What is a VIN?

The Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) is a unique 17-character identifier assigned to each vehicle by its manufacturer. No two vehicles in the world have the same identifier, which makes the VIN an extremely useful tool for learning about any motor vehicle or towed vehicle. The letters and numbers in a VIN code signify the vehicle’s place of manufacture, maker, brand, engine type, model, make, and much more.

VIN codes are particularly useful when purchasing used vehicles, as they allow consumers to ensure the car they are buying is as advertised. Additionally, vehicle id numbers are tied to a great deal of information from auto industry sources, government agencies, and insurance companies. This data lets potential buyers determine the vehicle’s ownership history, accident history, and a lot of other relevant information.

Where to find the VIN?

Look for the VIN on the vehicle:

  • Front of the dashboard on the driver’s side. The easiest way to see the VIN is to step outside the car and look for a plate behind the windshield.
  • Door on the driver’s side. Look for the VIN on the door pillar on the driver’s side - it should be near the area where the door latches to the car.
  • Under the hood. The VIN may also appear on the engine block.
  • Door frame. Some older cars may have the VIN displayed on the door frame on the driver’s side.

On motorcycles, you will usually see the VIN on the steering neck below the handlebars. However, it may also be on the engine or engine frame.

If you can’t find the VIN on the vehicle, you may also find it your vehicle’s registration title or insurance documents.

How to read a VIN?

To read a VIN, you need to know what the characters in the code stand for. The VIN of any vehicle manufactured after 1981 is a 17-character code of letters and numbers (older vehicles may have anywhere between 11-17). These VIN characters can be divided into the following sections:

World Manufacturer Identifier (WMI)

  • 1-3 characters. The first three characters of a VIN uniquely identify the manufacturer. The first character shows the country of manufacture, whereas the second and third indicate the manufacturer and vehicle type.

Vehicle Descriptor Section (VDS)

  • 4-8 characters. Identifies vehicle characteristics - the engine type, body type, brand, model, transmission type, etc.
  • 9 character. A security check digit, confirming that the VIN is valid.

Vehicle Identifier Section (VIS)

  • 10 character. Shows the model year.
  • 11 character. Indicates which plant assembled the vehicle.
  • 12-17 characters. The vehicle’s serial number.

Slightly different VIN standards are used in North America and the European Union (as well as by manufacturers producing under a certain number of vehicles per year). The above VIN breakdown applies to North American vehicles, however, the different standards are compatible.

How to check VIN number

Checking the VIN number on My Free VIN is easy - and free. To do so:

  1. Find the VIN number on your vehicle or related documents.
  2. Enter the VIN into the search bar on our website.
  3. Click “Check!.”

That’s it! You’re well on your way to knowing everything there is to know about the vehicle you’re interested in. And remember, while VIN information is a great advisory tool when buying a car or motorcycle, you should still make sure to test drive any vehicle you want to purchase and submit it to a mechanic for an inspection.