How to Check a Car VIN Number


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Checking and verifying the integrity of the VIN number on a car is an important task to perform if you’re purchasing a used car. This unique identifier is attached to a single car for its lifetime. Do you know how to check a car VIN number? If not, we are on hand to help you, as well as provide a helpful tip that will not only allow you to check the VIN number of a used car, but verify its condition, mileage, and much more, as well as ensure it’s in peak condition throughout its ownership journey with you.

So, are you wondering how to check a car VIN number? First, you have to locate it on the car, and there are multiple places where it could be. There are certain things you should look out for as well, to ensure that nothing is amiss. Once you’ve checked and verified the VIN number, you should also check the health and mileage integrity of the car you’re planning to buy, which you can easily do with Carly.

What Is a VIN Number?

Not everyone knows how to check a car VIN number. Human beings are easily identifiable by unique numbers such as their passport number, social security number or national identification number. For automobiles, the equivalent unique identifier is the VIN number.

Introduced to the United States in 1954, it was initially a free-for-all where automakers could pick and choose the length and characters in a VIN number. This proved to be rather confusing when it came to how to check a car VIN number. So, 1981 saw the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) mandate a 17-character VIN number on all cars. Since this meant that letters as well as numbers were permissible, the letters I, O and Q were omitted from the permissible list, in order to avoid them being confused for the numbers 1,0 and 9 respectively.

Can VIN Numbers Be Misused?

In the same vein that a person can be a victim of identity theft through misuse of their social security number or passport number, a vehicle’s VIN number can also be misused in this fashion. Typically, you may find this done in the case of totaled vehicles that have to be written off, much like the way a deceased person’s identity can be used for nefarious activities.

The VIN from a totaled vehicle can be lifted and used on another vehicle, either to sell it through unscrupulous means, or use it to commit a crime, since a VIN number can effectively match a car to its registered owner in the same vein as a license plate. So, let us tell you how to check a car VIN number to see if it’s legitimate.

How Can I Verify the Integrity of a VIN Number?

There are online databases which you can check and verify the integrity of a VIN number, by comparing the information online with the actual car. Since the VIN data in such databases is typically the most accurate, any discrepancy is an immediate red flag. You should also compare the VIN number on the vehicle with its papers, as unscrupulous sellers may try to sell a different specimen of the same make and model, for example. Since a vehicle’s VIN number can be marked in multiple locations on the vehicle itself, you could also perform a comparison, as a careless seller who may have changed the VIN in one or two places may have missed a third or fourth place.

Be extremely meticulous, and if the seller is in a hurry or seems unsettled when you are comparing the VIN number across the car, its documents, and an online database, that means something isn’t right. Ideally, in addition to knowing how to check a car VIN number, you should also ensure that the most common information such as make, model, trim, year of manufacture, engine or transaxle number, and color are matched in all three areas.

Furthermore, if you’re concerned that the VIN number on a vehicle is a blatant fake, there’s an in-built verification method in the form of the check digit. You can read about the VIN check digit process online, but to explain it in a nutshell, it uses a table and assigns appropriate weightings to each character in the VIN.

Where’s the VIN Number Located on a Car?

The VIN number will typically be in at least two places, if not more on a car, making it easy how to check a car VIN number. The most common places are in the lower corner of the front windshield on the driver’s side, in the engine bay, on the driver’s door pillar, or on the vehicle’s frame.

The VIN is also digitally stored in the car’s control units which are accessed via the OBD2 port, and that’s where a consumer-grade OBD2 scanning solution such as Carly can be extremely useful.

What’s Carly?

Carly is a two-part solution for conducting diagnostic scans, as well as maintenance and verification activities on cars, including how to check a car VIN number. Carly consists of the Carly Universal OBD Scanner which is a small and unobtrusive device that directly plugs into the OBD2 port on any post-2005 car. If you’re wondering where the OBD2 port is, you can find it inside the cabin, near the steering wheel area. Typical places include beneath the steering column, in the driver footwell, behind a trim piece, or inside a storage compartment. Your car’s owner’s manual will reveal the location of the OBD2 port, as will a quick internet search.

Once you’ve plugged the Carly Universal OBD Scanner into your car, it will communicate with the Carly app that you should install on your smartphone or tablet. Carly is available for Apple and Android devices, and you can check out what Carly offers by first downloading the free Carly lite app. This allows you to see if Carly is ideal for your needs before spending any money. How much does Carly cost? For the feature set on offer, Carly is a great value for money, costing less than $100 in total.

How Can Carly Help?

First, Carly can present you with the VIN number that’s stored in the car’s computer control units, allowing you to compare it with the VINs marked in the other locations across the car, plus with the documents and online database.

Once you’ve verified that the VIN number is accurate, there’s another pit you should avoid falling into with a used car. That pit is the mileage tampering pit. Studies have shown that nearly 40% of used cars have encountered some form of mileage tampering in the form of rolled back odometers.

Carly allows you to thwart this with a powerful feature called the Carly Used Car Check. Using this feature, Carly conducts a comprehensive analysis of the car’s computer control units, meticulously comparing mileage data, and detecting any discrepancies. This is critical to avoid buying a disguised high-miler. Remember that a good detailing can often make a car look much younger than it actually is, and couple that with an odometer rollback and you’ve got yourself a case of deception.

What Else Does Carly Offer?

Once you’ve bought a used car, Carly can help you keep it in optimal condition, as you can periodically scan its computer control units and detect any errors or impending maintenance requirements. Carly uses a simple ‘traffic light’ solution to indicate if immediate attention is required, moderate attention is required, or if you can address an issue later on.

Carly also allows you to customize certain aspects of your vehicle through the coding function, as well as reset the on-board system counters after performing minor maintenance by yourself, such as oil and battery changes.

Keep in mind, that every car has different software and modules built-in. Therefore specific features will vary with every model.

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