What is a VIN?

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VIN stands for Vehicle Identification Number. The VIN literally identifies a specific vehicle, it is like a vehicle’s fingerprint in a sense. Just like your fingerprints can be in a hospital’s database, a background check company’s database, or even a police database. With a simple search of your fingerprint, someone can find out exactly who you are, the same logic applies to a VIN.

A VIN is comprised of 17 numbers and capital letters, and every vehicle has one. Once a vehicle is issued a VIN, it cannot be changed. No two vehicles made within 30 years of each other will have the same exact VIN.

Where did VINs Come From?

Vehicles started to be assigned to vehicle identification numbers in 1954. Prior to 1981, the numbers were basically assigned at random. There was no protocol established to differentiate the numbers, it was solely based on the manufacturer. In 1981, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) came up with the system we now use today.

Where Can I Find the VIN?

Your vehicle’s VIN is located on the on the driver’s side of the dashboard. You can’t really see it from inside the car, so you’ll have to get out. It will be located in the very corner of the dashboard, where the dashboard meets the windshield.

If you don’t see a VIN there, look on the door post, where the door latches when it is closed, it will be listed there as well for your convenience.

In the event that your VIN is not located in either of these locations, you can look under the hood of your vehicle. It will be located on the front of the engine block.

What Will Checking the VIN Tell Me?

  • Any past ownership
  • Title history issues
  • Any liens on the vehicle
  • Accident history
  • Airbag deployment
  • Flood damage
  • Vehicle maintenance
  • Was the vehicle determined to be a lemon?

If you plan to purchase a vehicle from a private dealer, and not a dealership, it is very important that you do a VIN verification yourself. It will cost you, but you really can’t put a price on piece of mind. Not everyone will be honest with you, so you should always do your research before making a purchase such as buying a car. For instance, someone may be trying to sell you a stolen vehicle, or a vehicle that has had its odometer tampered with, or even sell you a vehicle that doesn’t have all of its original parts. You may also run into a private dealer who presents you with a vehicle that has a VIN that is different from its registration documents. This is a dead giveaway, that something is wrong and you may not want to continue with the purchase of the vehicle.

How Can I tell if the VIN has been Tampered with?

A VIN was never intended to be removed from a vehicle. This is why they are placed in such inconspicuous areas. Con artists can scratch off the original letters and put new ones on in place of them, replace the entire area or panel that the VIN is on, and can even jus change a few of the characters in it.

What Does the Letters and Numbers Mean in a VIN?

Lets take a look at an example of a VIN, a break down its parts:

1 HG BH41J X M N 109186

  • 1: 1st character, shows where the vehicle was built
  • H, G: 2nd & 3rd characters, tell who manufactured the vehicle
  • B, H, 4, 1, J: 4th-8th characters, designate the brand of the vehicle, the engine size and type
  • X: 9th character, is the vehicle’s security code
  • M: 10th character, indicates the model year of the vehicle
  • N: 11th character, says what plant assembled the vehicle
  • 109186: 12th-17th characters, are the serial number of the vehicle

The 1st character in a VIN denotes where the vehicle was built. Each country has a different symbol that identifies it:

  • United States- 1,4,5
  • Canada- 2
  • Mexico- 3A-37
  • Brazil- 9
  • Japan- J
  • Great Britain- S
  • France- VF-VR
  • West Germany- WA-W0

How Can Avoid VIN Fraud?

To avoid VIN fraud, only buy a vehicle from someone you actually know and trust. You can also trust your own two eyes to compare the VINs listed on the vehicle and on the other official paperwork. Lastly, you can pull a vehicle history report, to get the lifelong history of the vehicle.

Each vehicle’s VIN is important because it is a unique identifier to each individual vehicle, kind of like how your fingerprint identifies you. Knowing the VIN on your car is legitimate may bring you some major peace of mind when it comes to avoiding VIN fraud.

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