What Is a VIN Number?

VIN on a 2020 BMW X1 VIN on the windshield of a 2020 BMW X1 | photo by Jennifer Geiger

The letters V-I-N stand for “vehicle identification number.” Each vehicle has one and it’s made up of 17 characters, using numbers and capital letters. The VIN acts like your car’s fingerprint in that it is a unique number that is used to identify your vehicle.

Related: Video: How to Find Your Vehicle Identification Number

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The VIN has been required on every vehicle since 1981 and is a code that can tell you a variety of information about your car, including where it was built, as well as the year, make, model and engine type. It’s important for several reasons.

Not only is it used to identify your car, it can also be used for safety reasons. For example, you can use the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s VIN lookup tool to see if a specific vehicle has or has not been repaired as part of a safety recall in the past 15 years. It can also be used to track registrations, warranty claims, thefts and insurance coverage.

Where can you find the number? The VIN can be found on your car’s registration card, the driver-side doorjamb or the driver-side dashboard near the windshield.

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News Editor Jennifer Geiger joined the automotive industry in 2003, much to the delight of her Corvette-obsessed dad. Jennifer is an expert reviewer, certified car-seat technician and mom of three. She wears a lot of hats — many of them while driving a minivan. Email Jennifer Geiger

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