VIN numbers are the vehicular equivalent of our fingerprints. The VIN number is very much akin to a car’s ID, and like a human ID document, every car has a different, unique number identifying it. It was only as recently as 1981 that American automakers standardised the VIN numbers they labeled their cars with, and the VIN number has since found a relatively global format, typically 17 characters. As a used car seller or buyer, a VIN number allows for the valuation of any car you encounter. Interestingly, VIN number will never include the letters I, O or Q, to avoid confusing them with the numbers 1 and 0.
Where do I find my VIN number?
Depending on which manufacturer produced the car, the VIN number can be found in any number of locales, spread throughout the car’s build and accompanying paperwork.
- Vehicle registration certificate (Natis document)
- Licence disc - the easiest way to spot a car’s VIN number is to locate it on the licence disc that’s affixed to the windscreen of the car
- Dashboard - Printed or embossed on the dash where it meets the windscreen
- Driver’s door - look at the lower part of the door post, and you'll find a sticker listing the car's VIN number too
A car’s VIN number is an alphanumeric (numbers and letters) value and contains a host of information about the vehicle. For example, this is the VIN number of a 2008 BMW M3: WBSVA92068E040163.
The number starts with the vehicle’s country of manufacture. Depending on its position in the character chain, various symbols will denote various truths contained in a VIN number. The second and third characters, for example, will denote manufacturer and division respectively. While the fourth to eighth characters describe the car’s features.
Then follows a checksum digit, the sum of which corroborates the entire VIN number and other aspects of the identifying code. A VIN number typically rounds off with the year of manufacture, the assembly plant where the car was put together, and then a serial number unique to the vehicle. This serial number will also contain information of the vehicle’s sequence in its production, while stamping it as unique. So a host of information is stored within a VIN number, which is what makes them globally important and successful as vehicle identifiers.
Common questions asked about VIN numbers
#1 What is the VIN number on my car, and what can it tell me?
A vehicle’s VIN number identifies it and also gives out a host of information about its manufacture. Importantly, it also ties all other paperwork together, and serves as the baseline ID of any car.
#2 How do you tell what year a car is by the VIN number?
The 10th character in the average VIN number denotes the car’s year of manufacture. So in our example BMW’s case, the tenth character is an “8,” indicating the year of 2008 in the car’s details.
#3 Is it safe to give someone my car’s VIN number?
It’s completely safe to give out your car’s VIN number, as it is already relatively “public domain” intel, although mostly employed by OEMs (automakers) and government or police services. There is no personally identifying information in your car’s VIN number, nor any information that couldn’t be easily obtained, and thus no concern around revealing your car’s VIN number.
#4 Can a car be tracked by its VIN number?
A car can be traced through its VIN number, but not tracked as we today understand it. A system such as Tracker or Altech Netstar is installed into a car post-production, and relies on radio signals and satellite technology. Satellites cannot track cars via their VIN numbers, but for any real-time transaction or other car business, the VIN number remains the identifying token.
#5 How do I check a VIN number for free?
Any free VIN number check available online will contain very limited information and generally won’t have the data you need in order to make an informed decision when buying or selling a used car. The reason why we levy a fee for our own vehicle history check tool is to ensure the integrity of the information you receive. Free VIN number checks for private sellers or private buyers aren’t worth the time they take, as you have no way of knowing whether the information you’re getting is accurate. There is no obligation around accuracy and subsequent comebacks with any free VIN number tool. lso not free. We don't encourage you to do free vehicle check, as you just don't know how trustworthy the data will be. Do a South African VIN number check with the company you can trust, as we stand behind our products and provide the highest level of accuracy and confidence. Try us!
#6 How do you read the VIN number?
VIN numbers are read as for normal English text - left to right - and you never have to worry about whether an “O” is really an O, a Q or a zero, as remember: the letters I, O and Q are never used in a VIN number.
#7 Can I change my car’s VIN number?
Although there seldom exists few good reasons to do so, a car’s VIN number can be changed. There might have been an error in dedicating the VIN number to the car at the time of manufacture. The car might have been stolen and tampered with, or the original VIN number might be degraded to the point where a reissue is warranted. This happens very rarely, but it can be done.
