Every manufactured vehicle has a vehicle identification number (VIN), which provides the owner with information regarding the vehicle's origins and source engine components. In the mid-1950s, as mass auto production escalated with demand, Detroit auto manufacturers began stamping their vehicles to identify them. Early identification numbers varied by manufacturer, but in 1977 an ISO (International Organization of Standardization) for the VIN came into effect, which the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration adopted in the early 1980s as a requirement for all licensed vehicles. For the car-repair enthusiast, interpreting the VIN properly will ensure the right parts for the vehicle.
Locate your vehicle identification number. The most common location for the VIN is on the door frame or post of the front driver-side door, or on the dashboard close to the windshield. The VIN can be in other places though, such as the machine pad on the engine, or stamped on the steering wheel or column. The VIN is also listed on vehicle documents such as the title certificate, registration, warranty or maintenance books.
Decipher your VIN. The first character in a VIN denotes the country of origin, the second character is the manufacturer and the third character identifies the vehicle type (or division). The fourth through eighth characters are very important from a parts perspective as they identify model attributes such as body style, engine type and model series. The ninth digit is the check digit (mathematically determined to verify VIN accuracy), and the 10th and 11th characters identify the model year and manufacturing plant. The last six digits are the unique identifiers for each vehicle.
Apply the VIN information to a part source. This process has benefited greatly from the digital age, and many parts retailers and manufacturers list their supply catalogues online. On their websites you will also have the ability to search their databases by VIN. If sourcing through the computer doesn't sound appealing, both dealership service centres and retail parts outlets have the ability to find the parts you need through your VIN.
If you cannot find the VIN on your vehicle, a search of your car's manufacturer online will easily narrow down the VIN location. VIN symbol code charts like the ones listed in the Resources section will explain each specific character in the VIN sequence. Conducting a VIN number check is valuable when buying a used car, as it will show different points of ownership and any major accidents in the vehicle's history.
Thieves have been known to take a vehicle's VIN to a dealer to get duplicate keys cut. If your VIN is on your dashboard, consider taking steps to conceal it from passersby.