What A Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) Is Used For

July 15, 2019

Like people with our social security numbers, cars have their own unique way of being identified. This is with a vehicle identification number, or VIN. A VIN tells a lot, with each character providing you with different pieces of information.

The most common place for a VIN to appear is on your dashboard on the driver’s side. Where the corner of the dashboard and windshield come together, there is often a tiny plate stamped in the area containing a mix of 17 letters and numbers. Another area you can check for the VIN would be inside the driver’s side door sill. It will also be present on documentation for the vehicle, ranging from the registration to the owner’s manual.

VIN Location

VIN Number Breakdown

Okay, so you know that your VIN is a set of 17 letters and numbers - but this jumble of characters probably doesn’t mean much to you. Each of the symbols actually tell valuable pieces of information pertaining to the vehicle.

The first three symbols of the VIN are also known as the World Manufacturer Identifier (WMI). The first character lets you know the country of the manufacturer, while the second two give you the specific manufacturer (ex:BMW). 

The six symbols following the WMI are known as the Vehicle Descriptor Section (VDS), describing the vehicle type. This section gives someone the general characteristics of vehicle, such as the body type, engine type, number of doors, etc. Each manufacturer has their own system for displaying this information.

The final eight characters of the VIN are used as the Vehicle Identifier Section (VIS). This is the car’s unique serial number for the manufacturer to be able to identify the exact vehicle by production year and original equipment.

VIN Breakdown

Is it Safe to Give Your VIN Out?

Given the amount of information that a VIN contains about a car, it’s fair to ask if giving out a VIN is a safe thing to do. After all, people aren’t going around sharing their social security numbers!

Keep in mind that the VIN of your car is pretty much in plain sight already in the spot on the dashboard. It’s actually a smart thing to give out a VIN when trying to sell a vehicle so that potential buyers can know the history of a vehicle.

VINs are something that can actually deter thieves, because it can be a lot more difficult to resell a car. The “stolen” status would be visible in a VIN. There’s really not much someone can do with a VIN - it can be compared to your license plate number as far as being public information.