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What is a VIN number?

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Updated 11 Oct 2019Bruce McMahon
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A car’s VIN - Vehicle Identification Number - is sacrosanct from the day the machine rolls off the production line to the day it rolls into the scrap yard.

Numbers rule modern cars, from strange combinations on the side of tyres to computations and algorithms managing engine control modules.

While some may change over the life of a car, its VIN remains the one dedicated set of figures.

This is not your registration number, though the car’s VIN will be recorded with that registration.

Until 1989, Australia used chassis numbers, stamped into a major component, for identifying individual cars.

Today a VIN is a unique 17-character code that identifies that particular motor vehicle from similar vehicles.

Even if the car alongside is the same make, model and paint job, the VIN sets them apart; like a set of automotive fingerprints.

WHAT’S A VIN LOOK LIKE?

These vehicle codes use numerals from 0 to 9 and uppercase letters from A to Z, leaving out capital I, O and Q so there’s no confusion with some numbers.

This can then be deciphered to work out in which country the car was built, who built it and when.

The 17 characters will list the particular plant, a manufacturer’s code for the model with its drivetrain, options and body colour, plus a unique serial/production number for that car.

WHERE TO FIND THE VIN?

A VIN is usually found on the body of the vehicle - under the bonnet, at the bottom of the windscreen on the passenger side, or along the driver’s side door opening.

HOW IS IT USED?

With unique identification for each car, it’s easier to track stolen or ‘re-born’ vehicles, easier for mechanics - those folk found on Auto Guru - to know what parts will suit for service and repairs, and easier for manufacturers to keep track of particular vehicles to see what’s selling and, if and when, a recall is necessary.

A VIN is handy too when buying a used car as databases provided by authorities will record if that machine has a troubled history; a check with the Australian Personal Property Securities Register will tell whether that particular vehicle has outstanding monies owed or has been recorded as a write-off.

When getting a quote for a service or repair on AutoGuru, be sure to use the handy ‘rego look up’ tool.

This will provide the mechanic with your VIN and allow them to accurately identify your vehicle and make sure the correct parts are ordered.

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Written ByBruce McMahon

Bruce McMahon is a Queensland-based journalist who’s spent a fair slice of his career dealing with automotive matters.

His first car was a 1949 Riley Roadster, followed by a mix of machinery from Porsches to Jeeps, Alfa Romeos and Range Rovers through to the current four-wheel drive Mazda ute.

He’s driven the Nurburgring and the Tanami Tracks.