Every US car and light truck model year 1981 or later has a unique 17-character VIN number. A VIN has many important uses, including unlocking important information about a vehicle's history.
VINs also have many other important uses. For example, service shops use VINs to identify the engine, transmission and brake systems installed by manufacturers so that they can properly service vehicles. Law enforcement agencies use VINs to identify and recover stolen cars and car parts. Auto manufacturers use VINs when they resolve safety recalls.
Locating the VIN
The VIN is located in a number of places on a car, but most commonly on the dashboard (you can see it through the windshield) and the driver's side door jamb sticker. On some vehicles the VIN is also placed on the engine, hood, and other parts. The VIN may also appear on car titles, insurance policies, service records and police reports for the vehicle.
A Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) has 17 characters, it always ends with 6 numbers and it is shown on the title documents for the vehicle, as well as on the car itself e. g. 1G1YY26U0651XXXXX.
On the car:
- Inside the door
- Under the hood
Check the papers
- Title documents
- Insurance policy
- Service records
Ask the seller
If you do not have access to the car you are interested in or the papers, try to call the seller and tell him you need the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) to run a CARFAX Vehicle History Report.
Vehicle History Information From VINs
Characters within a VIN indicate a vehicle's year, make, model, where it was manufactured, and more. VIN decoding is the process of deciphering these details.
The VIN is also used to access the CARFAX Vehicle History Report. Every CARFAX Report contains important information that can impact your decision about a used vehicle through a detailed VIN # check. Through this VIN search, some types of information included in CARFAX Reports include:
- Vehicle registration
- Title information, including salvaged or junked titles
- Odometer readings
- Lemon history
- Total loss accident history
- Frame/structural damage
- Accident indicators, such as airbag deployments
- Service and repair information
- Vehicle usage (taxi, rental, lease, etc.)
- Recall information
Using VINs in the Car Buying Process
Especially when dealing with used cars imported from the United States, there are many things a seller/importer may not disclose to you, such as a salvage title, flood damage or an odometer rollback. Any of these and other issues can affect the safety, performance and even value of a used car.
To make it more difficult for you to learn a vehicle's history, crooked sellers may list the wrong VIN in an online vehicle posting or may not be willing to provide the VIN at all. Scam artists may also alter the vehicle's title documents to hide potential problems.
Use these tips to protect yourself from fraud as you shop for a used car:
Get the VIN from the seller or off of the vehicle itself. If the seller refuses to disclose the VIN, that could be a sign that they do not want you to learn the car's history.
Get the vehicle's history. Ask the seller for a CARFAX Vehicle History Report. If the seller does not provide it, use the VIN to purchase a CARFAX Report at www.carfax.eu. Confirm the vehicle's identity. Physically match the VIN provided by the seller to the VINs on the vehicle, the vehicle's title documents, and the CARFAX Report. If any of the VINs do not match, you may want to walk away from the deal.
Beware stolen cars pretending to be something else!
When a used car deal seems too good to be true, it usually is! Often these “deals” are actually part of a scam involving stolen vehicles and result in the loss of thousands of euros for unsuspecting buyers. That is why it is critical to perform a thorough VIN check before buying a used car, especially one imported from the USA.
The scam – known as "VIN cloning" or "car cloning" – involves using a Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) from a legally registered car to hide the identity of a stolen car. Unfortunately, these stolen vehicles often are sold to unsuspecting car buyers who can lose their investment. Innocent buyers who bought cloned cars can lose the car and may still be responsible to pay off any loan they took out for the purchase. Further, these consumers then may become part of a criminal investigation.
Car thieves obtain VINs by simply copying the number from vehicles sitting at dealerships or in parking lots. They then use the copied VINs to alter ownership documents, or they may create new fake documents to hide the stolen car's true identity.
But there are ways to protect against VIN cloning. Make sure the car you are interested in buying is legitimate by conducting thorough research. A vehicle history report, such as those offered by CARFAX Europe through www.carfax.eu, is part of the solution to help used car buyers avoid becoming victims.
Used car shoppers are advised to follow these steps to help identify a potential clone:
- Make sure the VIN on the dashboard, the driver's side door sticker, the car's frame and on paperwork (title documents, service records, etc.) all match.
- Use the CARFAX free VIN Decoder for US cars and check the identity of your car
- Check the CARFAX Vehicle History Report through www.carfax.eu. Entering a VIN is completely free. Once you have the report, look for a clone alert. Make sure the current odometer display is consistent with the reported mileage and be aware of multiple registrations in different locations over a short period of time.
- Have the car inspected by a trusted mechanic prior to purchase.