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  • Locate the Vehicle Identification Number

    What is a VIN?

    It's been described as a vehicle's DNA or fingerprint. It contains all sorts of clues about a vehicle. It has an awfully long name, yet is better known by three little letters.

    And it's something you should be familiar with.

    What is it?

    It's a vehicle identification number, or VIN, for short. The National Highway Traffic Safety Adminstration (NHTSA) began requiring standardized VINs in 1981 for all road vehicles.

    Vehicles made during or after 1981 have a VIN made up of 17 characters (letters and numerals). Before that, the VIN length and format varied among vehicles.

    The VIN provides clues as to a vehicle's background, including the manufacturer, model year, and where it was built. In other words, it records the vehicle's identity. To learn what the individual characters in a VIN represent, visit our page on decoding the VIN.

    The VIN also provides a means to trace a vehicle from its "cradle" (the factory) to its "grave" (the scrap heap). In that way, it is similar to a Social Security number for Americans. So it is important to know where the VIN is in order to order a vehicle history report from our partner.

    A VIN appears on many forms: registrations, titles, insurance identification cards, accident reports, recall reports, and body shop records, to name a few.

    Recording the VIN

    You should know your vehicle's VIN, recording and storing the number someplace other than in the vehicle. This information will be helpful to law enforcement officials trying to recover your car should someone steal it.

    Also, if you sell your vehicle to a private buyer, he or she should obtain a vehicle history report before making the purchase final. Being able to quickly furnish this information to the buyer might hasten the sale of the vehicle.

    Finding the VIN

    So, where can you find the VIN on your vehicle in order to order a vehicle history report from our partner? The VIN can often be found on the lower-left corner of the dashboard, in front of the steering wheel. You can read the number by looking through the windshield. The VIN may also appear in a number of other locations. Here is a list of some of the possible places to look:

    • Front of the engine block. This should be easy to spot by popping open the hood, and looking at the front of the engine.
    • Front of the car frame, near the container that holds windshield washer fluid.
    • Rear wheel well. Try looking up, directly above the tire.
    • Inside the driver-side doorjamb. Open the door, and look underneath where the side-view mirror would be located if the door was shut.
    • Driver-side doorpost. Open the door, and look near the spot where the door latches, not too far from the seatbelt return.
    • Underneath the spare tire.

    If you still can't locate the VIN, try consulting your vehicle manual. Or, call a dealership or the manufacturer and request guidance. You will need it to do a VIN check.