A Rundown on Your Car’s Vehicle Identification Number

When you drive a car, you use your driver’s license to identify that you can legally be behind the wheel of a vehicle. You also have your car registration which links you to your car to show you’re the rightful owner. Aside from those two identifiers, there’s another common one you might have come across — the VIN number. But what is a VIN number? Your VIN refers to your vehicle identification number. Read on to learn about VIN numbers and what you should know.


What is a VIN number? 

A vehicle identification number, more commonly referred to as a VIN number or just VIN, is a 17-character code that is unique to your vehicle. It’s a combination of numbers and letters that provides valuable info about your car including where your car was made, the model year, type of vehicle, and more. 

VINs have been around since 1954 as a vehicle descriptor and since 1981 the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has made it a requirement that all vehicles sold must have a unique 17-character code known as the vehicle identification number (VIN).  For reference, here’s a sample VIN. 

Source/credit: Michigan.gov 

Why are VINs important? 

Just like you have a unique fingerprint that identifies you, your VIN is a unique identifier to your car.  VINs can supply important information about your vehicle and be the ultimate source of truth for your car. How though? 

Well, for starters mechanics use the VIN to identify the right parts and service that your car needs in order to care for it properly. 

When you purchase 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. To be safe, it’s best to 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 and avoid any shady business. 

On top of identification for parts and safety, the VIN has been used to reduce theft and recover stolen vehicles. The VIN can 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.

Metromile asks for your VIN when getting an insurance quote because it’s an easy way to pull up your vehicle’s specs, giving us the ability to provide you with the most accurate and affordable quote. 

Where is the VIN number on a car?

Now that you know what is a VIN number, you might wonder “Where is the VIN number on a car?” especially if you need it to apply for insurance or for something else. 

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 the VIN is etched underneath the spare tire or on the engine block, car frame, transmission, or bumpers. Additionally, you can also find your VIN on your insurance card, title, and registration card.

Source/credit: Texas Department of Motor Vehicles 

How long is a VIN number supposed to be? 

If you’re wondering how long is a VIN number, in most cases it’s supposed to be 17 characters long — made up of numbers and letters. But what if your VIN isn’t 17 characters? Well, it could mean that your car was manufactured before 1981 when the standard was set for the 17 character vehicle code. 

Before the year 1981, some VINs were only 11 characters. Unfortunately, there’s not much data for vehicles in that age range. But if you know the car was made after that time period, your VIN should be 17 characters long. 

How to read a VIN number? 

Now that you know what a VIN is and where to find it, you probably want to know how to read it. The combo of characters means something, right? Indeed it does, but it can be a bit complicated. 

VIN characters 1-3

The first three characters of your VIN are the “World Manufacturer Identifier” and show:

  • Where your car was manufactured
  • The manufacturer and the vehicle type, based on a key 

So let’s say your VIN starts with “1FG” — that would mean that your car is a Ford manufactured in the United States. You can view this handy CARFAX guide for the full keyword list.

VIN characters 4-8 

The next four characters in your VIN — characters four through eight — are part of the “Vehicle Descriptor Section”. 

These characters will give you information about your car’s safety features, body style, engine type, and transmission. This is the type of info that is handy for mechanics, to ensure your car gets the proper service it needs. 

VIN character 9 

The ninth character is referred to as the “check digit” and is used to detect invalid VINs based on a mathematical formula developed by the Department of Transportation. This character helps maintain and verify VIN accuracy. 

VIN characters 10-17

The rest of the characters in your VIN are part of the “Vehicle Identifier Section”.

  • The 10th character refers to the model year of your vehicle
  • The 11th character refers to the manufacturing plant that made the vehicle 
  • Characters 12 through 17 include the vehicle’s production number

Here’s another example of a VIN and how to read it, thanks to AutoCheck.com, a site to check your vehicle history by searching your VIN. 

Source/credit: AutoCheck.com

If you need help decoding your VIN, you can check out this page to figure out the details of your VIN and unique data points about your vehicle. 

How you can look up your VIN number? 

If you want to find your VIN number, you can easily use VIN finders to help you get started. Some options to look up your VIN number include:

Using these websites you can easily look up and decode your VIN to get the information you need about your vehicle. 

Can you find your VIN on your car insurance card? 

Aside from finding your VIN in your car, it’s typically listed out on your car insurance card along with other pertinent vehicle information such as make and model. You may also be able to find your VIN on your registration and title documents as well. 

Does every vehicle have a VIN?

As noted above, VINs have been around a while and have been used since 1954.  But it wasn’t until 1981 when the sequence and meaning of numbers were standardized, ensuring that no car was ever mistaken for another one. 

In fact, 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.

The bottom line 

If you’ve wondered what is a VIN number, now you know that it’s basically your car’s unique DNA. It’s an important reference code when getting your car serviced and can help in situations of lost or stolen vehicles. It’s also used when applying for car insurance. If you want to find out how to save on car insurance, check out pay-per-mile car insurance. You pay a base rate and a few cents for every mile you drive. So while driving less, you can also pay less.

Check out your free quote today.