Every car built after 1981 has a VIN (vehicle identification number — sometimes referred to as a “VIN number”). But what is a VIN? Where do you find it? And why might you need it?
Here, we explain everything.
What is a VIN number?
A vehicle identification number is a 17-digit code used by the global auto industry to identify individual vehicles, including cars, vans, motorcycles, mopeds, and scooters.
Think of it as a fingerprint for your vehicle. No two VINs are the same — each one is unique and linked to a specific car.
The numbers and letters used to make up the code refer to the car’s history and features, such as where it was manufactured, the model year, or the engine type (more on that later).
Is the VIN number the same as the chassis number?
Yes. A car’s VIN is sometimes called the “chassis number” simply because you can find the vehicle identification number stamped to the chassis of the car, among other places.
Is the VIN the same as the engine number?
No. The VIN is not the same as the engine number.
Your car’s engine has its own number highlighting the size and power of the engine.
Having a separate engine number means, if you need to replace your engine, you don’t need to have your vehicle scrapped. The car will simply get a new engine number alongside the existing VIN.
How do I find my VIN number in the UK?
Your VIN can be found in a variety of different places on your vehicle. Typically, it’s stamped to the chassis of the car, either in the engine bay or under the plastic trim around the driver or passenger door opening.
You’ll also often find a so-called “visible VIN” near the bottom of the windscreen. This lets the police quickly run identity checks if they suspect a vehicle has been stolen.
Is the VIN number on the V5C?
Yes. You can find your VIN in the V5C logbook, at the top of the second page under “VIN/Chassis/Frame No.”. It must match the VIN on your vehicle.
Can I find a VIN number online?
Yes, but only the last 5 digits. If you go to a car checker platform (like this one) and type in a registration, you’ll get part of that vehicle’s VIN. If you want to know the whole thing, you’ll have to contact the DVLA with form V888 to request additional information about the vehicle.
Note: The DVLA will ask you to show “reasonable cause” for requesting this information. You can find scenarios where they’d be willing to release this information here.
What does a VIN number look like?
Once you’ve located your VIN on your car, you’re looking for the 17-digit code made up of both numbers and capital letters, like the one starting “WP0” below.
Example of a VIN on a Porsche 911. Image source
How do you read a vehicle identification number?
The 17-digit code found in your V5C and stamped on your car contains information about where your car was manufactured, the manufacturer, car type, brand, body style, engine size, model, and model year.
You can plug your VIN into a VIN check website and receive a report breaking down all of this info for you. But decoding your VIN yourself is pretty straightforward:
- The first 3 digits are the World Manufacturer Identifier (WMI). The first character tells you where the manufacturer is located, while the second and third characters are assigned to different companies. All UK VIN numbers start with “S” — for example, SHS for Honda, SAJ for Jaguar, or SAL for Land Rover. In the example above, W is the code for Germany, and P0 is the code for Porsche.
- Digits 4 to 9 are the Vehicle Descriptor Section (VDS). These numbers tell you more about the type of vehicle, body style, and engine size and type.
- Finally, digits 10 to 17 are the Vehicle Identifier Section (VIS). The first two digits highlight the car’s model year and which plant manufactured the vehicle. The last six characters make up a serial number to identify your specific vehicle.
What if the VIN is not 17 characters long?
If your VIN is less than 17 characters, it’s probably because your vehicle was made before 1981. Prior to this year, VINs varied from 11 to 17 characters long.
Why might you need your VIN number?
There are a couple of reasons why you might need to know your vehicle identification number.
- Checking car history and performance specs: Your VIN can shed a lot of light on your vehicle’s origins and capabilities. Especially if you type your number into a VIN checker website and get a full, detailed report. It’s like a cheat code if you’re passionate about cars and want to learn more about your specific vehicle.
- Sourcing engine parts: The eighth digit of your VIN refers to your car’s engine type. If you need to know more about your engine and how to maintain it, you can contact your manufacturer with your VIN and request more information. Or, together with the 10th digit (model year), you can find the most compatible parts you need to repair or replace something from your local garage or auto parts supplier.
Read more: What Engine Is In My Car?
However, the main reason for knowing how to check a VIN number is when you’re buying a used car.
If you’re planning on buying a used car (whether from a dealership or a private seller), you must make sure the VIN printed in the V5C logbook matches the number stamped on the car’s chassis — and also matches the other VINs elsewhere on the vehicle.
If the number doesn’t match the one in the log book, do not buy the car. Plain and simple.
This is a telltale sign that something’s wrong:
- It could suggest that the VIN has been transplanted from one car to another in an attempt to hide the fact it was stolen (known as “VIN cloning”).
- Some thieves will even transfer the identity of a legally registered car onto a stolen one, forging documents to hide their crime.
- And some unscrupulous sellers will weld together cars previously damaged in accidents to sell on the open market. These are known as “cut and shut” cars, and this can result in different parts of the car having different VINs. Not only is this fraud, but it also makes the vehicle dangerous to drive.
Can the VIN be changed legally?
Yes, there are a few situations where a car might need a new vehicle identification number.
For example, if you build a kit car, rebuild a car, or make significant changes to an existing vehicle so that it no longer matches the specifications of the original VIN.
When this happens, you’ll need to ask the DVLA to assess your altered vehicle. The DVLA will then give you an authorisation letter to get the vehicle stamped with the new VIN if your vehicle passes its assessment.
And if the VIN does need to change, you’ll have to make sure it matches the one inside your V5C logbook.
You can learn more about updating the details on a V5C registration certificate here.
How do I find out a VIN number? Quickfire summary
To recap, your VIN number is a unique 17-digit code specific to your vehicle. Think of it like a fingerprint for a car. No two are the same.
You’ll find your VIN stamped into the chassis of your car, and you may also spot a “visible VIN” at the bottom of your windscreen. The code on your vehicle must match the one in your V5C logbook.
It’s important to double-check the VIN when buying a used car. If the number on the vehicle doesn’t match the one in the log book, walk away.