What's a VIN & Why Does My Car Have One?
Knowing what a VIN number is can be especially helpful when getting a quote for car insurance, buying a new car, or getting a vehicle history report on a used car you'd like to buy. Don't be caught off guard when you head out to the driveway, parking lot, or garage to find it! Learn what a VIN number is, how to perform a VIN check, what VIN decoders are for, and more!
What is a VIN number?
VIN is an abbreviation for “vehicle identification number.” (Saying “VIN number” is a little redundant. Regardless, we all tend to do it.) A VIN is a series of 17 numbers and letters that an automobile manufacturer assigns to every individual vehicle. Vehicles made prior to 1981 may have fewer than 17 characters.
Every VIN number is different, and a VIN number will not change during the lifetime of a vehicle. Think of your car's VIN number like its DNA—it's unique to your vehicle, doesn't change, and can provide valuable information about the vehicle.
Where is my VIN number?
You can typically find your car's VIN number in a few places:
- Stamped on the dashboard near the windshield, on the driver's side of the vehicle
- On a plate or sticker on the driver's side door jamb
- Stamped on the engine's firewall
- On your insurance card and insurance policy
- On your vehicle title and registration
What does a VIN number tell you?
Your VIN number can tell you a lot about your car, including its airbag type, country of origin, engine size, and even turning diameter. When you're performing a VIN check on your car and need to know how to decode VIN numbers, keep the following in mind:
- The first character of your VIN indicates the continent where the vehicle was built. Was it built in North America or overseas?
- The second and third characters tell you the manufacturer of your car, like Toyota or Honda.
- Characters four through eight indicate the vehicle brand, as well as engine size and type. How many cylinders are you firing on?
- The ninth character in your VIN number is a security code that indicates that the VIN number is authorized for use by the manufacturer.
- The tenth character indicates the model year of the car, like 2008, 2009, etc.
- The eleventh character indicates the assembly plant. Different parts of a car might be made in different countries, then sent to one plant to be put together to make your car.
- The final string of characters in the VIN indicates the unique serial number of the car. These digits can help prevent VIN fraud.
Keep in mind that vehicle manufacturers use different coding systems and some devise their own codes for certain parts of a VIN. That can make it difficult to decode your VIN, which is why we recommend running it through a VIN decoder.
VIN Decoder vs. Vehicle History Report
The characters in a VIN are not always straightforward, and it can be time-consuming to compare each character string to a decoding chart yourself. Instead, use an online VIN decoder to quickly get a full report of your car's specs.
A VIN decoder will tell you exactly what's installed in your car, but it won't tell you about any repair, service, or damage history of your car. When you need to know in-depth info about how a car has been cared for or maintained, use the car's VIN to run a thorough vehicle history report.
How is a VIN used for a vehicle history report?
VIN numbers are used to track a vehicle as it changes ownership and is repaired or serviced. Knowing a car's history and exact features according to the VIN is important for:
- Prospective car buyers: They can use a VIN number to generate a vehicle history report (via CarFax or the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System) to learn more about the car's service and repair history, and to uncover any potential safety issues, like an outstanding vehicle safety recall.
- Auto insurance companies: They can perform a VIN lookup to get the most accurate details about your car's features and history. A VIN check will also reveal whether a car has ever had a salvage title.
Why is my VIN number important?
In addition to helping you understand your car's history (or the history of one that you're buying), your VIN number can help you keep your car protected, accurately registered, and properly insured.
- Help find your stolen car: In the event of theft, authorities can use the VIN to match a stolen car with the rightful owner (and hopefully return it in one piece!).
- Check insurance status: Your state's department of motor vehicles may also use your VIN to check your auto insurance information before issuing your vehicle's registration tags. If you list a different or incorrect VIN on your insurance documents, your state's DMV may consider your car uninsured and refuse to register it.
- Help detect criminal activity: Running a VIN check and vehicle history report can also indicate any potential criminal activity surrounding a car. If you see any fishy activity on a vehicle history report (like registration in wildly different locations within a short period of time), it could be worth investigating to ensure you're not purchasing a car with a criminally cloned VIN (or a car that's just been stolen!).
One of the most important reasons to do a VIN lookup is to stay ahead of safety recalls. A safety recall is issued when a vehicle (or part of a vehicle) fails to meet federal safety standards. Many car owners have no idea when a safety recall has been issued for their specific vehicle, especially if they bought the car used. According to CarFax, more than 47 million vehicles have at least one open safety recall. Is your vehicle one of them? Enter your VIN at SaferCar.gov to find out.
Perform Your Own VIN Check Today
Now that you know where to find your VIN, how to read a VIN, and how it's used, it's time to put that know-how to good use. Go outside, snag your VIN, and see how affordable your car insurance could be when you get a quote for car insurance with Direct Auto Insurance!