All vehicles manufactured for sale in North America since 1981 have a VIN which consists of a combination of 17 letters and numbers. It’s like the fingerprint of the vehicle. The VIN provides important information such as manufacturer, model, model year, make, equipment and category.
The VIN allows the insurance industry, law enforcement, governments and relevant stakeholders to identify a vehicle. The VIN of an automobile:
- is engraved on a metal plate which is located on the dashboard on the driver’s side and in other places on the car;
- gives basic information about the automobile, including the make and model, as well as the place and date of manufacture;
- remains the same no matter how many times the car changes ownership and registration number;
- can be used to trace the history of the vehicle – for example, if the car has been in a serious accident, if it has been stolen and the number of owners;
- is used by insurance companies to accurately establish insurance premiums;
- Helps the police find the rightful owner when the car was stolen.
Why should the VIN matter?
An accurate VIN can:
- Help you when you buy a used car. If you know how to check a car’s VIN, you’re less likely to buy a stolen car or a vehicle that’s deemed unsafe on the road, such as a flood-damaged car. For more information about buying a used car, contact your provincial or territorial motor vehicle registration office;
- Ensure a hassle-free transaction when you register your car, renew your license plates or transfer title. An accurate VIN can confirm the identity and ownership of your car;
- assist law enforcement in identifying and recovering stolen vehicles;
- Help body and vehicle maintenance shops order the right parts for your car. For example, a VIN identifies the model series, engine and transmission;
- help your insurance company identify your car to ensure your insurance is priced appropriately and can confirm ownership in the event of a claim;
- Protect your car identity. Unlike fingerprints, duplicate vehicle identities can be created, making it easier to resell stolen vehicles. It’s a kind of insurance crime that all policyholders pay the price for.
Here’s how to examine a car’s VIN to make sure you’re getting what you think you’re getting.
A criminal may attempt to hide a car’s history through the following actions:
- remove the VIN plate
- scratch the VIN
- change the VIN (for example, changing a 3 to look like an 8)
- replace a real VIN with a made-up (or fake) VIN
- Replacing an actual VIN with a copy of another car’s VIN (sometimes called “cloning”).
How to Examine a Car’s VIN
When checking a car, make sure the VIN is the same wherever it is found:
- Compare the VIN plate located on the dashboard with the one located at the bottom of the driver’s side door. (If the VIN is not on the driver’s side door, check its position in the owner’s manual.)
- Compare the car’s VINs with the VIN on the title deed.
- Compare all numbers above with the VIN found on the liability insurance certificate (proof of insurance).