Vehicle Identification Numbers (VINs)
Vehicle Identification Numbers are unique codes given to each on-road vehicle in the United States. From 1981, each new car is given a standardized 17-digit code, which includes a serial number.
Older cars may have VINs too, although they will not follow the standardized formula. A VIN lets you unlock vital information about the vehicle and its history.
You can find a VIN on the car itself and on a variety of documents.
Finding it on the Car
The two most common places are the dashboard and driver's side door jamb sticker. Other places to find it are on the engine and inside the hood.
Finding it on Paperwork
The VIN is always on vehicle title documents. It's also on insurance policies, service records and police reports for the vehicle.
Do motorcycles or ATVs have VIN numbers?
Yes. You can find them on the frame. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration requires all motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) or "four wheelers" and "three wheelers" to display this 17-digit unique vehicle identification number on the frame. Check your owner's manual for exact location.
Do bicycles have a VIN?
No. Bikes are not motorized and are not registered with state DMVs. But they should have a manufacturer's serial number which can be used to register a bike with a local municipality or the national bike registry.
Characters within a VIN indicate a vehicle's year, make, model, where it was manufactured, and more.
How to Decode VINs
You can use our free VIN Decoder to find out exactly what each character in your car's VIN shows.
How VINs Help
Auto shops use VINs to service vehicles, identifying the engine, transmission and brake systems.
Manufacturers use VINs to issue open recalls.
Law enforcement agencies use VINs to identify and recover stolen cars and car parts.
How to Use VINs in Used Car Buying
When you order a CARFAX vehicle history report, you can unlock the following important information about the car:
- Vehicle registration
- Title information, including salvaged or junked titles
- Odometer rollbacks
- Lemon history
- Flood damage
- Total loss accident history
- Reported accidents
- Frame or structural damage
- Airbag safety
- Service and repair information
- Vehicle usage (taxi, rental, lease, etc.)
- Recall information
This can help you decide if the car is right for you and uncover any potential safety issues. You can have a look at a sample CARFAX report here.
How to Spot VIN Fraud
VIN cloning and fraud is used by criminals to hide stolen cars. You can find out how to protect yourself against this here.