VIN Explained

Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) Explained

When buying a new car there are some things that you need to consider: a full service history is an important factor, as is the overall condition of the vehicle, but perhaps most important of all is the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). All too often buyer’s overlook this useful and quite essential number as the small fee it costs to check it is considered unnecessary: nothing could be further from the truth, so let’s have a look at the VIN, what it does, and where to find it in more detail.

What is a VIN?

Vehicle Identification Number (VIN)The VIN is a unique number that is applied to every single vehicle manufactured across the world that is intended for use on the road. Since 1981 it has been standard set of figures – numbers and letters – that signify a great amount of detail about the vehicle. The number itself gives the make and model of the vehicle, as well as the type, the country of origin, as well as unique code that identifies that individual vehicle. This set of identifiers is what makes the VIN so important when buying a used car.

What Can The VIN Tell Me?

If a car or other road vehicle is stolen the police will enter the VIN onto a database; furthermore, it will also be used if a vehicle has been in an accident, had damage of some sort – maybe from fire or water – and many other incidences. This means that, during a car’s lifetime, the VIN becomes an on-going personal history of that particular vehicle. The simple act of using a VIN checking service – more about that a little later – can reveal a great deal of information about the vehicle you are looking at. As buying a stolen car unknowingly can leave you out of pocket the process becomes even more important. The VIN will also tell you about the past use of the vehicle – whether it has been a taxi or a police vehicle, for instance – making it even more useful to buyers.

How Do I Check The VIN?

First, you need to know where to find the VIN on your particular car: the number should be 17 digits long and will be found on a metal plate attached to the vehicle. This is popularly fitted in the engine bay on one of the wings, in the foot-well under the carpets, or on the sill where it will be visible when the door is opened. Any dealer of repute should be happy to point you in the direction of your car’s VIN – if they are not, they most likely have something to hide.

Using a VIN Checking Service

To check a vehicle’s VIN as thoroughly as possible it is best to use a VIN checking service, and there are two who head the market. These are Carfax and AutoCheck, and both are very popular and widely used. The process is simple: you input the VIN into the appropriate part of the website, pay the fee, and you are given a full report of the vehicle’s history. This will include details of any salvage auctions it may have been in, any accidents, whether it has been stolen, and so on. In fact, the AutoCheck version offers a full 26-point report that is as comprehensive as it gets, and that is well worth the price – less than $50 for unlimited entries over 30 days.

One further point to make is that the VIN on the car should match that on the original, official registrations documents with the car. If it does not there is a strong chance the car is a ‘ringer’ or a ‘lemon’ and has been doctored in some way. Also, check that the odometer reads a corresponding mileage to that reported via the VIN check. Unscrupulous dealers and private sellers are known to ‘roll back’ the mileage to get a higher price. Rely on the VIN and you are less likely to buy a dud.