How to Check a VIN Number

by Sophie Johnson

A VIN stands for vehicle identification number. It is sort of like a car's fingerprint, a code belonging only to a particular vehicle. When buying a used car, you should always run a VIN check, since you can learn a car's history through the number. Information such as whether a car has been stolen, branded as totaled or suffered flood damage---all accessible through the VIN---is vital for the used car buyer. A car manufactured after 1981 has a VIN of 17 digits and letters, these serving as code for information such as the country of manufacture. Cars made before 1981 will have a shorter VIN.

Find the vehicle's VIN. It will be located on the driver's side dashboard or in the driver's side door frame. If you're in a remote location, ask the dealer or owner of the car for the VIN. Have them check their insurance cards or registration.

Find an online site that lets you run a VIN check. Many sites offer free checks that give you very basic information on a car, such as whether it's stolen or salvaged. For detailed reports, you will need to pay a fee. Shop around.

Input the VIN number into the field provided on the website and press "Enter" or "Okay." The site will reveal the information. It will also likely give you a chance to buy a more detailed report.

Tip

  • check Know that different checking services might have different information or pull that information from different sources. Check through the site to find out how they get their information. If you want to check several used cars, consider buying short-term access to unlimited VIN checks from the online site of your choice. You can also call or visit your local DMV to see if they'll run a basic VIN check for you. There are programs available for the iPhone and iPod that let you check a VIN while out shopping for a car.

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About the Author

Sophie Johnson is a freelance writer and editor of both print and film media. A freelancer for more than 20 years, Johnson has had the opportunity to cover topics ranging from construction to music to celebrity interviews.