Beginning in 1954, every automobile has been assigned an individual VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) by automakers.
VINs help to accomplish the following:
- Provide buyers protection from unsafe vehicles
- Protect buyers from fraud
- Prevent the sale of stolen vehicles
- Reduce the use of stolen vehicles for criminal enterprises
- Inform owners during manufacturer recalls
- Make claims for warranty service
- Assure potential buyers of the quality of the vehicle
Understanding Your VIN
Since 1981, a standard 17-character format has been used for VINs to ensure they can’t be mistaken for another.
Here’s a quick rundown of what each character represents:
- 1st = Manufacturing country
- 2nd & 3rd = Manufacturer code
- 2nd, 3rd, & 8th = Flexible fuel vehicle designation
- 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, & 8th = Make and model of car and size and type of engine
- 9th = Manufacturer-designated special authorization security code
- 10th = Year the vehicle was built
- 11th = Manufacturing plant
- 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th, & 17th = Vehicle’s unique serial number
Why You Should Always Perform a Car VIN Number Check
You should always check a car’s VIN number before purchase because there are a number of crucial things a car VIN number check will reveal, including:
- Title Records: The title of a car is a legal document providing proof of ownership. The name on the title can only be changed after a car is sold or donated. It should also include a title number, the date the title was issued, and the year, make, model, and body style of the vehicle.
An automobile can be given a number of different types of titles, but the most common are:
- Clear Title or Clean Title: This certifies that there are no liens or levies on the vehicle and there is no question on its legal ownership.
- Salvage Title: If there is major damage, major repair, or theft reported on the vehicle, it will be issued a salvage title by the insurance company who has paid the claim. A salvage title car can be registered for road use as long as it is safe and the parts used for repair are legal and have their origins verified.
- Reconstructed Title or Rebuilt Title: If a vehicle has been substantially reconstructed or rebuilt, it can be registered for road use but may have an inspection requirement.
- Import Title: A vehicle being imported into the US from another country will need this title to clear customs. If the vehicle was not originally manufactured for use in the US, it will need to be verified to meet US standards before being issued a title.
*It is illegal to remove or change the title brand and doing so comes with serious criminal penalties.
Odometer Records: The law states that it is illegal to tamper with a vehicle’s odometer since consumers rely heavily on the driven mileage to determine the value, reliability, and safety of a vehicle.
- Lien Records: A lien means the owner of the car granted a bank or other party the car as security or collateral for a debt. If the debt is not paid back, the vehicle can be repossessed.
- Previous Damages: Accidents, airbag deployments, frame or structural damages, and flood damage will all be reported.
- Sale History: This will show the number of owners the car has had or if it was owned by a fleet operator or rental car company. One red flag to be on the lookout for is if the car has been sold over and over again in different states.
- Recalls and Defects: If a carmaker has issued a recall alert on any defective part of the vehicle, this will show up on a VIN report.
It’s important to know these details about a car that you are considering buying as it may just sway you to stay away, potentially saving you a lot of money and disappointment in the end.
How to Check Your VIN
Checking a VIN is easy. All you need to do is locate the car’s stamped metal tag which is usually located on the dashboard in the corner above the steering wheel and easily seen through the windshield when looking into the vehicle. Occasionally a VIN is located inside the driver’s side door, on the front of the engine block, or under the spare tire. While you can get the VIN from the vehicle’s title, registration card, or insurance documents, they aren’t as dependable a source.
Once you have this number, simply type it into a trustworthy and free car VIN number check website to get all the information you need to make a wise decision on a car purchase and to stay in the know on all recall and warranty information.