How do I start tracing the history of my classic car?

As you build a classic car history report, start by talking to any previous owners and even fans of your car. First-hand knowledge of your vehicle or its make and model may help narrow down the rest of your research process.

If you identify the classic car's VIN, you can start researching your classic car VIN history. However, VINs weren't standardized in the U.S. until 1981. Starting in the mid-1950s, auto manufacturers made up their own VINs. And prior to the mid-50s, the closest thing to a VIN was an identification or serial number stamped on major parts like the engine block. There was nothing to stop manufacturers from using the same identification number, so tracking classic car history by VIN isn't as simple as it is for modern vehicles.

Where do I find my classic car VIN?

There are multiple places to look for the VIN or its equivalent on the car itself and in paperwork related to the car.

Finding the VIN on a classic car

Most VINs for classic cars can be found in one (or more) of these locations:

  • On the dashboard, near the windshield on the driver's side, and visible from the outside

  • Inside the driver's side wheel well

  • Under the steering column

  • On the firewall

  • On a sticker located on the driver's door edge or doorjamb

  • On the driver's door hinge post

  • On the driver's or passenger's side frame rail

  • On major parts like the engine (though the engine may have been replaced)

You may also find other identifiers on a classic car, including car number plates, engine code ID numbers, trim tag numbers, or an ID number stamped on an axle.

Paperwork that contains VINs

The VIN or other unique identifier may be recorded on these documents:

While documentation is useful in tracing the history of a classic car, it's also important to verify that the classic car you own — or the one you're thinking about buying — matches its paperwork. Learn more about inspecting classic cars and shopping for classic cars.

I have my classic car VIN — what do I do next?

A quick search online will reveal several classic car VIN decoder websites. Some require a fee — research their reputation before making a transaction.

You can learn the following about your classic car by tracing its VIN:

  • Make and model

  • Type of car (passenger car, truck, etc.)

  • Type of engine and type of transmission

  • Year of manufacture

  • Location of the manufacturing plant

  • Title history (including ownership, damage history, and odometer readings)

Learning the manufacturing plant's location may help narrow down the range of your classic car history search. If the automaker had multiple plants at the time, each may have only shipped cars to dealerships within their specific area or region.

Where else can I learn about a classic car's history?

With a VIN or its equivalent in hand, you can research the history of your classic car through several online and offline sources:

  • National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS)

  • State Bureau or Department of Motor Vehicles (some state BMVs/DMVs have more information and services available at their state capital location versus the satellite office locations)

  • Auto manufacturers (some, like Pontiac, have great resources for classic car owners)

  • Car clubs (national level for research; local level for stories, tips, and practical advice; forums and newsletters for help requests)

  • Auto dealerships

  • Other online databases

  • Attending car shows and talking to fans and experts of classic cars

  • Talking to previous owners to ask them what they know about the car and who owned the car before them

  • Talking to family members of previous owners (If you can't talk to a previous owner, talking to their family may lead to stories about the car and information about where it was driven and how it was used)

If you're researching much older cars, our classic car insurance friends at Hagerty recommend the Standard Catalog of American Cars.

How to get classic car insurance


Get a classic car insurance quote and choose the coverages you want for your classic car.

Call a rep

Call 1-888-534-8980 to speak with a representative about the options for your classic or collector vehicle.