There are certain parts of your car that are familiar to everyone.  We all know about the engine, the transmission, the door handles, and the gas cap.  We know the point of a license plate, and the rearview mirror.  Every driver understands that the side view mirrors aren’t just superfluous pieces of metal and glass.  However, there are few drivers that understand exactly what one part’s use is.  You’ve been sleeping under a rock, or at least not enjoying police procedurals if you’ve never heard the term VIN, but you’re not alone if you don’t know why it’s there.

VIN is an acronym for Vehicle Identification Number.  If you’re wondering why the police shows say VIN number, you’re not alone as the additional number is redundant.  However, grammar lesson aside, many people don’t fully understand the VIN, and they certainly don’t get the full extent of it.  Of course, there’s the obvious, the VIN is meant to identify the car, but what does that entail?   Think of the VIN, partially, as your car’s social security number.  Your social security number is a unique number assigned only to you and serves as the determining factor for many different financial transactions; the VIN is the same for your car.

While the basic function of the VIN is for identification, it also serves several other functions as well.  The VIN is used for identifying your car with the state, via its registration and title, but it is also recorded in the event of an accident, serious maintenance, and with your insurance company.  When you buy a pre-owned vehicle and obtain a vehicular history report, said history is based on the VIN.  While this may seem pretty comprehensive, this covers only a portion of the identification part of the VIN.

Each VIN is a combination of seventeen letters and numbers that uniquely identifies your car.  Not only can it tell you if the car has ever been involved in an accident, but the VIN can also tell you where your car was made, who built it, when it was constructed, and several other features.   Every set of three numbers will tell a different story about your vehicle; you just have to know how to read them.  Think you’re driving a foreign car because of the brand?  Check the VIN.  If it starts with a 1, 4, or 5, your car was built in the United States.

In the first set of three numbers, the country in which the car was built is told by the first digit.  The second two digits in this set denote the manufacturer.  Usually, the second and third digits describe the manufacturer, sometimes including where the vehicle was manufactured, sometimes including the type of car.  This first set of numbers is referred to as the World Manufacturer Identifier, and is used for the purpose of finding out more about where the car was made, and who was behind it.

The second set of numbers describes the car more clearly, and is called the Vehicle Descriptor Section.    It consists of five letters and numbers, and provides a detailed listing about the car.  This description includes the engine size, the brand, the body size, and other distinguishing features.  Also included in this set of numbers is the transmission style, and a check number.  The check number is the ninth number that is used to detect fake VINs, and is determined by the DoT.

The last seven numbers are the Vehicle Identifier Section.  The tenth number is the year in which the vehicle was manufactured, and is always a letter that has a corresponding year.  The next digit is the code for the manufacturing plant.  The last five numbers are part of the vehicle’s serial number, but the exact determination of how it is used is manufacturer specific.  It could indicate the order in which the car came off the line, or some other way of identifying the vehicle.

While reading a VIN may not be the highlight of your afternoon, it is useful information to possess.  You want to know all of the details of your car, and you’ll also need the be able to readily identify this number in the event your car is ever stolen, or in an accident.  It is a helpful piece of information to have if your car ever needs to be readily identified.  Next time you’re looking at the plate on your dash with a slew of numbers on it, you’ll know exactly what you’re looking at, and have a better understanding of your vehicle.