What do we use to identify vehicles? We know the easy answer is the license plate which is okay. On the other hand, what if you want to know more than what the number plate can reveal? That calls for something that will give you specific details about the car. 

As a car owner, buyer or seller, you need to know what can help you identify a car better – the VIN. Have you heard of such a name? Some call it the ‘VIN Number’ although the N in the acronym stands for the word number. 

Let’s learn about it in detail, see why it’s essential, and some of the things it can show when you look into the characters. 

What is a VIN on a Car?

Every human being has fingerprints. They are unique to everyone, and that’s why they are used as part of identification. You can compare that with the VIN, which refers to the Vehicle Identification Number for the cars. 

It’s generally a 17-digit code used to identify cars, and you can check it on different areas of the car or its paperwork. We will look into that in the next section. The code is alpha-numeric, and it’s unique to every car regardless of the similarity with other models in the series. 

That is the number that can help you distinguish between two identical Toyota or Audi models, among other car brands. Unlike the license plate or any other registration number, you cannot alter the VIN in any way, and when done, it can lead to fatal consequences. 

The car may, however, not contain a code that is 17 characters long. Such cases appear when a car’s VIN is already altered, which means it’s fake. If not, then it means the car was manufactured before 1981. 

After 1981, there was a need to standardize the number to proper and easier identification. Back in the day, every manufacturer had their format, which led to a lot of dupes. To counter such problems, the birth of a 17-digit code came through. 

You need the help of a leading VIN decoder to know what the characters mean. You can, however, learn what the characters represent first to have a general idea of what you should expect. 

Before we learn what’s in the characters, let’s see where to check for the VIN. 

Where Can I Get My Car’s VIN?

You can find the VIN on different parts of the car or its papers. If the car is there, look for the alphanumeric code in the following areas:

  • On the engine block 
  • Under the hood 
  • On the bottom part of the windscreen, near the dashboard on the driver’s side 
  • On the driver’s door pillar. Sometimes on the passenger door too 
  • On the transmission 
  • Under the spare tire 
  • On electronic system for the recent car models 

If you have the papers, you can confirm in the following areas: 

  • The logbook 
  • Insurance cards 
  • The title registration document 

In all the places you will check for the VIN, it should be similar all through. Take your time to check the characters in all the places you can find the number to ensure nothing is altered. 

After the verification, you can note down the VIN somewhere or use your smartphone to take a picture. 

What Can a VIN Show About My Car?

If the VIN has all the characters (17 in total), you can head to an online decoding platform to see what it will reveal. It’s faster to get help online when compared to visiting the authorities such as the NHTSA. 


On the other hand, you need to be aware of the regulations that control the use of such platforms. It’s prohibited in some regions, while in others, you can only use them for personal use if you are not a car dealer. 

Anyway, when you head to a decoding website, all you need is to enter the VIN and click on the search button or press ‘Enter.’ If the VIN is okay, here is what you should expect:

The First Three Characters 

They are known as the WMI (World Manufacturer identification) characters. The first character will tell you where the car came from, while the second one shows the manufacturer. 

The third character signifies division. 

Fourth to Eighth Characters 

This is where you meet the car’s specifications. They include the car’s model, engine type and size, transmission, and safety information. There is no particular order on how the information is relayed. It all depends on the manufacturer here. 

The Ninth Character 

We can say that this is the most important number in the VIN. Why? Because it tells if the number is legit or not. The manufacturers use a complex mathematical formula with a five-step process to determine the legitimacy of the VIN. 

If the VIN is fake, you will know through the ninth digit, and most probably, you will not get the decoded information. 

The Tenth Character 

It contains the year when the car was manufactured. Vehicles manufactured between 1981 and 2000 will have alphabets representing the tenth part. However, the letters I, O, Q and Z are omitted to avoid confusion with numbers 0, 1, and 2. 

From 2001 to 2009, you get numbers 1 to 9. Since 2010, the letters came back, and they will continue to be in use until 2030. 

Eleventh Character 

Here, you will learn about the specific plant where the car was manufactured or assembled. 

Twelfth to Seventeenth Characters 

They represent the sequence or the serial number. You can interpret that as the number that the vehicle received while on the assembly line. 

Is the VIN the Same as the Chassis Number?

At times, you will hear the VIN being referred to as the chassis number. They both refer to the same thing since the VIN is stamped on the car’s chassis. It’s, however, different from the engine number. 

The reason why we have the latter is to identify the engine’s specifications. The engine number also helps when changing the engine in case irreversible damage happens without compromising the whole vehicle. 


Now, we know what precisely a VIN is and where to find it. It’s also essential to reflect on what it will show, and there is more to that. A VIN will also show you the car’s history, which ranges from ownership to lien and repossession information. 

So, ensure that you know where the number is and whether it’s identical all through. After that, you can head to a reputable online decoding platform to see what it will tell you about the car. 

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