A Rundown on Your Car’s Vehicle Identification Number

Have you ever been asked to provide your car’s vehicle identification number (VIN) and wondered what it’s actually used for? We ask for it when getting an insurance quote because it is an easy way to pull your vehicle’s specs, allowing us to provide a more accurate quote. You may know that every VIN is unique and used to identify your car, sort of like a fingerprint. This is especially helpful when buying a used car or identifying a stolen car. But did you know there is a multitude of information you can gather from this seemingly random string of 17 digits? Our friends at the Zebra put together a handy guide to deciphering the numbers.

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Where is the VIN located?
You can typically find the VIN on the driver’s side dashboard near the window or on the driver’s side door near the handle. Sometimes it is etched underneath the spare tire or on the engine block, car frame, transmission or bumpers. You can also find the VIN on your insurance card, title and registration card.

Does every vehicle have a VIN?
VINs have been used since 1954, but it wasn’t until 1981 when the sequence and meaning of numbers were standardized, ensuring no car was ever mistaken for another. All consumer automobiles, scooters and mopeds have VINs. Even boats have something similar to VINs, known as hull identification numbers (HIN) which only have 12 characters.

Why are VINs important?
The VIN is the ultimate source of truth of your car. Mechanics use the VIN to identify the right parts and service your car properly. When you are purchasing a used car, the dealership might tell you one thing about a safety feature, but by decoding the VIN you will know if they are twisting the truth. Cross check the VIN with companies like CARFAX to get a rundown of the car’s history, safety features and more. If the car doesn’t have a visible VIN, someone is probably trying to hide something – meaning you should probably find a different car. The VIN can also be used to recover a stolen car, because when the VIN on your title, insurance or registration card matches the number on your car, it’s clear you are the owner.

How do you decode the VIN?
The first three characters are the “World Manufacturer Identifier” and show where your car was manufactured, the manufacturer and the vehicle type, based on a key. So if your VIN starts with “1FG” that would mean your car is a Ford manufactured in the United States. You can view this handy CARFAX guide for the full keyword list.

Characters four through eight are the “Vehicle Descriptor Section”. This will give you information about your car’s safety features, body style, engine type and transmission. Mechanics will use this information to properly service your car. The ninth character is the “check digit” used to detect invalid VINs based on a mathematical formula developed by the Department of Transportation. The remaining characters are the “Vehicle Identifier Section” and show the model year of your vehicle, the manufacturing plant and the vehicle’s production number.

We hope this guide has clarified the mysterious VIN, so the next time you are asked for the number (like when you get a free Metromile quote) you will know why!