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What is a VIN (Vehicle Identification Number)?

Published on January 25th, 2024

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Joseph Kim

Content Manager at Innova Electronics

What is a VIN?

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A VIN (vehicle identification number) is a sequence of characters that helps identify your specific vehicle. Think of it as your vehicle’s social security number!

Similar to how your social security number can reveal a lot about your background, a VIN provides access to almost all fundamental information known about your vehicle.

What Information Can A VIN Tell You?

By understanding the characters of a VIN, you’ll be able to identify a plethora of information about your vehicle, such as:

  • Manufacturer and country of origin
  • Vehicle’s year, make, model, and body type
  • Transmission, engine type, engine size, fuel type, and more
  • Production sequence

As you can see, there are tons of valuable information you can retrieve with just the VIN alone. In fact, you can get access to even more vehicle data if you submit your VIN information and receive a vehicle history report (VHR), such as:

  • Registration details
  • Insurance records
  • Theft activity (if any)
  • Previous vehicle owners
  • Previous recalls

Decoding a VIN

All VIN(s) consist of 17 characters, with each character serving a specific purpose.

First 3 Characters

The first three characters of a VIN represent the World Manufacturer Identifier (WMI). These characters are used to identify the country of origin, as well as the vehicle manufacturer.

Next 6 Characters

The fourth to ninth characters of a VIN are known as the Vehicle Descriptor Section (VDS), which helps provide details about the vehicle’s model, body, transmission, restraint system, engine type, and so on.

The ninth character is what we call the Check Digit. Its purpose is to confirm the accuracy of the VIN.

Final 8 Characters

The tenth to seventeenth characters are referred to as the Vehicle Identification Section (VIS). The tenth character indicates the model year, while the eleventh character points to the assembly plant responsible for putting together the vehicle.

The last 6 characters refer to the vehicle’s unique serial number.

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Here’s A Visual Example

Just reading about a VIN can be confusing, so here’s a visual representation of decoding a VIN.

Car VIN visual infographic

Note: image above is for illustration purposes only.

VIN: 5NMJECAE2PH196858

  • 5NM: Hyundai USA (Multi-Purpose Vehicle)
  • 5NMJ: Tucson
  • 5NMJE: Limited
  • 5NMJEC: Multi-Purpose Vehicle (MPV) – 4,000 to 5,000 lbs.
  • 5NMJECA: Seat belts, driver & passenger airbags, etc.
  • 5NMJECAE: 1797cc DOHC 4-cyl. (Nu)
  • 5NMJECAE2: Check Digit (Confirms VIN is real)
  • 5NMJECAE2P: 2023
  • 5NMJECAE2PH: Alabama Plant, USA
  • 5NMJECAE2PH196858: 196,xxxth Tucson built

Pretty simple, right?

Where is the VIN Located?

A vehicle’s VIN location isn’t standardized across different makes and models, so you may have to do some digging around. Here are the most common places to find it:

  • Driver’s side dashboard
  • Driver’s side door
  • Engine bay
  • Vehicle documents (title, registration, insurance)
  • Owner’s manual

A simple Google search should be able to give you answers as well.

Does a VIN Look-Up Provide A Vehicle History Report?

Traditionally, a comprehensive vehicle history report (VHR) was only offered by paid providers. Reputable sources such as Carfax or AutoCheck offer these services, and you can generally expect a detailed and reliable report.

However, if you only need basic information, there are plenty of free online options today. For instance, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) offers a free VIN Decoder, which provides information such as:

  • Manufacturer
  • Vehicle year, make, model, and body
  • Engine type
  • Fuel type
  • Plant information

Besides the NHTSA, there are a variety of other free lookup services that provide valuable information related to your vehicle. That said, please bear in mind that these services may not have the same reliability as other reputable and more trusted companies.

We suggest that you do your research before using any VIN look-up services. There are plenty of free yet trusted sources such as the VINCheck service provided by the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB).

Alternatively, if you're already using our Repairsolutions2 app, you can easily purchase a full VHR for $9.99. We are partnered with VINData Vehicle History Reports.

Can You Find Out If a Car is Insured Using its VIN?

Yes! You can find detailed reports online using the vehicle's VIN to check if it's insured or not.

Knowing a vehicle's insurance history empowers you to make informed decisions, especially when buying a used car. A VHR provides details like the insurance company's name, policy effective dates, types of claims filed, and more.

Remember, a VHR will only report accidents that have been provided by insurance companies. As a result, if a vehicle wasn’t insured at the time of an accident, it’s still possible to have a “no accident” record. That’s why it’s so important to understand a vehicle’s insurance history before making any important decisions.

Insurance Details Won’t Come Up?

Sometimes, a vehicle’s insurance details won’t come up even after inputting the VIN. This could be due to several reasons, such as:

  • Car is too new
  • Insurance details haven’t been reported yet

If the above situation occurs, we recommend that you reach out directly to the owner of the car. He/she should be able to provide you insurance details.

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