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What Is The VIN Number: The Vehicle Identification Number?

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

What Is The VIN Number: The Vehicle Identification Number?

Peter Nisbet
February 21, 2013


What is the VIN number of your car? The Vehicle Identification Number is specific to your car, and can identify it from all other cars on or off the road. It must be a very long number, I hear you thinking, to be unique among all these cars. It is - it is 17 digits long!

The first three digits identify the manufacturer of the vehicle, and the next 6 form the VDS (Vehicle Descriptor Section). Local regulations are used here to identify the type of vehicle, and often also the model and body style. Although every manufacturer can use this in a different way, the 8th digit is generally used to signify the engine type, and the 9th is a check digit for error detection.

Sections 10-17 identify a particular vehicle. Manufacturers can use these as they wish to identify their own specific individual vehicles. The numbers can be used to identify specific forms of transmission and options available in the car.

The 10th digit is used unanimously as an indication of vehicle year (letters I, O, Q, U and Z and the digit 0 are not used, so 30 years can be indicated.) The Year 1980 was allocated the letter A, and it then goes on to 2009 before all are used up first time round. And 2010-2039 second time round.

If position 7 is numeric, position 10 should be read first time round, and is alphabetic, second time round. So '9' in position 7 and 'K' in position 10 would indicate that the car was built in 1989. You can figure this mentally just by looking at the VIN.

That is how the VIN Number works, so how is the Vehicle Identification Number used in practice, other than just to identify one vehicle from another? In fact, it can be used to find a surprising amount of information as is explained below.

Using the VIN Number When Buying a Used Car

When buying a used car you can never be sure that the car is genuinely as described. It might be older than claimed, or parts may have replaced with inferior aftermarket parts. You can use the VIN number to check this out. Here's how:

• Find the VIN number of the vehicle and take a note of it. Even seeing you dong this might prompt some sellers to be honest with their descriptions.

• Go to Motoverse.com and click on 'VIN Decoders.' Click on the make of car then enter the VIN number in the box provided.

• Details of the date of manufacture, its engine type and other information will be listed. You can tell if the year is correct or if the parts actually in the car compare with those listed in the VIN.

• The VIN can also be used to get a car history report - a used car dealer can get you this information if you can provide the VIN number. You can also get a report from Carfax.com by entering the VIN - this might cost up to $35.

Carfax information includes, year, model, any recorded accidents, mileage, previous owners and so on. You can also tell from this whether or not the mileage showing on the odometer has rolled over or been moved back, and if the general information provided by the dealer on the vehicle is accurate.

Checking for Fraud

A stolen car might have had its VIN number erased and a fake one put in its place. Some thieves take the VIN plates from legal cars and replace them on stolen vehicles. When the police carry out a check, and the VIN is right for a legal vehicle, that's usually as far they go. Swapping a VIN plate is always a risk, but once the stolen car has been sold it doesn't matter.

A simple check with an online VIN reader such as Motoverse above, will immediately detect that. It will either give you details of the genuine car it belongs to, or if the VIN is false it will be flagged as an invalid number. Carfax will also provide you with a fair price for a used car.

VIN Summary

The VIN number of car is its unique identifier, and can be used to assess the pedigree of a used car. It is a simple way to establish whether or not the details of a used car are genuine, and to determine whether r not it has been involved in a reported accident. The limitation of the Vehicle Identification Number is that it can only return information that been reported, and will not reflect any DIY work carried out.


If you are looking for a car dealer you can trust, Benton Nissan offers a good selection of new and used cars. Based in Oxford Alabama, all our cars have genuine VIN numbers, and we can also offer excellent terms on bad credit loans.



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