VIN numbers are like Social Security Numbers for vehicles. They are unique, alphanumeric identifiers for tracking information on a specific car, truck, or recreational vehicle.
Knowing how to find a vehicle’s VIN number is essential for recalls involving your vehicle, and a VIN number is also necessary for getting a VIN number check report, which provides you with data on the vehicle’s title, liens, maintenance records, and other useful information.
How to Find Your Vehicle’s VIN Number
Since 1981, VIN numbers are always composed of 17 digits consisting of numbers and letters. These digits are listed on a small tag, usually located on the driver’s side of the dashboard, visible when looking through the windshield from outside.
On vehicles manufactured before 1981, VIN numbers are between 11 and 17 characters in length, and they are also often found on the driver’s side of the dashboard.
Occasionally, VIN numbers are found in another location such as:
• inside the driver’s side door on the rear side of the door frame
• on the engine block, usually the front
• under the spare tire.
You can also locate a VIN number by looking at the vehicle title, registration card, and insurance documents. However, the actual number on the vehicle is the most important and reliable.
Utility trailers, campers, and boat trailers also have VIN numbers. On these vehicles, the VIN tag is often found on the side of the trailer hitch. On RVs, the label is usually in the same place as on cars on the driver’s side dashboard. On travel trailers, VIN tags are sometimes found inside a cabinet in the trailer.
Decoding Your VIN Number
The VIN number isn’t just a random string of numbers and letters. Each digit or group of digits refers to something about the vehicle’s manufacture or design.
Starting with the first digit on the left, the VIN number tells you:
• Digit 1: Location of manufacture
• Digits 2 and 3: The manufacturing company
• Digits 4-8: Type and size of the engine
• Digit 9: Manufacturer security code
• Digit 10: Model year
• Digit 11: Manufacturing plant
• Digits 12 to 17: Vehicle serial number
Each vehicle manufacturer publishes a VIN number decoder for looking up what each digit represents for their makes and models. You can find this information online by searching for the term ‘VIN number decoder’ and the manufacturer's name.
When Do You Need a Vehicle’s VIN Number?
A vehicle’s VIN number is needed when insuring the vehicle, during manufacturer recalls, and when making claims for warranty service.
Another time the VIN number is useful is when you buy or sell a used vehicle. If you are buying, using a VIN check on prospective purchases tells you valuable information about that specific vehicle’s accident and maintenance history, product recalls, airbag deployment, ‘lemon’ status, past owner history, and current liens.
If you are selling a vehicle, running a VIN check before you put up the for-sale sign can give you a heads-up on potential problems or questions buyers may have so you can address them ahead of time.