Where Can I Find My Vin Or Chassis Number?
What Is A VIN, And Why Is It Important?
So you’re buying a used car, and you’ve got a list of things to check – insurance details, logbook, even the miles on the clock – but the VIN might be something you’ve never heard of if you haven’t bought a used car before.
VIN stands for ‘Vehicle Identification Number’, but it’s a lot more than just a serial number like you would find on an appliance like a TV or washing machine.
The VIN is like the fingerprint of a vehicle and is a unique identifier that, just like our fingerprints, never changes. So, it can be used to identify the vehicle for its whole life.
A VIN will be found on any car, motorcycle, van, and even many trailers and towed vehicles. If it runs on the road, then it will have a VIN!
What does the VIN mean?
VINs have been in use since the 1950s, but there were no standards or central databases until 1981. Since the 1980s, all VINs have been made up of 17 characters, each with a specific purpose.
- The first three characters indicate the country the car was built in, followed by the manufacturer.
- Next, five numbers paint a picture of the vehicle and give information about the original engine.
- There are then three characters concerning the manufacturer, the year of production, and the plant where the car was assembled.
- The last six characters are the vehicle’s serial number.
If a car you’re thinking of buying was built more recently than 1981 and doesn’t have a 17 digit VIN, then steer well clear!
Phew! That’s a lot of information contained in one tiny number! But it’s easy to see why it’s so important, especially when you’re thinking of purchasing a second-hand car.
Don’t worry about remembering what each character is for – that’s what online checks are for!
Why should I check the VIN?
Problems with the VIN are the number one warning sign that something isn’t quite right with a car. And, since the VIN never changes, and databases are freely available to check through DVLA, there’s no excuse not to check this vital information!
If the results of a VIN check don’t match the car you’re looking at, then you know something is off.
Worse still, if the VIN is missing, incomplete, doesn’t match on all parts of the vehicle, or has been tampered with, you will know that someone has tried to cover their tracks.
It only takes moments to look for the VIN number when you view a car you’re thinking of buying. If it’s not there at all, you should be instantly aware that something is badly wrong.
Just a quick online VIN search will give you the reassurance you need to continue with your used car purchase – as it can validate (or discredit) the information the seller has given you.
Where can I find the VIN?
The VIN is always printed on the vehicle’s chassis, as this is a component that should never be replaced. Many newer cars also have the VIN printed in several other locations that can be more convenient for a quick check.
In the UK, you will usually find a small plaque with the VIN printed on it displayed in the bottom left corner of the windscreen. The VIN plaque can be fixed to the dashboard or printed onto the windscreen itself.
VINs are also often printed inside the engine bay or sometimes on the inside panel of the driver-side door.
Of course, some of these components can be replaced without altering the vehicle’s structural integrity. However, the chassis VIN should be the same as the day it was made, and all VINs on the vehicle should match. – Otherwise, you can take it as a warning sign that something might be wrong!
How can I use the VIN when I buy a used car?
If you can see the same VIN in several places on the same car, you can be pretty confident there have been no significant changes to the vehicle since it was made. Missing or mismatched VINs are a sure sign you need to ask more questions or walk away from the sale.
It’s also good to check the V5 logbook and run a reg check when buying a new car. This contains all the information you need to know about the car, plus it should also show the exact VIN you found in the vehicle.
If the number on the car and in the logbook doesn’t match, something is not right in the vehicle’s history.
Anyone selling a used car should know what a VIN is and where it is on the vehicle they’re selling. If someone is evasive about showing you the VIN in any paperwork or on the vehicle itself (or if they try to claim they don’t know what it is), proceed with extreme caution! They may be trying to hide something from you that a less savvy buyer would have missed.
How can I check a VIN?
The DVLA holds a complete national database of all legally registered vehicles in the UK. You can check the VIN and other information about a car for free on their website.
To make life even easier, smartphone apps are available that can scan a windscreen VIN and check it against the national database. Making viewing a second-hand car even easier and more convenient!
What are some other numbers I might see on a used car?
There are many codes and numbers associated with any vehicle, so there’s no shame in being confused about what they mean!
Remember that the car’s serial number is only the last six digits of the VIN, and you need all 17 characters to make any checks.
The VIN will always be referred to with the initials VIN on car documents, but in some cases, people might use the older term ‘chassis number’ to mean the same thing.
It’s helpful to remember that the copy of the VIN stamped on the chassis is the master copy for the vehicle and can never be altered unless the car is scrapped. Almost everything about a used car can change, but the chassis version of the VIN will remain the same for its entire life!
The number one thing which gets confused with the VIN is the engine number. The engine number serves a similar purpose to the VIN, but it solely refers to the engine. The engine might be one of the most crucial parts of a vehicle, but it can be changed or upgraded without altering the VIN.
Can’t I look up the registration plate number instead?
Because it’s displayed so prominently and we see it every day, we might think that the registration is the most important number on our vehicle, but that’s not the case! Like the engine, the registration can change on any vehicle several times throughout its life while the VIN remains the same.
For example, you can buy personalized plates for a vehicle and move them onto a new car. But you can’t keep the same VIN, as this is unique to the specific car, not the driver. And each number contains vital information.
Convenience also plays a part here. While switching the registration plates on a vehicle is simple, it’s complicated to forge the VIN everywhere it appears! The real value of the VIN is its permanence – anyone trying to alter something moulded into the chassis of the vehicle would have a hard time making it invisible!