Just as your social insurance number uniquely identifies you to the government and employers, your car’s Vehicle Identification Number, or VIN, provides its unique identity. The VIN is not just a personal ID for your car. It also provides a wealth of information about your car, where it was made, its safety features and more. Since 1981, the VIN is a 17-character alphanumeric series. Checking the VIN can help you when you’re buying a used car and there are a number of free resources online that can tell you more about your car and its past.
What Is a VIN and What Does It Show?
Most VIN lookup sites originate from the United States, but this isn’t a problem for Canadian motorists, as VINs are registered together for North America. These numbers are used for:
- Vehicle registrations as a new car, and each time it is sold
- Manufacturers’ recalls are issued by VIN number since the VIN includes data about where and when a vehicle is made
- Warranty eligibility
- Identifying a car’s unique features and original equipment
- Accident tracking
- Insurance coverage
- Repairs and maintenance
- Vehicle identification after the theft
Free versus Paid Services
Certain databases that include VIN information are freely accessible, so almost every site that provides VIN lookups offers some level of the free report. Similarly, most VIN lookup sites have a fee or subscription as you get into more detailed information hidden in deeper databases. There doesn’t appear to be any website that provides all VIN information at no charge, though some sites bury this under pages of light results. It seems the strategy is to scare users into paying after investing their time without getting the information the site suggested was available for free. Reputable VIN lookup sites will be clear what information is free and what you need to pay to receive.
Where is the VIN Number?
Even if you’re familiar with the VIN plate on the dash under the windshield on the driver’s left, there are other places the same number is stamped in your car. These places vary from car to car. If the dash VIN appears to be damaged or tampered with on a used car you’re looking to buy, check one of the other locations for a VIN match and do an online VIN lookup before paying or signing any agreement. You can find the VIN in one or more of these locations:
- On the front of the engine block
- On the car frame near the windshield washer reservoir
- In a rear wheel well, above the tire
- On the driver-side doorjamb, under where the side view mirror would be when the door is closed
- Driver side doorpost, close to where the door latches
- Underneath the spare tire, if it is mounted internally.