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How to Get a Rusty VIN Number to Reappear

by Tom Lutzenberger

The Vehicle Identification Number, otherwise known as a "VIN", is a unique serial number used to identify vehicles. This number is stamped into metal on a car, truck or motorcycle. Over time it can be obscured. This is particularly true on motorcycles and scooters, where the VIN is located on the frame near the engine and road, dirt and corrosion can cover it up. Cleaning the number off so it will reappear is easy as long as you are willing to use some elbow grease.

Locate the VIN on the vehicle. Cars frequently have it stamped at the bottom of the windshield on the driver's side, while and motorcycles or scooters have it stamped at the bottom of the core frame. However, earlier cars have it on the body near the engine. Try wiping the VIN area with a rag first to determine the amount of dirt or corrosion on it.

Take a bucket and brush with plastic bristles and fill it halfway with soap and water. Dip the brush in the soapy water after it's been thoroughly mixed. Scrub the VIN area with the brush, letting the water and soap penetrate. Wipe the VIN area off with a towel to see how much dirt has been removed. Repeat this process until it doesn't work anymore. Examine the VIN area again to see if it's still rusty.

Dry the affected area with a towel and scrub it thoroughly with a steel wool pad. Wipe the area with a moist rag to clean off the broken down rust. Repeat the scrubbing until clean. Use a steel bristle brush for a harder application of scrubbing.

Apply a power drill with a steel brush bit for very stubborn jobs with an exposed VIN (i.e. a motorcycle frame). Position the drill to the side of the frame so the edge of the steel brush bit makes contact when applied. Hold the drill with both hands firmly or it can whip around and cause injury. Brush the VIN area repeatedly until the rust is removed. Write down the visible VIN with a pen and paper so you have it in a second area for reference.


  • Engine degreaser and water can break down oily gunk on an exposed VIN area very quickly. Just make sure to use gloves and goggles to avoid skin contact.


  • When using a power drill and steel brush bit, apply the contact gently and often. One hard application could damage the VIN plate or scratch it up too much to be legible.

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About the Author

Since 2009 Tom Lutzenberger has written for various websites, covering topics ranging from finance to automotive history. Lutzenberger works in public finance and policy and consults on a variety of analytical services. His education includes a Bachelor of Arts in English and political science from Saint Mary's College and a Master of Business Administration in finance and marketing from California State University, Sacramento.

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