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What Is A VIN number?

by Autobytel Staff
May 19, 2011

VIN refers to the Vehicle Identification Number. Since 1981, the VIN has been composed of 17 character (numbers and letters) codes that authenticate a vehicle and its owner. Between 1954 and 1980, each manufacturer labeled its products uniquely, causing frustration and confusion. Since moving to the standardized system designed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, vehicles can be checked quickly and consistently, helping law enforcement, the insurance agency, and state departments of motor vehicles immeasurably. The sale of a vehicle also depends on the VINs, and a universally recognized system eased transactions.

VIN Number Location

The VIN sits innocuously in the lower corner of the dash, just where the windshield sits flush. That particular VIN was fixed to that particular vehicle when it left the factory, and that VIN should remain with that vehicle for as long as it runs down the road.

What Is In VIN Numbers?

Encoded in the VIN are the vehicle’s vital statistics, and decoding a VIN is as easy plugging the sequence into a half-dozen websites and clicking a mouse. The car VIN number should confirm what the eye sees, down to the particulars of make, model, manufacturer, year of manufacture, the engine, the place of manufacture, and the car’s specific sequence number in the manufacturing process.

While the vehicle identification number authenticates the vehicle, the VIN numbers also appear on the title of the car. A car’s title is as important as the car itself. If the state cannot establish the legal owner of a vehicle, then usually local law enforcement becomes involved. Every car must have a legal owner, whether it be an individual or a lien holder. The paperwork must be in order, and the VIN numbers on the title must match the car VIN numbers.

The VIN number also plays a part in establishing the authenticity of the parts on the vehicle. Stickers on the driver’s door jam and fixed to the trunk lid should bear the same VIN numbers as the car VIN number at the base of the dash. If these stickers are missing or bear different VIN numbers, odds are that the vehicle has been damaged and had these parts replaced.

Since the standardization of the VIN in 1981, the car VIN number has become the first bit of information a buyer consults before handing over any money. All vehicle history reports collect data on vehicles based on the VIN numbers. When dealing with any DMV or insurance agency, the agents will request the car VIN number to make their determinations.

In collector car circles, vehicles that move to the auction block proclaiming “matching numbers,” meaning that the serial numbers of the engine and transmission match the VIN number on the dash, will always bring a higher price.

In the automotive jungle where clones, imposters, and scam artists prey upon the innocent and the ignorant, the car VIN number takes the point of the spear when establishing a vehicle’s authenticity. The 17 characters of the VIN number become a tool of empowerment when wading through the detritus that some attempt to pass as viable vehicles. The VIN numbers connect the car to the title and the title to the car. The car VIN number plays an important part in automotive commerce. It lets buyers buy, sellers sell, and collectors gain on their investments.


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