What Every Car Owner Should Know About A VIN

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A VIN (vehicle identification number) is a specific 17-character string of alphanumeric code that uniquely identifies a specific vehicle. Every car has its own VIN, no two cars are exactly alike. The VIN is assigned to the vehicle when it’s built. Checking the VIN can help you find out a lot about the vehicle, such as accident reports, safety recalls, salvage reports, stolen reports, and much more. The VIN is usually stamped on a metal tag and is often located on the driver’s side of the dash panel or the door jamb, or under the hood.

The VIN on most vehicles consists of 17 characters, but some vehicles manufactured in 1981 or earlier have a shorter VIN. The shorter VIN was to be phased out by 1982, but the regulation made an exception for vehicles manufactured before 1981. This allows those vehicles to be titled along with certain other vehicles with varying VIN lengths—such as certain import vehicles.

How to decode a VIN

The first three characters of your vehicle identification number will tell you where the vehicle was made and in what country it was registered. The next five digits indicate the vehicle’s make, model, type of engine, transmission type, and other technical specifications. The next three digits contain the vehicle’s security digit, model year, and the assembly plant. The last six digits are your vehicle’s serial number, identifying your vehicle by trim and other specifications.

It’s important to note that even if the vehicle seems to be in working condition, some VINs are ineligible to be issued a title.

Why certain VINs are ineligible for a vehicle title

It’s not a title problem, it’s a VIN problem. The National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS) is a federal database that contains information about every vehicle that is ineligible for a title. Once a VIN is registered with the NMVTIS, the vehicle cannot legally be titled by any state. To enter the NMVTIS database, a vehicle dismantler or similar entity must deem the vehicle as junk and report the VIN to the NMVTIS. Similarly, if a vehicle was considered a total loss in an accident by an insurance company, that company can issue a junk or salvage brand on the title to be entered into the NMVTIS database.

Vehicles that have their VIN documented in the NMVTIS database are done so because they’ve been deemed unsafe or inoperable for road use. Unfortunately, you can’t tell if a VIN is in the NMVTIS or not just by looking at it.

How do you conduct a VIN check?

A VIN check is a quick and simple process that can help you save thousands of dollars on a vehicle. There are many sites available on the Internet that provide this service for free; all you need to do is type in your VIN and the site will pull information directly from the NMVTIS database. It’s crucial to check your VIN before buying because if your VIN shows up in the NMVTIS database, you can not get a title for that vehicle. To conduct a VIN check, visit the NMVTIS website for a list of approved NMVTIS data providers for both commercial and public customers.

A vehicle identification number, or VIN, is a helpful tool for decoding and understanding more about specific components of your car. When purchasing a new or used car, it helps to know what the various components represent. Once you decode the vehicle identification number and enter it into the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System, you can be confident that you are purchasing a vehicle in good condition.

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