What Is a VIN and What Does It Help You With?

Understand the significance of VINs, the role they play and their practical applications.
Published on December 7th, 2020
  Written by 
Adrian Edlington
Adrian Edlington is PR & Communications Manager at Savvy. With a keen interest in personal finance, car loans, the mortgage industry, cost of living pressures, electric vehicles and renewable technology, Adrian's research includes conducting primary data surveys and analysis of up-to-the-minute secondary Australian data sources. His work on behalf of Savvy has been featured on ABC.net.au The Conversation, the Sydney Morning Herald, AFR, News.com.au, The Age, Herald Sun, Adelaide Now, SBS On The Money, 7News, Car Expert, Which Car, Drive.com.au and more. In his spare time, Adrian enjoys mountain biking and business podcasts.
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   Reviewed by 
Bill Tsouvalas


Bill Tsouvalas
Bill Tsouvalas is the managing director and a key company spokesperson at Savvy. As a personal finance expert, he often shares his insights on a range of topics, being featured on leading news outlets including News Corp publications such as the Daily Telegraph and Herald Sun, Fairfax Media publications such as the Australian Financial Review, the Seven Network and more. Bill has over 15 years of experience working in the finance industry and founded Savvy in 2010 with a vision to provide affordable and accessible finance options to all Australians. He has built Savvy from a small asset finance brokerage into a financial comparison website which now attracts close to 2 million Aussies per year and was included in the BRW’s Fast 100 in 2015 as one of the fastest-growing companies in the country. He’s passionate about helping Australians make financially savvy decisions and reviews content across the brand to ensure its accuracy. You can follow Bill on LinkedIn.
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For Australians who own or intend to buy a car, understanding the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) is crucial. This seemingly random string of numbers and letters holds immense significance, acting as a car's unique fingerprint throughout its lifetime. From facilitating informed decisions to ensuring safety and peace of mind, the VIN plays a vital role in various aspects of car ownership.

What is a VIN?

A VIN is a unique code assigned to every motor vehicle when it is manufactured, providing a comprehensive record of its specifications that can be used to track and identify the vehicle. Historically, VINs varied in length, from as few as 5 digits to as many as 13. However, since 1981 VINs have been standardised globally as a 17-character code. In Australia, the VIN format adheres to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 3779 standard, ensuring consistency and easy identification across borders.

Here's a breakdown of the VIN structure:

  • Characters 1–3: these represent the World Manufacturer Identifier (WMI). This first character identifies the country of manufacture and the second and third denote the manufacturer and vehicle. For example, the WMI for Holden is 6G1 (Australia).
  • Characters 4–8: this section provides details about the vehicle itself, such as the vehicle's model, body style and engine type.
  • Character 9: this is a check digit, calculated mathematically using the previous nine characters. It acts as a security measure to verify the accuracy of the VIN.
  • Character 10: this represents the model year of the vehicle. It can be a letter or a number, typically ranging from A (1980) to Y (2000), excluding I, O, Q, U and Z.
  • Character 11: this identifies the production plant where the vehicle was assembled.
  • Characters 12–17: the final six characters make up the production sequence number, which is a unique serial number assigned to each vehicle as it rolls off the assembly line. This number distinguishes one vehicle from another within the same model year, plant and production period.
VIN breakdown
                                                                                                             VIN breakdown

What can the VIN help you with?

Knowing your car's VIN unlocks a treasure trove of information and benefits:

Informed car buying: 

Before purchasing a car, especially a used one, obtaining the VIN is crucial. You can use the VIN to run a car history check through various online services or government databases. This report provides valuable insights into the vehicle's history, including:

  • Previous ownership details
  • Registration information
  • Accident history
  • Odometer readings
  • Service and repair records
  • Outstanding finance or security interests
  • Recalls and safety issues

By accessing this information, you can make informed decisions about the car's condition, value and potential red flags, empowering you to negotiate a fair price and avoid any hidden problems.

Vehicle registration and insurance:

When registering your car or obtaining car insurance, you'll need to provide the VIN. This unique identifier helps authorities and insurers accurately identify your vehicle, streamlining the registration and insurance processes.

Parts and repairs:

When purchasing replacement parts or seeking repairs, knowing the VIN allows mechanics and parts suppliers to accurately identify compatible components specific to your car's model and specifications. This ensures you get the right parts and repairs, preventing compatibility issues and unnecessary costs.

Recalls and safety:

Manufacturers sometimes issue safety recalls to address potential defects or safety concerns in specific car models or production batches. For example, in March 2024, BMW recalled more than 7,000 cars due to a defect in the brake system. Knowing your car's VIN allows you to check online databases provided by government agencies or manufacturers to see if your car is affected by any outstanding recalls. Addressing these recalls promptly ensures your safety and the safety of others on the road. In Australia, you can find information about the latest recalls on the government’s vehicle recalls page.

Theft recovery:

In the unfortunate event of car theft, the VIN becomes critical for recovery efforts. Law enforcement agencies use the VIN to track stolen vehicles and identify them during recovery operations. Keeping a record of your car's VIN and providing it to authorities can significantly increase the chances of recovering your stolen vehicle.

Where do I find my car’s VIN?

The VIN can be found in several locations on your car:

  • Driver’s side door jamb: this is the most common location, usually on a metal plate near the door latch.
  • Dashboard: look for a sticker on the dashboard near the driver's side windshield.
  • Engine compartment: the VIN may be etched onto the engine block or firewall.
  • Vehicle registration certificate: your car's registration certificate will also have the VIN listed.

How can I protect my VIN?

While readily accessible for legitimate purposes, avoid sharing your car's VIN publicly online or with unknown individuals. Scammers and identity thieves may misuse this information for fraudulent activities like creating fake registration documents or cloning vehicles. Here are some tips for safeguarding your VIN:

  • Securely store documentation: keep copies of your vehicle registration certificate, insurance documents and purchase records in a secure location – not your car. These documents contain your VIN and other sensitive information that could be used for identity theft or fraud.
  • Keep it offline: be cautious about sharing your VIN and other personal information online or in public forums. Scammers and identity thieves may use this information to impersonate you or access your financial accounts.
  • Consider anti-theft measures: think about installing anti-theft devices such as steering wheel locks, alarm systems and vehicle tracking devices to deter theft and improve the chances of recovery in case of theft.
  • Inspect your car: periodically inspect your vehicle's VIN plate and etchings to ensure they have not been tampered with or altered. Report any discrepancies or signs of tampering to law enforcement authorities immediately.

Understanding the VIN is essential for all Australian car owners, whether you're in the market for a new car, seeking financing options or simply looking to protect your investment. If you’re looking for a new vehicle and need to secure financing, Savvy has you covered. Our expert team can offer personalised assistance to help you find an option to suit your needs. Get in touch to compare car loans with us today.

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