What is a VIN? Everything you always wanted to know about car identification

by Aivaras Grigelevičius
February 7, 2019
by Aivaras Grigelevičius
February 7, 2019

Every day carVertical team keeps perfecting our platform to provide you with the most detailed car history reports in the world. But we always ask you a favor at first. Tell us your car VIN, please.

There is no secret here. We can’t get any further if we don’t have VIN, because this number is the main hero in every quest for reliable data about every vehicle in the world.

What actually is a VIN?

Sometimes it’s called VIN number, VIN code or simply a body number, but it’s the same thing with the same function. In short, VIN is like a fingerprint of the car. If you know the VIN code, it can reveal car’s manufacturer, model, year and place of manufacture, all its features, and technical specifications.

However, let’s start from the very beginning. VIN (an acronym for Vehicle Identification Number) is a unique code used by the automotive industry to identify every car, bus, truck, motorcycle or even a trailer.

First VINs appeared in the USA in the middle of the XX century. But for a few decades there was no accepted universal standard, so different manufacturers used different formats.

The VIN format was standardized only in 1981 by USA National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Since then, all sold on-road vehicles must have a 17-character-long VIN consisting only digits and capitals. By the way, VIN number cannot include the letters I, O and Q in order to avoid confusion with numerals 1 and 0.

The specific and very complex structure of VIN code theoretically should guarantee that every vehicle, produced since 1981, has a unique identification number. So, there is almost impossible to find two cars which have the same VIN. This allows to assign a code to the specific car and track its history.

What do VIN symbols mean?

First three symbols are called World Manufacturer Identifier (WMI). The first one tells in which country car was made or where is the headquarters of the manufacturer. 2 and 3 characters indicate vehicle manufacturer.

In our example, 1VW stands for Volkswagen car made in the USA. If the first symbol were W, it would mean this Volkswagen was made in Germany. By the way, if a manufacturer builds a small number of cars (e.g., in European Union it means 500 or fewer cars per year), it always uses number 9 as a third VIN symbol.

The middle part (4-9 symbols) constitutes Vehicle Descriptor Section (VDS) which describes the vehicle type. Due to local regulations and other reasons, each manufacturer has developed its own unique system for VDS. However, it usually provides information on the model, body style, engine type, automobile platform used, how many doors it has, etc.

The last group of characters (10-17) is used as a Vehicle Identifier Section (VIS). It’s a unique serial number by which the manufacturer can identify the exact vehicle. So, VIS reveals everything from production year to car’s original equipment.

Why is it so useful?

As an ID number of the car, VIN is used for its identification. All “life events” of a specific car, for example, production, registration, inspection, accidents, recalls, warranty claims, thefts, insurance coverage, purchase, etc., are being recorded in various registries and databases using a VIN number.

Therefore, sooner or later, VIN decoder like carVertical, can find all this data and generate the specific car’s history report for the consumer.

By simply entering a car VIN and buying a history report, you can find out not only basic car facts (production year, engine power, fuel or transmission type, etc.) but also more specific and useful data. It includes authentic mileage and archive photos at different times, if it had any accidents, if it has been stolen, how many owners it had and so on. When you have various data from different dates, you can compare them and spot mileage fraud or concealed accidents.

Usually, carVertical reports also observe upcoming maintenance works, common model bugs and even contain a list of equipment options that were installed in the factory.

A magic wand in your hands

We get so much information from a single VIN because we work with different global sources, including national and private registries, insurance, leasing, claim handling databases, paid APIs and even OBD devices connected to cars. As carVertical is a blockchain company, we process and verify all the data, blockchain confirms its reliability. This guarantees that all data which is stored in our registry is tamper-proof and cannot be faked, changed or manipulated.

All in all, the 17-character code could become a magic wand in car buyer’s hands if he or she uses VIN decoders. They can reveal much more car history facts than a seller wants to tell.

Having all the information about the car can help you in many ways. Maybe you will negotiate a lower price, get some bonus or even decide not to buy a car because of its condition. Here you can check some reports that illustrate how easy it is to buy a disaster instead of your dream car.

Where to find a VIN?

Basically, there are two main ways to find car’s VIN: in its documents and on its body.

You’ll always find VIN written in car’s technical passport, insurance policy and so on.

By the way, it is essential to double-check if all VIN numbers on vehicle match. If they don’t, the car might be stolen. When preparing to trade robbed car abroad, thieves often cut off VIN and replace it with another one.

So, if you, as a buyer, find any mismatches between different VINs or any of the characters have signs of a forge, stay away from this car. Moreover, please inform the police.