Here’s How To Check a VIN Number
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When you’re in the market for a used vehicle, it pays to do your homework.
Researching different makes and models and deciding which meets your needs and wants ensures you have the right car for your daily life.
You also have to find a reputable seller to do business with, so you get a reasonable price and a quality vehicle with a clear history.
But what about when you find what appears to be a great deal on a car in excellent shape, but you want to be sure it isn’t too good to be true?
Checking a car’s vehicle identification number, or VIN, lets you delve deep into its history, ensuring your purchase matches its description.
Read on to discover how to perform a VIN check, along with different methods available for extra information.
What is a VIN?
A vehicle identification number is a specific series of 17 alphanumeric characters designated to every vehicle sold in the U.S.
You can think of the VIN like a car’s DNA, identifying specific information like its manufacturer, year, and serial number.
Since every registered vehicle has a unique VIN, you can find its individual history using various research tools, allowing you to find out exactly where it’s been and how many owners it’s had.
Should you be searching for a used car, this information can prove invaluable, as it also uncovers any past accidents or title issues a seller might be hiding.
Shift takes the worry out of VIN checks and used car buying altogether, with 150-point inspections and free vehicle history reports. When you buy a used car from Shift, there’s never sales pressure or haggling, only great prices on quality vehicles. You can buy any of Shift’s cars directly online from the comfort of your home, know it has no hidden issues (from our 150-point inspection) and get a fair, up-front price.
How to check a VIN for free
When you decide to perform a VIN check on the used vehicle you’re researching, there are free resources at your disposal. While free VIN checks lack the detailed information provided by paid ones, you still obtain helpful knowledge.
VehicleHistory.com offers plenty of free info, like original specifications, safety ratings, warranty, and user reviews. Other information includes selling history, recall information, and fuel economy.
The National Insurance and Crime Bureau protects you from vehicles with checkered title histories that may have been totaled or stolen. In the event the car you’re looking at was issued a salvage title, you’ll know before signing the papers, avoiding a troublesome purchase.
In-depth VIN checks
A thorough VIN check gives the most detailed information for the ultimate security before spending your hard-earned money on a used car. With this knowledge, you can decide whether or not you’d like to proceed with an automotive purchase.
While in-depth VIN checks come with a fee, their reports protect you from buying a vehicle with a murky past.
Well-known vehicle history report providers like Carfax and Autocheck delve deep into every vehicle’s history, leaving nothing to chance. You’ll find out helpful details like owner and registration history, damage from accidents or floods, and whether there’s evidence of odometer rollback.
Armed with this information, you’ll know whether a used car is what it appears to be or whether it’s best to stay away.
For extra reassurance on your used car purchase, Shift offers a seven-day refund policy. If you decide for any reason you aren’t satisfied with your vehicle, you can return it within seven days for a full refund, no questions asked. This is just another way Shift is there for you when you buy a used car
2016 Acura MDX (from $26,500)
How to read a VIN
A vehicle identification number, just like a zip code or phone number, provides specific information if you know where to look.
Reading through a VIN's 17 alphanumeric characters, you can find out details about a car you might not have known.
The first character tells you the vehicle's country of origin.
The following two characters stand for the manufacturer and division.
Characters four through eight pinpoint the vehicle's description, safety, and engine type.
Character nine is the manufacturer's security code.
The 10th character shows the vehicle's model year.
Character 11 identifies the assembly plant of manufacture.
Characters 12-17 are the vehicle's serial number.
Additional steps after a vin number check
While a VIN check itself gives you valuable knowledge while researching a used car, additional steps can further protect you from future expenses.
Having a pre-purchase inspection performed by a certified mechanic ensures the used car you’re looking at is in excellent mechanical condition, and you won’t be facing costly repairs.
A pre-purchase inspection, or PPI, also covers the cosmetic condition and safety equipment on a vehicle, so you know you’re buying something that’s in excellent shape.
Suppose a car’s been in a previous accident, and the seller’s been hiding that fact. In that case, a pre-purchase inspection can reveal unreported major repairs, allowing you to hold back on the transaction.
Something else to look out for is flood-damaged vehicles with clean titles. In the aftermath of hurricanes or significant floods, dishonest sellers transport flood-damaged cars to other states and modify the title, hiding any mechanical or cosmetic issues in the process. This is also known as selling a car with a washed title.
A PPI can reveal a car with a washed title, saving you from getting tricked into buying something that should be in a salvage yard.
Though buying a car online offers many advantages, what if you want to take a test drive first? Whether you’re in the market for a supercharged sports car or a full-size pickup, it’s nice to get a feel for performance and handling ahead of time. If you live in one of Shift’s many service areas, a concierge will drive to you, letting you test the vehicle of your choice before signing the papers.
2015 Dodge Challenger (from $26,500)
Vehicle identification numbers in summary
An often overlooked feature of all cars sold in the U.S., vehicle identification numbers contain highly important information. Unique to every vehicle, no two VINs are identical.
Though difficult to decipher without specific know-how, a car’s VIN can provide a valuable roadmap to its past and whether it has been in accidents, been stolen, or gone through major repairs.
Once you find out the VIN of the used vehicle you’re considering buying, using the available research tools, both free and paid, allows you to obtain helpful knowledge. Once you have a clear picture of where a specific vehicle’s been, how many owners it’s had, and whether it has a salvage title, you have the tools to decide on proceeding with a transaction.
Even if you want to know more about a car you already own, reading your VIN provides interesting details about your vehicle’s specifications, such as its country of origin, the date of manufacture, and its individual serial number, too.
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All prices are based on vehicle availability and pricing as of
April 15, 2022
Pricing shown is not guaranteed and does not include taxes or other product fees.