Find out what your VIN means for free
A VIN, or Vehicle Identification Number, is a seventeen-digit code assigned to every car. The word number is a little misleading, though: a VIN includes both letters and numbers. This code isn’t random; it includes information like when and where the car was manufactured (down to the factory!), the make and model of the car, and even the car’s serial number. If you know how to break down a VIN, you can find out a lot of information about a car.
17 characters in length
The most common place is the driver's side dash.
The first digit pertains to the country the vehicle was manufactured in.
Here's four of the typical locations
Under the hood - Check the front of the engine block.
Dashboard - Check the driver’s side. You can see it through the windshield.
Car frame - Check behind the driver’s side front wheel
Driver’s door - Check for a sticker near the latch
Each VIN is unique, so you can use a VIN to find vital information about a car. Are you purchasing a used car? You can use a service like CarFax to look up the car’s history, which can save you time, money, and frustration down the line. Damage on cars isn’t always obvious, especially if the car has been fixed up, but this damage can still make the car unreliable. Checking the VIN will let you know if a car has damage from accidents or due to natural disasters like floods.
Looking up the VIN can also let you know if a car or its parts have been reported stolen. You don’t want to buy a car and then find out at the DMV that it doesn’t actually belong to you. You’ll be down a car and the money you spent on it. But if your car is ever stolen, the VIN can help ensure nobody else registers a car that belongs to you.
Your VIN should be simple to find. In most cars, you will see it through the windshield on the driver’s side of the dashboard, but you can also check the driver’s side door and the engine block. Older cars will usually have the VIN affixed to the frame of the car behind the driver’s side front wheel.
If you’ve checked all these places and still can’t find your VIN, there are a few other places to check. First, if you own the car, it should be on your registration, insurance, and car title. However, if your VIN goes missing, report it to the police. Stolen VINs are often used to replace the VIN on a stolen vehicle.
If you can’t find the VIN and don’t think it was stolen, there are three great resources to check. If you have the owner’s manual, it should have information about where the VIN is located for that particular make and model. You can also call the manufacturer and ask where it is. Typically, it will be in the same place for all models produced in the same year. Finally, you can ask your local police for help--most have officers trained to locate VINs, even if it’s in an uncommon spot on your car.
If you recently purchased the car and the VIN is missing, you’ll need to start at your state’s DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles). Make sure you have the paperwork to prove the car is legally yours. They’ll direct you on your state’s process for getting a replacement VIN plate, which will probably involve having the car inspected by an official (often from highway patrol) and having the VIN plate mounted by a specific, approved car shop.
Be very careful when you write down your VIN. It is unique to your car and if you record an error, it can lead to a lot of paperwork if you need to register your car in a new state or want to sell your car.
Knowing how a VIN is created can help you accurately transcribe the number. First, know that a VIN will never contain the letters I, O, or Q. These letters can easily be confused for a 1 or 0, so they are never used. If you see an I, it is probably a 1. Likewise, if you see an O or Q, it is probably a 0.
Next, understand how a VIN is created. Each VIN is created in the same way. The first digit indicates the country where the car was manufactured, while the second represents the manufacturer and the third the type of vehicle. These three digits are followed by a five-digit sequence that will tell you specifics about the car including model, engine information, series, etc.
The 9th digit is a security check--it has no special meaning, but it does confirm that the manufacturer has authorized the VIN for a specific car. The 10th digit tells the year associated with the car model, and the 11th the plant where the car was assembled.
Finally, the last six numbers of a VIN are a serial number for the car. This number will allow you to track exactly when your car was produced. This can be helpful if there were assembly errors between certain dates. Only cars manufactured between those dates will need to be fixed.
The seventeen digit VIN didn’t become the standard until 1981, so if your car was manufactured before that year, your VIN may be completely different. VINs weren’t used until 1954, so if your car was manufactured before then, there is no VIN to find.
Between 1954 and 1980, VINs varied widely by manufacturer. If you have a car manufactured within this time frame, your VIN may look completely different from the standard we are used to today. The length and meaning of a VIN issued between 1954 and 1980 can vary widely. To find information, you’ll need to contact the manufacturer directly or explore car forums.
If your car was manufactured in or after 1981 and your VIN isn’t seventeen digits, you will need to talk to your State’s DMV or highway patrol.