posted this on May 14, 2013, 12:15 PM
A Vehicle Identification Number, or "VIN," is the unique code that is assigned to an individual vehicle by its manufacturer and that distinguishes it from all other vehicles. No two vehicles can have the same VIN.
In 1981, VINs were standardized under the auspices of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as a 17-digit string of letters and numbers. Under NHTSA requirements, many of those letters and numbers are assigned values with which each manufacturer must comply; other portions of the VIN are available for each manufacturer to code as it wishes. (Prior to 1981, manufacturers defined their own VIN in its entirety, so the length and formatting of VINs on vehicles made before 1981 varies from manufacturer to manufacturer.)
Typically, the VIN is stamped into a plate or printed on a sticker and affixed to the vehicle in several different places, including inside the engine bay and on the driver's side door jamb.
Decoding a VIN
Certain digits in the VIN identify a vehicle's attributes, including its final point of assembly, its model year, the manufacturer and, usually, the model of the vehicle. For a complete description of how to read a vehicle's VIN, please see Making Sense of Your VIN.
Please note, however, that some vehicle attributes, such as color, standard features or options (and in many cases even the style or trim of the vehicle), cannot be decoded from the VIN alone. Obtaining that level of detail requires access to the vehicle's "build record," and build records are generally available only to the vehicle's manufacturer and its dealers. If you need such details from a VIN, we suggest contacting the manufacturer or dealer directly to see if they will provide them.
Vehicle History Reports
Modern, 17-digit VINs can be used to access many records relating to a vehicle, including ownership, accident and repair histories. Edmunds.com does not offer such reports, but our advertiser AutoCheck does. For more information, please see Which Vehicle History Report Is Right for You? or click here to link to AutoCheck directly.
Please note that AutoCheck does not offer vehicle history reports for model years prior to 1981, when the 17-digit VIN became standard.
Our VIN Check page is a central location for information about Vehicle Identification Numbers.