Every object in the world is unique in its own way, even if based on a uniformly produced design. To document and comprehensively list all of any one's design's particular attributes, a system must be in place to allow for unique identification for every object that would then serve as the key for all of the detailed information about that particular entity. For vehicles, that unique identifier and source of reliable data of all that vehicle’s particulars is the VIN.
What A VIN Actually Is?
A VIN which stands for (Vehicle Identification Number) is the automotive industry’s way to identify every vehicle, regardless of it being a car, motorcycle, truck, bus, or trailer. While the VIN first appeared in the mid-1900s, there was no standardized and universally accepted VIN format, so every vehicle manufacturer used their own VIN style.
In 1981, the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) finally standardized the VIN, and from that point forward every vehicle sold was assigned its own unique 17 character-long combinations of letters (capitals included) and numbers. (VINs cannot include the letters I, O, or Q, mostly to avoid them being confused with 1s and 0s).
Sometimes known as a VIN code, a VIN number, or a body number, the VIN is as unique of identification to a car as a fingerprint is to a human. Knowing the VIN code can unlock information about the car’s manufacturing location, manufacturer, year, model, a listing of all the features, and a full list of technical specs.
Because of the astronomical number of VIN digit and letter combinations, there is a theoretical guarantee that no 2 vehicles will get assigned the same one. This means that every VIN will be associated with a specific vehicle, making it easier to track the vehicle's specs and history.
Meanings Of VIN Symbols
So why 17 digits? Surely a number lower than that can still provide a virtual impossibility for any vehicle to retain the same numbers. There is a reason for this method, of course. The VIN consists of three parts, each representing its own specific code of information about the vehicle’s manufacturing and technical details.
The first section consists of three digits and is called the WMI (World Manufacturer Identifier). The first place indicates the country of production, while the 2nd and 3rd, will indicate the manufacturer of the vehicle. For instance, a Volkswagen vehicle made in the United States will initiate its VIN with a “1VW”. Had the first symbol been a “W”, it would point to the vehicle being produced in Germany. The VW represents the code for the producer, in this case, Volkswagen. An interesting point about the third character here is that if a small number of vehicles per year (under 500 in the EU for instance), the third place in the WMI will be 9.
The middle part of the VIN consists of 6 characters that comprise the VDS (Vehicle Descriptor Section). This section describes the specific vehicle type. Every manufacturer has developed their own specific system for putting the VDS together, generally due to extraneous reasons dealing with local regulations, but this number typically is intended to provide information about a vehicle's model, body style, the platform used in the build, number of doors, engine type, etc.
The final character group is the VIS (Vehicle Identifier Section). This is a unique serial number used to identify an exact vehicle by the manufacturers. This identifier opens access to information of everything else about the vehicle including the year of production and the original equipment used.
How Is The VIN Used
As the VIN is the car’s identifier, all relevant production details, features, and events in the vehicle’s life are recorded against this number. This includes registration information, production, recalls, warranties, accidents, theft, purchase info, and insurance coverage, as well as other information.
Using the VIN in a VIN decoder, a user can simply plug in the VIN into a field, and find out extensive information not only about the technical specs of the vehicle but data that is more specific. This includes an archive of photos of the vehicle from different points of its life, last recorded mileage, how many owners it has had if it has ever been stolen, or a history of any accidents. This permits a prospective buyer to make an informed decision on whether or not to purchase a vehicle, as well as to spot information about accidents the seller has not been forthcoming about, or any mileage tampering.
The VIN can also be used to track any known bugs with the model’s design, a list of equipment options at the time of factory install, and a record of upcoming maintenance on the vehicle.
Where Does The VIN Work?
The reason the VIN is such a powerful piece of information to have, is that it works with different global sources, which include both private and national registries, claim handling databases, leasing proprietors, insurance handlers, APs, and even OBD devices. Most VIN identifiers will verify the VIN data against these other information repositories to confirm the recorded data’s authenticity and spot any manipulations.
The VIN is essentially a truth-teller. Many times, used car sales vendors or private sellers feel that revealing the extensive history of accidents or problems with the vehicle can hurt the chances of its sale. This is of course true, but that does not mean that the buyer should not have the power to have all of these things revealed. It can help buyers decide to pass on buying a vehicle or potentially negotiate a lower price.
Where Can The VIN Be Found?
The two places to locate the VIN are the vehicle’s body and the vehicle’s documentation. The VIN can be found printed at the bottom of the driver’s side windshield, next to the lock under the engine hood, inside the drivers door, or on the right of the trunk’s spare wheel compartment. The VIN will also be listed on the car registration, insurance policy, and other varying documentations.
It's important to always double verify the matches of VINs. One of the first things thieves do to resell stolen vehicles is to cut off the VIN information and replace it with a fraudulent one. If a buyer finds any VIN mismatches, or any attributes that point to a forgery being involved, not only should that buyer pass on the purchase, they should inform the authorities on the matter as soon as possible.