What Is Your VIN and Why Does It Matter?

Ever wondered what that long sequence of numbers and letters is for on your car? That is your car’s VIN, and it is actually really important! It’s the best way to get information about your trade-in value, or information about a new car you might buy.

A VIN is a 17-digit Vehicle Identification Number, provided by all auto manufactures. It’s basically your car’s fingerprint. When entered into any VIN decoder, all information about the make, model, year, and country of origin of your car appears.

Manufacturing information such as recalls, engine size, trim level, and the plant where the vehicle was assembled can also be found using your VIN.

Where Is It Located?

There are a few places you can find your VIN depending on the type of vehicle you have. In most vehicles, you will find it on the front dashboard on the driver side. If you aren’t seeing a number there, it could also be inside the driver side door well.

Maybe you are wondering, I found my VIN, but I get an error message when I enter it into a VIN decoder. In 1981, NHTSA (Nation Highway Traffic Safety Administration) changed the requirement for VIN to 17 digits.

This means if you have a classic car, or any vehicle that dates back before 1981, and it has less than 17 digits, your VIN will not automatically decode.

What Do the Numbers and Letters in Your VIN Mean?

The interesting thing about a VIN is it is not just a random sequence of numbers and letters; each digit was placed there with intention, to indicate something specific about your vehicle.

The first character tells us the country of origin. For example, all vehicles manufactured in the US will start with either a 1, 4, or 5. Vehicles from England start with an S, Mexico is 3, and Japan is J.

The second and third character indicate the manufacturer, vehicle type and manufacturing division. Typically the second character is the first letter of the manufacturer’s name. For example, for GM the second character is G, BMW is B, Lincoln L, etc. However, some manufacturers use the same letter such as Audi, Jaguar, and Mitsubishi, who all use A. You just need to check your VIN using any VIN decoder.

Digits 4-8 describe the vehicle’s body type, engine, model, restraint system, and transmission type.

Digit 9 ensures an accurate VIN. The number comes from a formula created by the US Department of Transportation. It is used to check the validity of the VIN, as some can be fraudulent.

The tenth digit represents the year the vehicle was made, and various letters and numbers are used here. For example, for vehicles made in 2006, you will see the number 6. However, vehicles made in 2020 will have the letter L in this position.

Digit 11 is a number or letter that when decoded will show the manufacturing plant where the vehicle was assembled.

Lastly, digits 12-17 represent the vehicle’s unique identification serial number that it receives during assembly.

When Would I Need to Use My VIN?

If you’ve never needed to use your VIN for anything before, then you might be asking this question.

Your VIN can be used to pull your VHR or Vehicle History Report, which tells you everything you need to know about your vehicle from the moment it was made up to the present day. If you bought your car used, it will give you all of the details from the vehicle’s previous owners, and important information like if the car was ever in an accident or experienced flood damage.

That being said, you can also use the VIN of a vehicle you are interested in to gather information about the vehicle that the seller may not have disclosed. Using a VIN decoder, you may find the vehicle has been in multiple accidents or has parts that have been replaced. It deters you from buying anything that might cause future problems.

It is always crucial to keep a record of your VIN somewhere safe just in case your vehicle gets stolen or damaged. Like we said before, that VIN is like your vehicle’s fingerprint.