The Garage Buy & Sell

Your Car’s VIN Is Like Its Fingerprint, Here’s How To Decipher Its Ridges

Magnifying glass at the ready!

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While it might not always seem like it, your local auto parts store is a pretty amazing place. Just think about it: You can walk in, tell them your vehicle’s make and model, and walk out with parts that fit. That works quite well, in most cases, but there are times when even the wizards down at the corner store can’t figure out which part fits your car.

In these cases, you’ll need to track down your car’s VIN, or vehicle identification number. This 17-digit code contains all sorts of information about your vehicle, from when and where it was made to what kind of engine is under the hood. Unlock its secrets and you’ll be in command of your auto parts experience.

Finding the VIN should be easy, but over time they can be damaged, lost, or become dirty, which makes them much harder to read. Don’t panic, though, because there are other ways to find the number and put it to work for you. The Drive’s crack team of researchers has the scoop. Let’s dive in.

Your car's VIN follows it from owner to owner.
Your car’s VIN follows it from owner to owner., Depositphotos

VIN Basics

Estimated Time Needed: Five minutes.

Skill Level: Beginner

Vehicle System: Documentation

What Is a VIN?

The vehicle identification number, or VIN, is a series of letters and numbers that are unique to your vehicle, much like a fingerprint. Since 1981, VINs have been 17 digits long. Before then, they could be anywhere from 11 to 17 digits long, which can complicate modern tools’ ability to track down a vehicle history report.

The VIN is usually found in a few spots on a vehicle. The driver’s side dash, where it meets the windshield, is the easiest place to find it. There will likely also be a VIN stamped inside the driver’s side door jamb.

The 17-number VIN isn’t just a jumble of numbers and letters. Its digits tell us quite a bit about where a vehicle was made and its origins:

  1. The first character designates where a vehicle was built
  2. The second and third characters designate the manufacturer
  3. The fourth through eighth characters designate the brand, engine size, and type
  4. The ninth character is a security code that lets us know that the VIN was authorized by the manufacturer
  5. The tenth character designates the car’s model year
  6. The 11th character indicates which plant manufactured the vehicle
  7. The last six characters are the vehicle’s serial number

Everything You’ll Need To Check Engine Size By VIN

You won’t need much for this job. At most, we’d recommend having a flashlight handy and a magnifying glass if you typically have trouble reading small text. The biggest inconvenience here is that the VIN plates, which are usually small pieces of metal, can become dirty or damaged, making it hard to read. Here’s what you’ll need.

You don't need advanced tools to read the VIN.
You don’t need advanced tools to read the VIN., Depositphotos

Tool List  

  • Flashlight
  • Magnifying glass

Here’s How To Check Engine Size By VIN

Finding and reading your vehicle’s VIN isn’t hard, but it can be complicated by dirt or damage to the metal plates where the numbers are printed.

Let’s do this! 

Find Your Vehicle’s VIN

  1. Check the lower driver’s side portion of your windshield. Most vehicles have a VIN plate located in a small area in the dash. This should be visible to the naked eye, but you may need a flashlight or a magnifying glass if the plate is dirty, or if it’s dark out.
  2. If you can’t read the VIN plate on the dash, your next best bet is to check the driver’s door jamb. This is the area between the inside and the outside of your car that is typically covered by the door when it’s shut. Here, you will find another VIN plate, as well as a white and yellow label that tells you the vehicle’s optimal cold tire pressure.
  3. If both of those options are not available to you, either because the VIN plates are damaged or dirty, your next best bet is to check your documents. Your title, registration, and even your insurance cards have the VIN listed.

Now that you understand what your VIN is trying to tell you, you can march into your local auto parts store to get the right parts. To do this without looking foolish, you’ll need the eighth character, which is the actual engine code and the tenth character, which is the model year. Give these to your parts person and they’ll be able to find what you need in no time.

Get Help With Checking Engine Size By VIN From a Mechanic On JustAnswer 

Although The Drive’s detailed how-to guides are easy to follow, a rusty bolt, an engine component not in the correct position, or a messy oil leak can derail a project. That’s why we’ve partnered with JustAnswer, which connects you to certified mechanics around the globe, to get you through even the toughest jobs.

So if you have a question or are stuck, click here and talk to a mechanic near you. 

Pro Tips to Check Engine Size By VIN

You may have eagle eyes, but even the best Waldo-finder in the world sometimes has trouble reading VIN plates. 

  • Don’t hesitate to use a flashlight or magnifying glass to read the plate.
  • VINs aren’t really private like your social security number, but you should keep track of it anyway. Don’t leave important information or documents lying around.
  • Don’t get caught up in trying to decipher every digit of your VIN. Just keep in mind that it can be helpful to find the exact part you need.
The VIN can be located in a few different spots.
The VIN can be located in a few different spots., Depositphotos

FAQs About Checking Engine Size By VIN 

You’ve got questions, The Drive has answers! 

Q: My Car Doesn’t Have A VIN. What Do I Do?

A: Don’t be silly. Your car has a VIN. It might not be visible to you, but it’s there. If you can’t find it on your vehicle, check your documents. If you don’t, for some reason, have them, do you even own the car? In all seriousness, though, if your VIN is mangled or not visible, some states won’t pass your car for inspection. Be sure you have documentation to go with it.

Q: Ok, I Found It, What Else Can I Do With My VIN?

A: Well, it’s not going to make all of your problems go away, but your VIN can be used to order parts for your specific vehicle and can also help you track down a vehicle history report.

Q: Can I Change My VIN?

A: It’s probably possible to physically remove one number and add another, but the VIN that came with your vehicle is there to stay. Literally, everything that registers the car legally with the government revolves around that number.

Let’s Talk, Comment Below To Talk With The Drive’s Editors!

We’re here to be expert guides in everything How-To related. Use us, compliment us, yell at us. Comment below and let’s talk! You can also shout at us on Twitter or Instagram, here are our profiles.

Jonathon Klein: Twitter (@jonathon.klein), Instagram (@jonathon_klein)

Tony Markovich: Twitter (@T_Marko), Instagram (@t_marko)

Chris Teague: Twitter (@TeagueDrives), Instagram (@TeagueDrives)


Featured Products 

Energizer LED Flashlight

Lighted Magnifying Glass

OBD2 Scanner Engine Code Reader

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Chris Teague


After working in the technology and software industry for several years, Chris Teague began writing as a way to help people outside of that world understand the sometimes very technical work that goes on behind the scenes. With a lifelong love of all things automotive, he turned his attention to writing new vehicle reviews, detailing industry trends, and breaking news. Along the way, he earned an MBA with a focus on data analysis that has helped him gain a strong understanding of why the auto industry’s biggest companies make the decisions they do.