A VIN is a unique code that is assigned to every vehicle when it is manufactured.
Today, VIN numbers are standardized, 17-characters long, and each section and digit contains specific information about the vehicle.
Learn more about how long a VIN number is here.
This includes basic details such as year, make, and model, and also more granular details such as location and factory of manufacture and data about the engine.
No two vehicles will ever have the same VIN.
What does “VIN” stand for?
VIN stands for vehicle identification number.
And while it may look like a string of random letters and numbers, you can think of it as the vehicle’s fingerprint. (Find out how to read a VIN here).
Each and every car, truck, trailer, and motorcycle (every vehicle, really), has a unique VIN.
This serves a few different purposes:
- It ensures that each and every vehicle produced for public roadways and licensing has a unique identifier.
- It makes it easy to quickly access key details about a vehicle’s origins, features, and components.
- It ties the registered owner, license plates, and title to a specific vehicle.
- In the event of theft, it can help law enforcement track down and recover stolen vehicles.
Fun fact, Vin Diesel of the Fast and Furious franchise is named after the vehicle identification number for a car with a diesel engine. That’s why he was cast for the role of Dom Toretto.
Wait, no – that’s not true at all. But, you sure can use a vehicle’s VIN to determine whether it runs on diesel, gasoline, or alternative fuel sources.
And, you can run a VIN lookup on many cars you might see in the Fast and Furious movies, like, say, the 1994 Toyota Supra driven by Paul Walker that sold at auction in 2021 for $550,000.
What did VIN Numbers Start?
Standardized, 17-digit VIN numbers started in 1981.
However, VINs were first introduced in the United States in 1954.
Between 1954 and 1981, there was no standardization.
VINs from this period typically ranged from 11 to 17 characters.
That’s why you’ll typically need to do some digging in order to learn how to decode the VIN of an older vehicle.
How to Use a VIN
Why would you need to do a VIN lookup?
Well, the VIN has a number of practical uses you may not know about.
First, you’ll need the vehicle’s VIN when you’re dealing with your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or its equivalent.
If you are titling and registering your car, truck, or motorcycle, you’ll need to provide the DMV with the VIN when you fill out the application.
Additionally, the DMV may require you to get a VIN inspection. This is a common process for registering out-of-state vehicles that essentially confirms that the car is not stolen and its physical details match the data contained in the VIN.
If you want to complete your DMV tasks online, you’ll often use the VIN that’s associated with the registration to access the online services your DMV’s website may offer. In many states, this may include:
- Renewing your registration.
- Requesting a duplicate registration.
- Replacing a license plate.
- Requesting a duplicate title.
- Changing your address.
Next, you can use a VIN to order a Vehicle History Report (VHR) or VIN Check when you are shopping for a used vehicle. This report will provide you with detailed information about the vehicle such as:
- The status of the title.
- The ownership history.
- Accident history and repair.
- Maintenance and service details.
The VIN is also extremely useful when you need to buy parts for your vehicle.
If you’ve ever needed to replace a part on your vehicle – anything from headlights to spark plugs – you’ll quickly find that you’ve got a lot of options that’ll show up for a single make and model.
Using your car’s VIN when you’re looking for parts will ensure that you’re buying the correct ones for your vehicle. The VIN will instantly tell you whether a certain OEM or aftermarket part is designed to fit your specific vehicle.
When a vehicle manufacturer needs to issue a recall, they’ll use the VIN to find and notify the vehicles that require repairs.
Finally, if your car is ever stolen, law enforcement agencies can use the vehicle identification number to locate and recover stolen vehicles.
Learn more about checking for stolen vehicles by VIN.
Or, if you’re just a car buff, it can be interesting to see what details a VIN can show you about your car.