What is a VIN?

A VIN, or vehicle identification number, is a unique identifying code given to a vehicle when it's manufactured. Often found on the driver's side dashboard or door jamb, the VIN provides a wealth of vital information, including engine type and original product details, and can also be used to determine whether the vehicle was part of a recall or how often the car has been purchased.

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Why is a VIN so important?

Your car's VIN is an essential identifier for you, your insurance company, and your mechanic. Think of it as your car's history—everything from an accident to an oil change gets recorded using the vehicle identification number. Insurers can even adjust premium prices based on what information shows up on the insurance VIN check. If your vehicle was involved in a significant accident, it could result in higher premiums.

How is a VIN used?

Depending on who's using it, the VIN can provide different types of information:

  • Mechanics often use the vehicle identification number when they're servicing a vehicle because it allows them to easily identify the engine type and other parts that the car might need.
  • Insurance companies use the VIN for the same reason as mechanics — when quoting a rate, insurers use the VIN number to check on information about the vehicle they may be insuring.
  • Manufacturers use the VIN as a way to track their vehicles. The VIN is beneficial in identifying specific vehicle models that get recalled, allowing the manufacturer to easily determine which cars are included and notify the owners.
  • Police can use the VIN number as a way to check if a vehicle was involved in a theft or other crime.
  • The Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) uses the VIN number for vehicle registrations.

Another common use for a VIN is purchasing a used car. It's important to do an insurance check with the VIN number before purchasing a previously owned vehicle. Without one of these checks, you run the risk of buying a vehicle with a history of accidents and/or mechanical issues.

Where is the VIN located?

While there isn't one standard spot to find your VIN, as its placement can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, the most common places to find it include:

  • Driver's side interior dashboard
  • Driver's side door jamb
  • Under the hood
  • Front end of the frame
  • Vehicle registration
  • Title documents

What do the numbers on my VIN mean?

The seemingly random numbers and letters that make up the 17-digit sequence can be confusing to decipher. Let's break the numbers down:

  • World Manufacturer Identifier: The first three digits define the vehicle's country of origin, manufacturer, and region where it was produced, and its type or manufacturing division.
  • Vehicle Description: The next six digits describe the car's model, body, restraint system, transmission, engine, and fraud detector.
  • Vehicle Identifier: The last eight digits indicate the car's year, manufacturing plant, and its unique serial number determined while it's on the assembly line.

To further understand what your VIN means, try this useful VIN decoder guide.

Do I need a VIN number to get insurance?

You can often get a car insurance quote without a VIN, but in order to purchase a policy, you will need the VIN number of your vehicle. If you can't locate your vehicle's VIN, you can still get a quote with Progressive. Simply answer a couple of questions and get an auto insurance quote in minutes.

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