What is a vehicle identification number?
Manufacturers assign every car a unique VIN. Like a Social Security number, a VIN can provide you with specific information about a car, including its make and model, previous title holders, and accident history.
If you have a vehicle manufactured before 1981, your VIN is probably 11 characters long. But the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration standardized the 17-character VIN for vehicles assembled after 1981, so most cars have 17-character VINs.
Where you can find your car’s VIN
You can find your car’s VIN in several places. You’ll typically see a barcode above the number sequence.
One common area where you may find your VIN is on the driver’s-side dashboard. If you’re outside facing your vehicle, the VIN sticker sits on the windshield nearest the driver’s seat. Another area you can locate the VIN is on the driver’s door jamb or where the door latches when it’s closed.
Your VIN may also appear on your car registration, vehicle title, and insurance cards.
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How VIN decoders work
While a VIN looks like a randomly generated string of letters and numbers, each character provides specific information about the vehicle. VIN decoders scan the sequence to reveal details beyond your vehicle’s make and model.
World manufacturer identifier: The first three VIN characters correspond to your car’s country of origin and manufacturer.
Vehicle description: The next five characters correlate to your car’s model, body type, restraint system, transmission type, and engine. The ninth character in the sequence is a fraud detector code to determine if the VIN is valid or invalid.
Vehicle identifier: The next two characters tell you the vehicle year and the manufacturing plant’s location.
Production numbers: The last six digits show a unique sequence of numbers the manufacturer assigns to the vehicle on the assembly line.