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What is a VIN?

  • 3 min read

A VIN (vehicle identification number) is a specific 17-character string of numbers and letters that uniquely identifies a specific vehicle. Every car has its own VIN, no two cars are exactly alike. The VIN is assigned to the vehicle when it’s manufactured. Checking the VIN can reveal information about the vehicle dating back to when it was first manufactured, such as accident reports, salvage reports, stolen reports, and much more information. The VIN is typically stamped on a metal tag and is often located on the driver’s side of the dash, the door jamb, or under the hood.

Most VINs are 17-characters, but this only began in 1981. Some vehicles manufactured before 1981 have a shorter 11-character VIN. This change in regulation grandfathered in vehicles pre-1981 and allows for those vehicles to still be titled, along with certain other vehicles with varying VIN length such as certain import vehicles.

How to decode a VIN

The first three characters of your VIN will tell you where the vehicle is from and where it was manufactured. The next five digits describe the vehicle, the engine, transmission, and other technical features. The next three digits contain the vehicle’s security digit, model year, and the assembly plant. Finally, the last six digits are your vehicle’s serial number. The serial number identifies your specific vehicle, trim, and other specifications.

What is a VIN check?

A VIN check is the process of checking your VIN against the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS) database. There are many websites that offer this service for free and will pull information directly from this database. It’s crucial to check your VIN before buying because if your VIN shows up in the NMVTIS database, you can not get a title for that vehicle.

The NMVTIS is a database that contains information about salvage, junk, and other damage-titled vehicles. Vehicles in this database are not eligible for a title because they have received a title brand such as salvage or junk which deems them inoperable for use. The database is designed to protect consumers by allowing them to check whether their vehicle has a salvaged title or not. This information is usually included in the VIN check results from websites like VINAudit and CarFax.

The VIN is a useful way to decode and understand more about the individual components of your car. If you’re considering purchasing a new or used vehicle, you should be familiar with what the different components represent. By decoding the VIN, you can get a good idea of which parts will be in your car. Conducting a VIN check before purchasing a vehicle can bring you peace of mind that you are receiving the full value of your purchase.