VIN Numbers 101: How To Identify Your Vehicle

VINs 101: How to Identify Your Vehicle

Your Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) is a 17-digit code used to identify your vehicle that includes a serial number and a bunch of other information about the car. This post will discuss why vehicles have VINs, what information your VIN contains, how to read it, and show you how to locate your VIN. 

This guide will cover everything you need to know about VINs, including why they exist, how to read them, and answers to some frequently asked questions.

vehicle identification

Why Vehicles Have VINs

First used in 1954 in the United States, VINs created a standardized system to identify each vehicle manufactured. You could think of your VIN as a Social Security number for your car. Just like your SSN, every single VIN is unique to that specific car. This system has plenty of benefits, including:

Preventing Theft

The first benefit of having a VIN is that it provides a defense against stolen vehicles.  Law enforcement officers and consumers alike can access detailed reports about a vehicle’s history just by using the VIN. If you’d like to conduct a VIN search for a vehicle you’re considering buying, use a VIN Decoder to quickly and easily pull a report. If your car is stolen, you’ll want to have the VIN handy to give law enforcement the best shot at recovering your vehicle. 

Preventing Fraud

The same thing that helps defend against theft also prevents dealers or private sellers from misrepresenting a car or its history before a sale. Law enforcement officers and consumers can check the VIN to ensure it is as it’s presented. Use the same decoder to easily pull such a report.


Occasionally, vehicle manufacturers issue safety recalls to replace or repair faulty parts that could pose a safety hazard to drivers. Using your VIN, you can use the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration’s Recall Tool to see if your vehicle has had any recalls in the last 15 years. 

It’s important to know where to find your vehicle’s VIN as well as how to use it. The following steps will assist you in being able to track your car’s status.

identify vehicle identification number on car

How to Read a VIN

Your VIN contains a wealth of information about your car. Here’s how to follow each section of the VIN, what information it provides, and how to read it. The VIN of a 1996 Porsche 993 GT2 —  WP0ZZZ99ZTS392124 — is going to be the example.

Characters 1-3

The first three characters, called the World Manufacturer Identifier, show the vehicle’s manufacturer and the region where it was made. In the above example, the W designates the vehicle was made in Germany, while P0 identifies it as a Porsche.

Characters 4-9

The following six characters are collectively called the Vehicle Descriptor Section and provide a lot of information about the car. Every manufacturer uses its own system for this segment, but it will usually include the vehicle’s weight, platform, model, trim, engine size, and horsepower. 

Characters 10-17

The next eight characters are called the Vehicle Identifier Section. The manufacturer uses it to identify that particular vehicle. Notably, every manufacturer uses the 10th digit to identify the model year, according to the chart below. If the character in position 7 is numeric, the model year is 1980-2009. If it’s alphabetic, the model year is 2010-2039. The 7th character in our example is “9,” and the 10th character is “T,” which makes our car’s model year 1996.

Plant Number & Production Number

In North America and China, the 11th and 12th to 17th digits identify the plant that made the vehicle and that vehicle’s production number, respectively. The production number is like a serial number for the car.  

Don’t worry if the numbers are confusing the first time you’re viewing them. It takes a little bit of practice, but it’s easy to read a VIN once you know what you’re looking for. An automotive professional can also assist you throughout the process.

How to Find Your VIN

Now that you can read your VIN it’s important to go over how to find it on your vehicle. Here’s what you need to know about the process:

On the Car

There are multiple locations on your car where you might find the VIN. The most common is on the lower right corner of the dashboard in front of the steering wheel. You should be able to read it from outside the car by looking through the windshield on the driver’s side. Here are a few other possible places you can find the VIN:

  • Engine Block — Pop the hood and look toward the front of the engine block. 
  • Front of the Frame — Look near the container that holds your wiper fluid. 
  • Rear-Wheel Well — There’s going to be an easier way to find the VIN than this, but you can sometimes find it above the tire in your rear wheel wells. 
  • Driver’s Side Door Post — If you open the driver’s side door and look toward the vehicle’s rear, you should find the VIN and other information about your car.

location of vehicle identification number

On Paper

Some documents that will contain your VIN are: 

  • Title
  • Registration
  • Insurance Documents
  • Service Documents

If you’ve got your car or any of these documents nearby, finding your VIN should be a breeze. 
Knowing how to read a VIN unlocks a ton of information about a vehicle. For example, you can determine whether a car has been in an accident before you buy it. Not to mention, if your vehicle is ever lost or stolen, law enforcement will have an easy way to identify and recover it.

Frequently Asked VIN Questions

If you still have some confusion, don’t feel bad. Some of this information can be confusing, and the process of looking up or understanding a VIN can create a lot of questions. Here are a few answers to some of the most common:

What is a VIN?

A VIN is a unique code used by the automotive industry to identify motor vehicles, towed vehicles, motorcycles, scooters, and mopeds. 

Where Can I Find My VIN?

The most common location for your VIN is on the lower right corner of the dashboards in front of the steering wheel. You also might find it in your door jamb, front frame, rear-wheel well, on your engine block, or your doorpost.

Can a VIN Ever Be Changed?

No. It is illegal to change a VIN even when the vehicle is being restored or rebuilt from numerous parts. If you look up a vehicle’s VIN and find a description for a different vehicle, you should contact your local law enforcement authority.

Do I Need My VIN to Register My Vehicle?

Yes, except in unique circumstances, you will need your VIN to register your vehicle.

How Can I Check a Vehicle’s VIN Before Buying It?

Yes, several websites offer VIN Decoders, allowing consumers to pull a vehicle’s history quickly and easily.
If you need to find your car’s VIN or are having other questions about your vehicle’s overall health, Geyers Towing and Transport is just a call away. Our experts would be happy to field your queries or assist you should you need a tow. Give us a call today!

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