Your fingerprints are unique. No two people in the world have the exact same fingerprints. Not even identical twins. Your fingerprints help to identify you. A vehicle identification number, or VIN, is the same. It acts as a vehicle’s fingerprints. The VIN is unique to the vehicle for which it’s assigned. No two vehicles share the exact same VIN.
How VINs began
You’d be wrong if you thought Henry Ford introduced the vehicle identification number to the automobile. In fact, no one person or company is credited with inventing the VIN. Earliest references to a vehicle “fingerprint” point to the engine serial number. Insurance companies and DMVs used this engine serial number for identification purposes prior to 1954. The problem? If an engine was replaced, that vehicle’s identification was potentially compromised.
Automobile companies generally used their own numeric serial numbers as an early form of vehicle identification. Then, as the industry expanded, vehicles began to be produced in different parts of the U.S. It soon became difficult to track numbers and vehicles—even within a single company. From 1954 to 1981, there was no official standard for how companies identified the vehicles they made. Each manufacturer used their own format. And these formats frequently changed from year to year.
Standardizing the vehicle identification number
In 1981, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration standardized what we now know as the VIN. It required all on-road vehicles to have a 17-character vehicle identification number. You can see a breakdown of the meaning of each character here.
How the VIN can help you
You will need to know your vehicle’s VIN when insuring the vehicle or making a claim. The VIN identifies your vehicle if parts are recalled.
If you want to buy a vehicle, the VIN will help you find out about the vehicle’s accident history. It will also show current liens and previous owner history.
Finding the VIN for your vehicle
Cars and trucks
Stand outside the vehicle and look into the driver’s side of the windshield. Mounted on the dash should be a small tag with the VIN listed. If the VIN is not there, it may be inside the driver’s door frame.
- Travel trailers or campers: Look along the frame and the tongue. Also check inside any basement compartments and interior cabinets, where other RV information is listed.
- Fifth-wheels: Check at the roadside front lower exterior wall or sidewall. Or look along the pin box framework.
- Motorhomes: Look from the outside through the windshield to the driver’s side dash. Or check the interior driver’s side dashboard area.
If you are unable to find your RV’s VIN, ask the dealership or a mechanic for help. You will, of course, see the VIN on your title and/or bill of sale. However, the actual VIN tag on your RV is the most reliable form of identification.
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