HomepageBlogUsed car checkVehicle Identification Number (VIN): Your car’s unique identity
12 October 2021

Vehicle Identification Number (VIN): Your car’s unique identity

What is the distinguishing feature of every car? It is the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) - an unmistakable unique identifier for each vehicle.

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The value of a Vehicle Identification Number can be portrayed through the car dealer who stumbled upon the transmission of James Dean’s legendary crashed Porsche in 2020. Using the number 10,046, expert Lee Raskin confirmed the authenticity of the transmission because the number matched the 550 Spyder’s Vehicle Identification Number.

The VIN is to a car what the identity card is to a person - proof of identity. Twenty years ago, EU Regulation 76/114/EEC not only replaced the term chassis number with the name Vehicle Identification Number, but also announced a uniform nomenclature. It has 17 digits, is divided into three blocks and is just as unmistakable as your fingerprints, as proven by the above transmission finding. But even with “normal” vehicles, the VIN provides security when buying a car or in the event of manufacturer recalls, among other things.

Where is the VIN located?

If you look for it, you will first find it in the registration certificate and the car’s documents. But documents can be forged. That’s why all manufacturers stamp this number in vehicles like the automobile, trailers, buses, and motorcycles. This double protection is forgery-proof and makes it difficult to resell stolen vehicles, according to the German automobile club ADAC. However, the EU does not regulate where the Vehicle Identification Number must be affixed to the vehicle, so you will have to look for it. It could be:

  • on the steering wheel

  • on the door frame

  • in the trunk

  • in the engine compartment

  • below the windshield on the dashboard

  • on motorcycles, it is usually engraved on the frame.

Where do I find the VIN number?

“Why bother?” you may ask. There are many reasons, but most importantly, a match between documents and vehicle guarantees that papers and vehicle belong together. If this is not the case, the suspicion of fraud is obvious.

It is especially important to check the authenticity of the documents when buying a used car. This can be done by checking the vehicle history. If the data on the vehicle history report matches the vehicle documents, this is a good indication t that it is correct.

VIN cloning is also on the rise. Criminals clone the number and use it to steal the identity of a legal vehicle. The manufacturer’s legal vehicle identification number is then swapped out in the paperwork, and the stolen car is replaced with the “fake” one. According to the National Crime Prevention Council, as many as 225,000 stolen cars are “legalized” by VIN cloning each year in the U.S. alone. That’s why it’s important to closely examine the VIN affixed to the vehicle for signs of substitution. This number also helps the insurance company and police to identify the vehicle in the event of theft.

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Why must the VIN be clearly legible?

At the same time, you should check whether the VIN is still legible. This is because the law stipulates that automobiles or motorcycles with illegible Vehicle Identification Numbers are no longer allowed on the road.

Beyond this, it’s worthwhile to look at the VIN to learn about the history of the vehicle in general. The Vehicle Identification Number is not just an arbitrary collection of numbers and letters. Among other things, the numbers provide information about the place of production, manufacturer, year of manufacture, series, model and equipment.

How can I decode the VIN?

How to decode the VIN number

The first three digits are the so-called “World Manufacturer Identifier” code (WMI). This code is assigned by the Association of Automotive Engineers, SAE International and registered there. The only codes you won’t find are I, O and Q, because they can be confused with numeric characters.

The first codes of the WMI stand for the region in which the car manufacturer is located. This can be a letter or digit. If the car is made by a European manufacturer, you will recognize this by the letter identifiers S to Z. The rest of the letters are the information of the manufacturer. For example, ‘WBY’ is used for the BMWi series.

Positions four to six provide information about the equipment, but can also be simple filler characters without meaning. The seventh and eighth positions indicate the vehicle type. In Europe, the ninth position often contains filler characters, while in the USA and Canada, security check digits are referred to here.

The positions 10 through 17 are sequential numbers from the manufacturer. The 10th digit indicates the model year, which does not necessarily have to correspond to the year of manufacture. For example, if the car was released in 2020, but series production does not start until 2021. The 11th digit represents the place of manufacture. Example: At VW, W indicates production in Wolfsburg (R indicates production in Martorell, Spain). The digits 12 to 17 are the individual production number.

💡 On which continent was my car produced?

  • A-H Africa

  • J-R Asia

  • S-Z Europe: SA-SM = United Kingdom

  • 1-5 North America

  • 6-7 Australia/Oceania

  • 8-0 South America

The Vehicle Identification Number is also important because owners can be identified in the event of a technical recall or accident.

How does the VIN help me when buying a car?

Perhaps the most important reason, however, is to check the facts when buying a car. In order to do this, you don’t have to know the basics of the VIN. Simply ask the seller for the Vehicle Identification Number. With this VIN, you can search the CARFAX database for information from 20 EU countries, as well as the USA and Canada. A VIN check will unlock information such as:

After viewing the CARFAX Vehicle History report, you can better assess whether the offer is serious.

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