Decode Your Vehicle Info

Model and Engine Info on VINs

A new free VIN lookup service has been released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and is made to help customers become aware of recalls and service issues on their vehicles.

The information contained in your vehicle identification number (VIN) goes far beyond the serial number for your automobile. VINs contain details of your engine, body, and model types, including the date of manufacture and data that may be very useful when it comes to servicing the car. This is one of the many reasons VINs are essential for car insurance and registration purposes.

Lemon Law Issues?

Vin LookupVIN lookup and vehicle ID searches run the gamut from free to expensive. Services like CARfax use this lookup feature to tell you how many accidents and other problems have affected a used car. In the past, dealers did not care much for these services, but now they use them as a point of pride, because they can charge you more money for the cars that have clean CARfax reports, and sell the undesirable ones for parts. They can even still provide the whole report and sell the car for a lower price. Other VIN surpises can show whether or not you have a "salvage title" which is for cars that have been sold for parts, or may have been sent to be dismantled under the old Cash for Clunkers program. Furthermore, VIN lookup services, and comparison to the VIN numbers etched on your engine and windshield, may establish whether your car is being sold legally. Altered VIN numbers are in fact not all that uncommon, and may indicate that a car was stolen or "laundered" after having been in a flood or other adverse event. The two most common reasons for looking up VIN numbers are to learn more about the vehicle type (and whether certain accesories will fit the car) and the history of the car. Keep in mind that your dealership will certainly look up the VIN when you trade your car in, so if you want to understand its trade-in value you should have this handy. There are also several paid and free VIN decoding services that can give you insight about everything from your engine type to the model designation on your car.

An Example of Unreported Recalls

Recently, the author of this website had a transmission problem with a major vehicle brand. Even though he had gotten the usual literature from his dealership, who kept pestering him to "sell back" his car and buy a new one, he was not told about a recall that could affect the throttle on the car! When the transmission was serviced, the shop "reprogrammed and cleaned" the EGR (I still don't know what this is) and charged nothing on the bill. As it turned out by looking at the billing code online, there was a recall on this particular item, and I should have been notified but was not. Therefore, the NHTSA's new SafeCar.gov program may be a boon to anyone who has not gotten an important recall notice, since a bad throttle could have ruined my whole road trip.

NHTSA's announcement is made to help people who own cars, light trucks, and motorcycles about recalls, and this information is updated weekly by most manufacturers. They have until August 14, 2014 to be completely compliant with the rule, which outlines whether a particular vehicle is part of a recall and whether the defects have been in fact fixed. This rule also includes requiremts for reporting crash avoidance and fuel system data so trends can be spotted in the event of reported defects and accidents. The good thing about this information for consumers is that when specific vehicle types (like a submodel, or 4 wheel drive option, or automatic tramsmission type) faces a recall, some cars won't be part of the program, so people can also be assured that they don't need to take their vehicle for a dealer, where some repairs can take days or weeks if the problem is ongoing. Nothing is less fun than being told to park your car until the manufacturer figures out what is wrong, and will then send out a tow truck to take the car for repair.

VIN numbers are 17 characters which may consist of numbers and letters. Cars made before 1981 may have between eleven and 17 characters. They are most often loated on the driver's side dashboard or on the door post of the driver's side door. If a VIN looks altered, or does not look as old as the car, take caution. To decode a VIN number, the usual standard is that the first character shows where the car was made, the 2nd and third are the carmaker, 4-8 are the "portrait" or the brand, engine type, and engine size. The 9th character is a security code, 10th is the model year, and the 11th identifies which assembly plant had the priveledge of making your automobile. Characters 12 through 17 are the actual vehicle serial number, which is fine as long as the maker puts out less than 999,999 specific versions of your car.