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Thursday, August 6, 2020

Why is a Vehicle's VIN a Very Important Number?

By Catherine Powell

Image courtesy flickr
If you’ve ever bought or leased a car you know that it came with a unique VIN.  But what you probably didn’t know was how important the VIN really is.  The Vehicle Identification Number is a different for every vehicle manufactured in the world.   The unique 17-digit number is more than a mere security feature.  It allows you, your bank, your insurance agency and possibly law enforcement to identify your vehicle from the 1.2 billion currently on the road today.  The number also provides a wealth of information about the type, make, model and engine size, as well as the year and country in which it was manufactured. 

That’s One Smart Number

Like fingerprints, no two VINs are alike.   More importantly, every letter and digit in a VIN represents a wealth of information about the vehicle to which it is affixed:

1.      The first digit in a VIN indicates where the vehicle was manufactured.  If the digit is 1, 4 or 5, it indicates your vehicle was manufactured right here in the US.  The number 2 means the vehicle was made in Canada.  Cars made in Mexico are denoted with a 3. A 6 or 7 means the vehicle was manufactured in Australia.  The letters J through R indicates Asia as the point of manufacture.  S to Z is for cars made in Europe.
      2.      The next digit in a VIN points to the manufacturer.  1 = Chevrolet, 6 = Cadillac, C = Chrysler, G = General Motors, J=Jeep, T = Toyota

      3.      The following 5 numbers are what is referred to as the vehicle descriptor section, which is intended to relay information concerning the model, the body, the transmission, the engine and the type of vehicle.  Since each manufacturer provides their own codes for this section, you’ll need to research these digits and letters separately to determine what they mean.

      4.      The ninth digit is the Check Digit, which is employed to prove that the VIN is authentic.  The check digit is created using a complex computer algorithm to ensure that it can’t be counterfeited. 

      5.      The tenth digit tells you the year of manufacture.  If the character is an “A”, this means the vehicle was either manufactured in 1980, which was the first year the 17-digit VIN was first employed, or 2010 which is when the DMV restarted the series.  The original series ran from A(1980)  to Y(2000), then from 1(2001) to 9 (2009) before resuming with A again in 2010.  This means if you own a late model vehicle and the tenth digit is an F, your vehicle was manufactured in 2015. 

      6.      The eleventh digit is used to designate in which auto plant the vehicle was manufactured.

      7.      The final 6-digits are used to designate the production serial number of the vehicle.

Where is the VIN located?

Image courtesy flickr
In a car, van, SUV or light truck, the VINs primary location is in any of 3 places: on the dashboard, on the front of the engine block, and/or on the driver’s door.  If your car has a spare tire, some manufacturers also put the VIN underneath the spare in the trunk.  Another location could be in the driver’s side wheel well. 

On a motorcycle or dirt bike, the VIN number is located on the steering neck, as well as the motor near the bottom of the cylinder.  With ATVs, it’s up to the manufacturer to decide where to locate the VIN.  However, most have the number etched on the frame to the left side under the shifter.  If you can’t locate the number, it’s best to call or email the manufacturer to find where they affixed the VIN.
On motor-homes, the VIN should be visible through the windscreen on the driver’s side.  Travel Trailers and campers usually have the VIN located along the frame and inside exterior compartments or cabinets.  Fifth wheels usually have the VIN located on the framework of the pin box or on the front lower exterior wall. 

On all motor vehicles, the VIN also appears on the title, on the registration and on the owner’s insurance card.  If you’re thinking about buying a used vehicle, you need to make sure that the VIN on the vehicle matches the VIN on all three documents.  If not, the vehicle you are considering could be stolen and/or the title could be bogus. 

Signs of tampering with the VIN include scratches on the VIN tag or the area that surrounds it.  If there are scratches or there are signs that the windshield was removed to get at the VIN, you should walk away from the deal immediately. 

Another way to verify the authenticity of the VIN is to look at the Federal Safety Certification Label that is affixed to the driver’s door.  Make sure the label isn’t loose or scratched.  It also shouldn’t be obscured or marred in any way.  If you’re at all suspicious that a VIN may have been switched or tampered with, take the vehicle to your mechanic to have him inspect it. 

Last but not least, you should point and click your way to the National Insurance CrimeBureau to perform a VIN check.  The check will not only verify that the VIN belongs to the car you’re considering, but it will also let you know whether the vehicle was reported as stolen.  

Why is the VIN so important?

More than just an identifying number, the VIN can be used to research the history of any vehicle.  This can include police reports, insurance documents, accident reports, vehicle history and repair records.  In short, everything you need to know about a vehicle can be accessed through this one very important number.

Catherine Powell is the owner of A Plus All Florida, Insurance in Orange Park, Florida.  To find out more ways to save on flood insurance, check out her website at


  1. This is especially important if you buy a vehicle from an individual as opposed to a dealer, since lemon laws don't apply.

  2. Who knew you could tell so much about a car by its VIN number?


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