#8 What is an HPI check in South Africa?
A "HPI" check is just a term used for a report that establishes if there is still any outstanding finance owing on a car. A VIN number is used to create this report, and our vehicle history check tool will also show all finance information associated with a VIN number. This information is retrieved by us directly from the banks and shows the bank name, contract start date, and the contract end date. Our data is highly accurate, and we collate relevant, detailed inputs to paint the clearest picture on any car viewed.
Using a car’s VIN number
As motorists, the VIN number on our car comes into play in many ways and on many occasions. That said, those moments are usually infrequent, hence the sometimes-confusion around a VIN number and what it’s all about.
Anytime you’re either buying a used car privately or at a dealership, the VIN number will be the reference point for all paperwork and ultimately, ownership, while also allowing you to check the car’s history in a flash. You can check a used car’s service history with the OEM dealership. BMW, for example, will happily share a used car’s entire history while the vehicle was under maintenance plan, and will share it both electronically and over the phone. Volkswagen only shares the service history verbally, if you aren’t the owner.
Private sellers too will need their VIN number correctly displayed on at least one of the standard points where it’s usually displayed, and there can be no discrepancies from the VIN number onwards, across all paperwork. Indeed, a used car being sold is the most common experience most people have of a VIN number’s importance. A car’s VIN number lies at the heart of secure auto transactions, and modern, savvy motorists will check a car’s history through the VIN number to glean as much information as possible on any sale car.
Most importantly, a VIN number enables you to check a car’s credentials. The car’s value, whether or not a it’s ever been stolen, current vehicle finance status and now also the accident history of the car can all be sourced using a VIN number. No matter what other paperwork says, the VIN number is the first and last word when looking at a car’s value and history.
All car matters run from their VIN numbers, much like all legal matters identify us via our ID document. VIN can be used to track things like a vehicle’s insurance policies, accident reports or when body or engine work was performed on a vehicle.
VIN number tampering
Every OEM will position a car’s VIN number in an assortment of locales, both easily visible as well as hidden. The VIN number is typically etched into the car’s core frame, and a plate with the VIN number is also affixed to the same chassis. This previously metal plate is nowadays sometimes replaced with a sticker. If the plate is removed or the sticker suffers damage from a removal attempt, the vehicle is considered “tampered with,” and this might necessitate the reissue of a VIN number on the used car in question.
Criminals will fiddle with a car’s VIN number in a few common ways:
- Car thieves will often very accurately attempt to stamp over a single character in a VIN number, thus altering the whole chain.
- They will also often simply grind the entire number off or down on the chassis, and then stamp a new number into the steel.
- Components of the car’s manufacture that display the VIN number can also be removed, adding to the deceit.
Microdot or DataDot and VIN numbers
MicroDot technology is a highly effective modern form of vehicle marking. It involves spraying thousands of small dots on the car’s undercarriage. These specially formulated “dots” contain a unique PIN, laser etched PIN number that identifies the car. They are technically impossible to remove completely, hence the security they provide.
Microdots don’t replace the need for a VIN number, and simply present as an added security measure that ultimately points to an original VIN number to identify the car. Because VIN numbers can be removed (see below) the application of datadot technology provides an added layer of high-tech security to safe motoring.
How to check a car’s value or history with a VIN number check
When shopping cars, you might contemplate the following questions:
- Can I do a stolen car check?
- Are there known red flags that prompt a police check on a used car?
- What is a fair price to pay for the used car I fancy?
- What’s the trade-in and retail value of the car?
- How do I check all of these things using the VIN number?
The simplest, fastest route to gleaning all available information on a car’s value, it’s history and legitimacy is via the Wheel Index vehicle value tool or vehicle history check. We’ve made it simpler than ever to get all needed information on your car or any car you fancy buying. Simply enter the car’s VIN number and within seconds you’ll have all the intel you need. The VIN number system lies at the heart of motoring security, identifying cars in the event of dispute, and serving as the base ID of all cars sold in the world.