Last Updated: March 21st, 2020


Guest Post by Mike Jones

Every person has a unique fingerprint that can give insight into their name and date of birth, as well as their medical, employment and criminal history. There’s a story to be told behind every fingerprint. A vehicle’s VIN is no different. 

A VIN, or vehicle identification number, is a unique, 17-character code assigned to a car. No two cars have the same VIN. After all, no two cars have the same story. A VIN gives valuable insight into a car’s manufacturing history, its features, its insurance, and its warranty. From repairs to recalls, there’s a lot your VIN can tell you. 

What does the VIN mean?

The VIN may look like a random selection of numbers and letters, but the placement of those characters will tell you a lot about the manufacturer, the engine, and even the fuel type of your vehicle.

  • 1st Character: Where the vehicle was built. J means Japan. L means China. 1 means the United States.
  • 2nd–3rd Characters: The vehicle’s manufacturer. For example, Toyota is JT.
  • 4th–8th Characters: The vehicle’s brand, engine size, and type.
  • 9th Character: The vehicle’s security code. This number is the result of a complex algorithm that is used by adding/subtracting the other digits. If the answer is this 9th character, your VIN is accurate. If it isn’t, it could have been forged. 
  • 10th Character: The vehicle’s model year. A letter is recycled every 30 years, so A is 2010, B is 2011, C is 2012, and so on.
  • 11th Character: Which plant assembled the vehicle.
  • 12th–17th Characters: The vehicle’s serial number.

Where is the VIN located?

You can find your VIN on the dashboard of your car. Stand outside, in front of the driver’s seat, and look closely where the dashboard meets the windshield. This is the most common place you’ll find the VIN. If it’s not there, it could be on the driver’s side door frame

You can also find your VIN on your vehicle’s paperwork, like its insurance card or title. 

Why is the VIN important?

A VIN can tell you so much more than where and when your car was made. With a VIN, you have access to the entire life story of your vehicle. You can see its maintenance record, accident history, branded title (total loss, salvage, lemon, junk, potential odometer rollback, etc) or clean title. You can also see whether your vehicle has ever been subject to recalls.

All of this information is especially useful if you plan to buy a used car. How do you know if the car is safe to drive? How do you know whether it’s been properly maintained? How do you know it isn’t stolen and being sold for a profit? Run a check on the VIN. There are plenty of websites you can use, including Carfax, the National Insurance Crime Bureau, and VehicleHistory.

Some other vehicle information you’ll learn from your VIN:

  • Line type
  • Body style
  • Whether it’s 2WD or 4WD
  • Weight class 
  • The mileage on the odometer (and whether it’s been flipped)
  • Past owners
  • Any liens
  • Airbag deployment
  • Whether parts are original

Your VIN and Car Warranty

If you’re in the market to buy a car, you can discover whether the car is still under its original manufacturer’s warranty by searching the VIN. 

If the car isn’t under warranty and you’re considering an extended vehicle warranty, use the VIN to take a look at the vehicle’s maintenance history. If the vehicle has a documented history of maintenance, a vehicle protection plan may be worth the investment. A vehicle protection plan or mechanical breakdown insurance (in California) will help cover the costs of any future repairs and give you automotive peace of mind for the future. 

However, a vehicle protection  plan does not cover regular maintenance and wear items (think oil changes, alignments, belt replacements, brake pads and rotors, shocks, batteries, etc) or pre-existing conditions. If the used car you’re looking at has been involved in major accidents, it’s best to avoid the vehicle altogether and find a car that you can rely on. Providers of vehicle protection plans and insurance companies will ask for your VIN for this reason and will adjust rates accordingly depending on your vehicle’s reliability and history. A branded title for example will disqualify the vehicle for a vehicle protection plan or mechanical breakdown insurance.

Whether you’re a proud new car owner or are still searching for your next vehicle, take some time to look up the VIN. You may be amazed by the story it tells. 

Mike Jones is the president and CEO of autopom!, a BBB Accredited A+ rated provider of vehicle protection plans for both new and used cars. Click here to learn more about autopom!

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