VIN Tracing 101: How to Trace a Vehicle Identification Number

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A vehicle identification number, or VIN number, is a unique identifier for each and every vehicle. 

What is VIN Tracing?

VIN verifications are a common practice used by state DMVs when:

  • New vehicles are registered and titled in the state.
  • A vehicle’s ownership chain cannot be confirmed.
  • A vehicle is bought and sold.

In some cases, your state DMV or insurance agency may ask that you physically trace your vehicle’s VIN number onto a piece of paper for verification purposes. 

This page will go over that process with some tips on how to get a good VIN trace, plus some alternatives if you can’t trace the VIN. 

How to Trace a VIN Number on Paper

In some circumstances, you may be asked to trace your VIN number onto a piece of paper. 

The process is similar to tracing a coin onto paper with a pencil. 

To trace your VIN number, you’ll first need to locate one of the VIN plates or VIN locations that includes a raised stamp of the VIN and enough room for you to get a piece of paper and a pencil over it. 

Once you’ve found the VIN, you can trace it by:

  • Laying the piece of paper over the VIN number. 
  • Use a soft pencil. 
  • Hold the pencil at a 45 degree angle to the VIN plate. 
  • Gently rub the pencil back and forth over the VIN number. 
  • Lift the paper away and the VIN number should show up in the tracing. 

Note that this will only work on VIN plates or VIN stamps where the actual VIN number is engraved or embossed.

Alternatives to VIN Tracing

If you are unable to trace the VIN yourself, or cannot find the VIN number, you’ll typically have some other options. 

Depending on the state and the reason for the VIN tracing requirement, you may be able to:

  • Send a photograph of a VIN plate. 
  • Visit a certified vehicle inspector to get a VIN verification. 
  • Visit an authorized notary public. 

Authorized individuals will typically have the correct forms and steps necessary for the VIN verification process.

Pennsylvania (PA DOT) VIN Tracing Requirements

VIN tracing or VIN verification is part of the process for registering an out-of-state vehicle or trailer in Pennsylvania. 

PennDOT gives you the option of tracing the VIN yourself or having your VIN verified by an authorized person.

If you’ve just moved to Pennsylvania, you’ll need to complete this process within 20 days of establishing residency in the state.

A VIN plate tracing is required for all of the following vehicles:

  • Trucks.
  • Truck tractors. 
  • Motor homes. 
  • Vehicles that were titled in another state. 

For trucks and truck-tractors, the VIN tracing should include:

  • The VIN number.
  • The Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR).
  • The Gross Axle Weight Rating (GAWR).

If you are unable to trace the VIN yourself, you can get a VIN verification completed by a certified inspection mechanic or a notary. 

This process will also be required when you live in Pennsylvania and buy a used vehicle from a private seller out of state.