What is VIN and Why Does It Matter?

When selling your car, or even just registering it, you may be asked for the car’s VIN, or Vehicle Identification Number. But what is this number and why does it matter when you’re selling your car? 

First off, what is a VIN? 

VIN stands for Vehicle Identification Number and is typically a 17 digit combination of letters and numbers. Every single car has an individual VIN number that includes every detail of the car — from the manufacturing plant to the paint brand. You could think of it as a fingerprint for your car. Mechanics and dealers can use the VIN to learn about the specifics of the car’s computer system. A new system would not work if it was not programmed to specifically work with your VIN.

VIN numbers are difficult to read, so they rarely contain the letters I, O, or Q because of the tendency to confuse that with one or zero. 

How do I find my VIN?

Your VIN is likely printed in a couple of places. On the vehicle, you can find it on the windshield in the lower left corner, inside the driver’s side door, or under the hood. The VIN will also be listed on your registration, title, or insurance forms. If you move states and have to register your car or lose your key fob you’ll need to provide the VIN.

What is the VIN useful for?

You may be wondering, is there anything I can use the VIN for? Can I find out information about my car this way? Yes! If you search for a VIN decoder, various free options will show up for a VIN check. You can use this as a way to find if the car has been recalled or even previous owners of the vehicle. If you have a VIN of another car, you can use it to find the owner of the vehicle. 

If you’re selling the car on Craiglist, a buyer may ask for the VIN to do a check on the things listed above. No need to worry, however. It is safe to give your VIN out to others. 

What do the letters and numbers mean?

Though the VIN may look like a randomly generated series of letters and numbers, each section is specific to a piece of information about the car.

The first three digits are the World Manufacturer’s Number. This tells you in which country your car was made. 1, 4, or 5 indicates American-made. 

Digits 4-8 give specific information about the vehicle, such as engine type, body style, airbag types, and more. 

9 is the check digit. It is there to make it easier for computers to validate the VIN and turn the letters to numbers via an algorithm.

10 is the model year. A car with A as the 10th digit would have been made either in 1980 or 2010. B is 1981 or 2011, and so on.

11 is the manufacturing plant number and is unique to each manufacturer.

The last digits, 12-17 are your vehicle’s unique serial number. This is like a social security number, and will be unique to each vehicle. 

VIN may seem like an abstract concept, but once broken down it is easy to understand and may be helpful when buying or selling a vehicle. 

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