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Why is a Vin Number on a Car ImportantAlmost every car available today has a unique identifier known as a vehicle identification number (VIN, though some refer to it as a “VIN number” despite the redundancy). These numbers are incredibly important for keeping track of a vehicle’s maintenance history, production information, and accident data.

Purpose and History of the VIN

From their initial introduction in 1954 through 1980, VINs had no set length or order; it was up to each manufacturer to denote numbers for each car they crafted. Beginning in 1981, all vehicles sold in the United States were (and still are) required to feature a standardized VIN.

While a VIN may seem like a random selection of characters, its 17 characters are arranged consistently across all manufacturers in a way that communicates important information about the car.

Reading and Understanding a VIN

Let’s look at an example VIN to understand how to read it:

2LMCK99LCEO147697

  • Character 1 denotes where the country in which the car was built
  • Character 2 indicates the manufacturer
  • Character 3 represents the vehicle type
  • Characters 4 through 8 reveal the car’s brand, engine displacement, and engine type
  • Character 9 is a security check digit that helps determine whether the VIN is manufacturer-authorized
  • Character 10 is the car’s model year
  • Character 11 indicates the vehicle assembly plant in which the car was built
  • Characters 12 through 17 make up the vehicle’s serial number

In addition to these specific attributes, the 2nd, 3rd, and 8th characters indicate whether the car is a flex-fuel vehicle.

Where to Find a Car’s VIN

Typically, a car’s VIN can be found on the driver’s side door post, but only when the door is open. It may also be visible on the dashboard at the base of the windshield on the driver’s side. You can also find the VIN on a car’s title and registration, as well as on the owner’s insurance card or policy.

The Usefulness of the VIN

Beyond displaying production information, VINs are used for the following reasons:

Tracking Maintenance and Repairs

By using VIN lookup tools, such as Carfax, people considering the purchase of a used car can determine whether the car has had major repairs and regular service.

Seeing if a Car Has Had Any Accidents

Whenever a car owner reports an accident, that information is recorded and can be found by searching the vehicle’s VIN.

Finding Out if a Car Has Been Stolen

Knowing whether a vehicle has ever been stolen is vital information, as it can help track down parts that may have been stripped off the car and sold.

Getting Recall Notices

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has a recall tool that tracks recalls for vehicles manufactured within the last 15 years.

Getting Insurance Rates

Insurance companies use VINs to uncover information on cars before providing coverage. In doing so, they can ensure the vehicle is how the owner claims it to be.

VIN vs. Chassis Number vs. Engine Number

In actuality, VINs and chassis numbers are interchangeable. Since engines are the largest and most vital car parts, they get their own numbers, which describe the amount of horsepower and torque, as well as displacement.

At the end of the day, a VIN is not only useful but important. The information it provides to new owners and insurance companies helps uncover details about the vehicle’s past and present upkeep.

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