Imagine it is your first time buying a used car. As a first-timer, you are tense and excited at the same time. To make sure you do not miss anything important, you spend a couple of hours researching the best qualities to look for in a car. You take your time figuring out what to do next.
Afterward, you cross the t’s and dot the i’s. Moments later, it becomes clearer which among the available options is the best car for you. You then schedule a meeting with the supposed seller of the said car. Next, you enlist the help of a trusted mechanic and run a mechanical inspection on it.
Checking any potential issues with the car. So far, so good. No complaints right now. When it’s finally time for reckoning, you discover, to your surprise, that the seller cannot show the necessary paperwork. They claim to put the documents in order once the downpayment is paid upfront. Now, doubt starts to linger. How can you be so sure that the car sale is going to be legit?
Enter the VIN which can be used as a password to access the VIN check reports of specific cars. You can cross-check the seller’s claims with car report data and determine whether they have been telling the truth or not. And if you know where to get it, you can have a comprehensive report by running a free VIN check.
What is the VIN?
The Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) is the automobile equivalent of a person’s ID number. A car identifier. For vehicles customized for the US market, the VIN number follows the standardized 17-digit format. It does not include the letters O, I and Q to avoid confusion with similar-looking numbers of 0, 1, and 9.
Common VIN locations:
- Driver’s side doorjamb
- Driver’s side dashboard (where it meets the windshield)
- DMV documents and car reports
Other potential locations for the VIN:
- Engine block front
- Front car frame
- Well of rear wheels
- Underneath the spare tire
A Brief History of VIN Checking
The first time a tracking serial number was used dates back to 1954 when the government started requiring US manufacturers to issue VINs on vehicles intended for the US market. At the time, no single format was universally followed, however. Automakers had come up with their own unique VIN formats.
It was not until later that the country’s standardized VIN format began to appear. In 1981, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), a US government agency, published the 17-digit format that is now currently in use for US-based vehicles.
The classification used to calculate the US VIN is based on FMVSS 115, Part 565. FMVSS stands for Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. This is the collective term used when referring to vehicle manufacturing regulations at the federal level.
Checking the VIN Under the Microscope
The 17-digit VIN can be divided into different sections that represent specific vehicle information.
1st – 3rd digits: WMI
The 1st, 2nd, and 3rd digits of the VIN from the leftmost part are the WMI code. The WMI stands for World Manufacturer Identifier. The 1st and 2nd digits reference the vehicle’s country of origin. The 3rd digit may represent the vehicle manufacturer. The standard for WMI labeling (i.e. which digit combination represents a country or automaker/division) is defined by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE).
4th – 8th digits: Vehicle attributes
The 4th to 8th digits correspond to the Vehicle Descriptor Section of other regions’ VIN formats. In the US, it is the section known for describing basic vehicle attributes like vehicle type, platform, model and body style. Sometimes, engine specifications may even be included.
9th digit: Check digit
The 9th digit is known as a check-digit validation. This particular VIN digit helps computers and other systems to detect if there were any problems with the VIN.
10th digit: Model year
The 10th digit signifies the model year of the vehicle based on the model year calendar cycle. Not to be confused with the manufacturing year, which is the actual year the vehicle has been made. A car with a 2023 model year might have been produced by late 2022, for instance.
11th: Plant Code
As the name indicates, the 11th digit refers to the manufacturing or assembly plant where the vehicle was produced. This may include the name of the plant and the particular state and city where the vehicle was made. Each manufacturer defines its own plant codes.
12th – 17th: Sequential / Serial Number
It is a unique series of VIN numbers assigned to a specific vehicle unit. The combination of this VIN sequence is not shared with other vehicles. This is what sets a VIN apart from others. And this is what makes a VIN an exclusive car marker.
VIN Decoding Helps in a Lot of Ways
The VIN can provide plenty of information on a car. But more than that, the VIN can be used to access other relevant information merely by association. In most cases, the VIN is written on every major document tied to the car such as:
Popular For You: 7 Best Key Programming Machine For All Cars Buy Online
- DMV registration
- Ownership records
- Insurance card
- Service manual
- Police and traffic reports
- Repair records
- Sales data
Some of the Reliable VIN Checks are on the Net
- The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) – is a great free VIN lookup source of car report content like theft and total loss records
- Carfax – the general go-to regarding vehicle history reports. While most of its VIN check services come at a cost, you can get a basic free VIN report on its website. Many sellers are also offering free Carfax reports to prospective buyers who review their cars.
- NHTSA – the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration offers a state-supported VIN decoder service to those interested in knowing about a vehicle’s make, model, recalls, and defects.
- VINCheckPro – is an excellent platform for a free VIN check. The tool offers an extensive car report with information on registration, title, vehicle specifications, warranty, insurance, and other useful details for a buyer or future car owner.