The VIN Number: A Treasure Trove of Auto Information

For those not in the know, the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) is basically like a social security number for your car. VINs are unique sequences of 17 numbers and letters that are applied to every car manufactured in the United States (and a few other countries) after 1981.

A VIN can tell a car owner all kinds of information about a vehicle — from the manufacturing location (such as West Valley City, Utah or Detroit) to the size of the engine. So check under that air intake panel on your Ford Focus, and get to know your car a little better.

Where Is the VIN?

A car’s VIN can be located in a few different places depending on the make and model of the car — the VIN may be located in a different place on a Ford Focus than on a different vehicle. Typical locations include on a plate mounted near the windshield or dashboard or on the inside of the driver-side door.

What Does the Number Mean?

The first three characters of the 17-digit VIN denote the make and origin; 1, 2 and 5 denote the U.S., while J means Japan and 2 means Canada. The second and third letters tell you the manufacturer — FA stands for Ford. Characters 4–8 denote the features of your car, such as model, body style and engine type.

The ninth character is meticulously calculated to prevent against fake VINs. The 10th character denotes the model year (typically using a letter) and the 11th character represents the specific manufacturing plant. Numbers 12–17 signify the production number of the vehicle.

How to Use the VIN

Whether you’re buying a used car in Utah or in New England, it’s always wise to check the VIN before making a purchase. Running the VIN of that used Ford Focus you were looking at in Provo, Utah can tell you when the car was last inspected, how many owners it had, if it has ever been involved in an accident or experienced water damage, if it was ever stolen or classified as a “lemon” or if the odometer has ever been rolled back.

VINs make for an extremely useful way of identifying cars in the U.S., from its title, registration and insurance to finding replacement parts for your old Ford Focus later on down the line. From the East Coast to Utah, never buy a used car without checking the VIN first.

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