Unfortunately, there are plenty of unscrupulous car dealers eager to take your hard-earned money in exchange for a vehicle that looks genuine but isn’t quite what it seems on closer inspection. So, Motorscan wants to help you avoid buying a cloned vehicle with our guide on finding the VIN number on your next used car and why it’s crucial to check!
Knowing where to locate the VIN number on a vehicle might be information you thought you didn’t need. But there are occasions when finding a vehicle’s VIN number may save you a lot of trouble. So, Motorscan has been looking into the how, when and why finding a car’s VIN number is something drivers need to know rather than just being useful trivia for the next pub quiz night!
A vehicle identification number (VIN) is a unique 17-digit code assigned to a vehicle by the manufacturer during production. The code is stamped into the vehicle’s chassis, and every car on the planet has one, effectively its DNA. It can never be altered, remaining assigned to that vehicle for its life, unlike other codes and registration numbers which can periodically change.
Carrying out a VIN check is essential to discovering whether a car is legitimate. The VIN is unique to a vehicle and verifies its true identity. Essentially, it’s a crucial step when buying a secondhand car, as any irregularities could indicate the vehicle isn’t lawful and walking away from the sale is definitely recommended.
The initial three characters of the vehicle’s VIN are known as WMI (world, manufacturer, identifier). The world character identifies the country of origin; for example, S indicates the UK, and W represents Germany. Similarly, for the manufacturer, you may see H for Honda or N for Nissan, with the third digit identifying the manufacturing division or vehicle type.
The second section of characters four through eight is the vehicle description and includes attributes such as engine type, body style, model and series. The ninth digit is a VIN accuracy check. After that, the third set of characters, ten through 17, is the vehicle identifier section. The tenth character represents the year; for example, X represents 1999, Y constitutes 2000, 2 represents 2002 and 3 is 2003 and so forth. Finally, the eleventh character represents the assembly plant, and 12 through 17 identify the vehicle production sequence on the assembly line.
You can locate a vehicle’s VIN number stamped into the chassis, usually found in the engine bay, sometimes on the door jamb on the driver’s side door or the door sill of the driver or passenger door opening, typically beneath the plastic trim. The identifier can also be found in other places, for example, at the bottom of the windscreen. Of course, this can disappear as the vehicle ages if the windshield is replaced.
The VIN number holds valuable insights into a car’s background, including its former owners, maintenance history and accidents. Similarly, it plays a role in insurance, the sale or transfer of vehicle ownership and theft recovery. Ultimately, verifying the VIN is vital in avoiding fraud if you buy a used, pre-owned vehicle. Checking the VIN listed on the logbook (V5C) corresponds with the VIN stamped on the chassis and other car areas will provide legitimacy and reassurance. However, if you find that the VIN listed on the V5C logbook doesn’t match the VIN number on the car, you should walk away and find an alternative vehicle to purchase. If the VIN number appearing on the car’s chassis or other areas are inconsistent with each other and the V5C logbook, it’s a red flag indicator of something untoward and suspicious.
Unfortunately, unscrupulous criminal car sellers are operating in a market where there is profit to be made from selling stolen or salvaged vehicles. So, if you’re looking to purchase a used car and discover the VIN number found on the vehicle chassis or other areas isn’t consistent with the VIN number on the V5C logbook, walk away and find an alternative dealership. Mismatching VIN numbers on a car with its logbook clearly indicates the vehicle is likely salvaged or stolen and possesses a cloned or stolen VIN.
VIN cloning is when criminals swap the VIN plate from one car to another as part of car cloning. They are essentially transferring the identity of a legally registered vehicle to a salvaged or stolen car and may even create fake documents to match the cloned VIN, so be vigilant of this practice. Being super careful and observant is crucial to avoid falling into this trap, so checking for signs of VIN cloning when purchasing a used, pre-owned car is a must!
Essentially, if you uncover a VIN number discrepancy with the V5C logbook on a used car you’re looking to purchase, you should steer clear of the sale and the dealer and walk away. Any vehicle with inconsistent VIN numbers throughout the car or not corresponding with the logbook is likely a vehicle that has been stolen or taken out of salvage and is being fraudulently offered for sale using a cloned VIN number.