Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) Decoder


A Vehicle Identification Number, or VIN for short, is a unique identifier comprised of 17 digits that you can find on all vehicles in the US. VINs were first used on vehicles in 1954, but their use wasn’t widespread until the early 1980s when the US Department of Transport decided to get involved and standardize the system. Although this won’t apply to most people, it’s important to be aware that If you have a vehicle from before 1981, you may find that your vehicle actually doesn’t have a VIN, or that the VIN is shorter than 17 digits.

However, if you’ve bought your car since 1981, your car will definitely have a VIN. To find your VIN, simply look to the corner of the dashboard on the driver’s side. If you can’t see your VIN clearly in this location, you can also check the door post or your state vehicle registration certificate.

What Should Your VIN Look Like?

At first glance, your VIN will look like a random assortment of letters and numbers. However, these characters are anything but random. Each digit of the VIN will tell you important and identifying information about your vehicle. Below are some examples from carVertical of what a typical VIN will look like:

1C4RJFAG8DC537142 – 2013 Jeep Grand Cherokee

WDCDA5HB2CA011690- 2012 Mercedes Benz ML350

1HD1KHM16DB613457 – 2013 Harley Davidson Fltrx

2HNYD28377H522352 – 2007 Acura MDX

Why You Should Decode Your VIN


You should be familiar with your VIN because it’s used on several important documents and processes relating to your vehicle. For example, your VIN will be present on your vehicle’s title, or your insurance documents.

VINs are an important part of the recall process when a manufacturer realizes that their vehicles have a fault. When this happens, the manufacturer will usually issue a press release explaining which vehicles they believe are affected. They will usually do this by stating which year the vehicle was made, which model it is, and sometimes which plant the vehicle was made in. This may be information that you don’t know off the top of your head, but you would know by decoding your VIN. You can easily decode your VIN using websites like to find out if your vehicle meets the criteria of a recall, and then you can busy yourself with speaking to the manufacturer. They will also ask for your VIN to confirm whether your vehicle needs to be recalled.

Buying Used Cars

Most people will use a VIN decoder when considering buying a used car. Since the VIN is used on so many documents related to the vehicle, it’s possible to get a more complete history of the vehicle through the VIN. Many services allow you to pay a small fee to find out information about the history of the vehicle that will be very important to prospective buyers. You can find out the following:

How Many Owners The Vehicle Has Had

Everyone will have a different idea of how many owners are too many. Ideally, we’d all like the used car we are thinking of buying to have only had one owner. As the number of owners goes up, the less likely you are to know how the car was handled while it was in their possession. Different drivers have different driving styles, different approaches to maintenance, and different levels of experience. All of these varying factors can take a toll on the car and make it less desirable.

When It Was Last Inspected

Vehicles that are inspected frequently are more likely to be safe. It’s also true that some insurance providers offer lower rates for recently inspected vehicles. You may want to use the vehicle’s VIN to check when it was last inspected and whether or not the inspection is expired.

Whether The Vehicle Is A ‘Lemon’

Using the VIN to run a vehicle check can help you identify whether the prospective vehicle is a lemon. By this, we mean a vehicle that has severe defects that warrant it essentially useless. A car can look great from the outside but have hidden defects lurking under the hood.

If It’s Ever Been In a Major Incident

Hopefully, your mechanic would also be able to pick this up. However, it’s not always so easy to spot if a car has been in a major incident if everything seems to be working fine on the surface. Sometimes problems only emerge when the vehicle is used for a few days or so. If you’re wondering what counts as a major incident, it would be along the lines of the vehicle being submerged in water or rolling over at some point in its history.

Tampering With The Odometer

The odometer, or mileage clock, is often tampered with to make the car look more appealing to buyers. Most buyers want a vehicle that’s got low or reasonable mileage and the cost of the vehicle will also heavily depend on the mileage. Some nefarious individuals may turn the clock back to sell the vehicle at a higher price than it’s worth. Doing a vehicle check with the VIN will expose any tampering.

Stolen Cars

The VIN will help you identify whether the car you are about to buy is stolen. However, criminals are crafty and they will often switch the vehicle’s VIN for a legal one. By using a VIN decoder you can check whether the vehicle’s VIN matches what you were expecting. You may not be able to compare all of the details with your guesswork, but any obvious inconsistencies should flag.

Criminals rely on the assumption that people rarely check their VIN, so don’t let yourself fall victim to stolen vehicle scams by doing the same. You should check that the VIN is the same in all locations in the vehicle, and run your VIN through a decoder to learn important information about your vehicle. If you have more than one VIN in your vehicle, this could mean that the vehicle has been taken apart and put together with different parts, or that the car is stolen.