Blog VIN Number Guide : How To Check And Understand Your VIN

Nov 2, 2020

How To Do A VIN Number Check And Lookup

VIN number characters on car dashboard

A VIN number is an important piece of information for vehicle owners. In order to get a vehicle permit or car ownership in Ontario, you need to have a valid and accurate VIN number.

In this blog post, we explain why it is important, how to check and look it up, and how to decode the characters.

What Is A VIN Number?

A car's vehicle identification number (VIN) is the identifying code for the specific vehicle. It is commonly known as your car's fingerprint – no two vehicles on the road have the same pin. Every vehicle manufactured after 1981 has a VIN.

A VIN is a 17-character long code contains the information for your car's unique features, manufacturer, and specifications. It is also used to track vehicle history, warranty claims, theft, accidents, recalls and insurance coverage.

What Importance Does A VIN Have?

A VIN provides you with important information about a vehicle. Having a VIN can help you track a vehicle across its lifespan. It can help you in many situations such as getting a car insurance quote, and the following :

  • Help you buy a used car. A VIN will verify the vehicle is legitimate. You will less likely buy a stolen car or one that is deemed unsafe for the road if the code is accurate.
  • Guide the process of registering your car, renewing your license plate, or transfer ownership.
  • Help law enforcement identify and recover stolen vehicles.
  • Make it easier for maintenance and autobody shops to order appropriate parts for your vehicle.
  • Your insurance company will be able to identify your vehicle and confirm the proper coverage is applied in the event of a claim.
  • Protect your car's identity – duplicates can be created and added to stolen vehicles, so you want to make sure you have an original.

Where To Find the VIN On A Car

The VIN is found on the driver's side of the vehicle, looking in from the windshield. It can also be found on the doorpost and inside the driver's side door. Documents such as vehicle ownership, service records, and insurance coverage will also have the number. If for any reason, you do not have access to the vehicle in the event of buying a used car, ask the seller to provide it to you so you can run a VIN check.

What Do The Numbers and Letters In A VIN Mean?

infographic explaining what VIN characters mean

How To Read A VIN Number

You might think this code is a random mix of 17 characters, but each combination has specific information identifying the manufacturer, make, model and year. Here is how the numbers break down :


1 : Decode the meaning of the first number or letter. This character will tell you where the vehicle was made.

  • A – H means Africa
  • J – R (except O and Q) means Asia
  • S – Z means Europe
  • 1 – 5 means North America
  • 6 or 7 means New Zealand or Australia
  • 8 or 9 is for South America

2 : Decode the second and third digits. These characters will tell you who the manufacturer is. The third digits will provide the exact division of the manufacturer, such as General Motors. Some examples include :

  • 1 Chevrolet
  • J Jeep
  • T Toyota
  • 6 Cadillac

3 : The vehicle descriptor section. The next five numbers will tell you the brand of the car, engine, and which type of vehicle it is.

4 : The ninth number is used to prove the VIN is not a fake.

5 : The tenth number will indicate the year the car was made. For example, if the vehicle was made in 2010, it should have the letter A.

6 : The eleventh number will tell you the exact plant that made the vehicle. This digit is specific to each manufacturer.

A : Flexible fuel vehicles can be identified by the 2nd, 3rd and 8th digits

B : The final numbers. The last digits act as a serial number for the car and what makes the VIN original to that car.

What If A VIN Is Not 17 Characters Long?

If you notice a VIN is not 17 numbers long, it generally means the vehicle was made before 1981 and will not decode properly with new search systems. The information on cars before 1981 is limited.

How Can I Verify My VIN?

It is recommended to check all VIN locations on your vehicle to ensure they are all the same. Match the number with the vehicle's original registration form and check if the number provides the right year, model, make, and vehicle colour.

There are free online VIN decoders to help with the process. You should also check for signs of tampering (scratched numbers, mismatched rivets, glue, or paint over the area). This could be a sign of someone trying to change or hide the original number, which could change the VIN's data or prove it is a stolen car.

What Do I Do If My VIN Was Tampered With?

If the car was stolen or ever deemed un-safe for driving, the VIN could have been tampered with so the car could still be sold. Criminals may try to hide a car's history by:

  • Scratching the VIN or removing the plate
  • Altering the VIN (changing numbers and letters)
  • Replacing the real VIN with a made-up one or cloning one from another vehicle

After you review your VIN, if you notice any discrepancies, you should contact the motor vehicle licensing/registration in your province. If you notice the VIN does not match any insurance documents, contact your insurer or local police as soon as possible.

FAQs About VINs

Here is a look at the most commonly asked questions about VINs in Canada.

The VIN is a specific 17 characters that are assigned to your vehicle during the manufacturing process. It never changes and contains important information related to your car, such as make, model, year, and warranty information.

You can check your vehicle warranty by providing the VIN to your dealership. You will be able to find your VIN on the front dash of your driver's side windshield, inside your car door, or insurance policy. They will be able to provide you with what is and is not covered under your warranty.

Your VIN should match every place in your vehicle and on your insurance slip to ensure you have the right vehicle covered. If you are buying a used car, you should check the VIN to verify the car's history and make sure you are not a victim of a car insurance scam.

Nope – your VIN will not expire, even if the driver and policy changes.

Yes – a VIN can tell you everything about the vehicle's history, from car theft, flood damage, and warranty information. If you found a good deal on a used car, you should make sure it has a clean history before you buy it.

Yes, the IBC has a free VIN Verify Service that you can use to confirm your VIN.

Yes, you can use your VIN to find car parts. By sharing the number with your car parts dealer, they can fine-tune the parts to ensure they fit your make and model.

Know The Importance Of A VIN Number For Cars

If you are buying a new or used car, having an accurate and valid VIN can protect ensure you are driving a road-safe vehicle. If you notice issues with your VIN or notice there are issues, address them right away.