any safety recalls.
On most newer passenger cars, the VIN is located on the front of the driver's-side dashboard. It's placed so you can easily read it from the outside of the vehicle: Look through the lower right corner of the windshield for the slim, metal plate engraved with the VIN.
If the VIN isn't on the dashboard, it's usually on a sticker on the edge of the driver's door. On older cars, the VIN may be stamped on the front of the engine block or the front end of the vehicle's frame.
If you can't find the VIN number on the vehicle itself, check the title, registration or insurance card. The VIN is always recorded on these documents.
VIN numbers were standardized to the current 17-digit format in 1981; older cars also have VINs, but the formats vary. Once you know how to read a VIN number, the system works on cars with the model year of 1980 or newer.
The 17-digit VIN can be thought of as three distinct sections: the world manufacturer identifier, the vehicle descriptor section and the vehicle identifier section. The first three digits of the VIN are the world manufacturer identifier. The first digit represents the country, the second designates the region and manufacturer, and the third denotes the division.
Digits four through nine are the vehicle descriptor section, which describes the model, body style, transmission, engine type and other vehicle attributes. The ninth digit in this section is a "check" digit used to confirm the VIN is valid.
Digits 10 through 17 are the vehicle identifier section. The 10th digit indicates the model year. The letter A designates 1980, the letter B designates 1981 and so on until 2001, when the year designation switches to numbers. The model year 2001 is designated by the number 1 and each successive number indicates the next model year until 2009, when it reverts to the letter A for the 2010 model year. The year designator switches to numbers again in the model year 2031.
The letters O and Z and the number 0 are not used in VIN numbers.
The 11th digit indicates the specific plant where the vehicle was manufactured; each automaker has its own set of factory codes.
Digits 12 through 17 are the vehicle's serial number. This sequence isn't standardized, so each automaker establishes its own numbering system. Some manufacturers simply use this number to show the order in which the car rolled off the assembly line. Under this system, for example, the 500th car would have the digits 00500 in the serial number section.
Consumers can get basic vehicle information by knowing how to read a VIN number, but a VIN number lookup could provide important details you may otherwise not know about. State agencies and auto industry partners maintain extensive vehicle databases recording significant events in the vehicle's lifespan that may impact its value and reliability.
For example, a VIN number search may reveal:
This information could help you make a more informed decision when it's time to buy or sell a car.
With a VIN number lookup report, you don't have to rely solely on the seller's word about a vehicle as your only source of information. A VIN number search could alert you to any undisclosed issues. Having more insight into a car's potential problems may put you in a better position to negotiate on price and the terms of sale.
If you own a vehicle, running a VIN lookup may provide important alerts to safety recalls and warranty coverage and help you stay on top of vital repairs and maintenance that could potentially put you and your family at risk. You'll also be able to monitor your car's value, so you know the right time to sell or trade it.
BeenVerified's VIN number lookup also gives you access to people search, reverse phone lookup and other useful tools to possibly learn more about the seller. Having more information could help you make a better decision whether you're buying or selling used cars.
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