Vehicle identification numbers (VINs) are a way for law enforcement agencies and car insurance companies to keep track of vehicles, and they can be used for a lot more. VINs are a gateway to a wealth of crucial information about a vehicle’s history, and they can be invaluable if you’re researching or buying a used car. They also act as a deterrent to thieves —and not just because they can be used to identify your vehicle.
What Is a VIN?
VINs were standardized by the United States Department of Transportation in 1981, with their protocols being adopted by Canadian agencies for consistency across North America. This created a reliable system that assigned unique 17-character identification tags to every production vehicle on the road.
No two vehicles that were produced within a 30-year period of one another can have the same VIN. You can think of a vehicle’s VIN number as being akin to its fingerprint. It can typically be found in several places:
- On the frame sill where the driver’s side door closes, or on a sticker or metal plate just inside that door (this is the most common)
- Inside the glove compartment
- On the dashboard on the driver’s side of the vehicle
- On the vehicle’s engine block, hood and/or bumpers
The 17-character sequence provides important information about your vehicle, as each of the characters carries meaning. With the VIN, authorities can learn the vehicle’s nation of origin, manufacturer, vehicle type, body type, model year, place of manufacture, among other facts. Characters in the VIN also impart some particulars about vehicle specifications, such as its weight and/or horsepower output.
VINs and Vehicle Research
Beyond helping law enforcement and car insurance companies identify your vehicle in the event of a theft or other problem, consumers can use VINs as a research tool when buying a used car or truck. There are services that will allow you to search a particular VIN, and view information related to that VIN’s history. With the VIN, you can find out if:
- The vehicle has had more owners than the current vendor claims
- The vehicle has ever been classified as a “lemon”
- The vehicle is stolen
- The vehicle has been involved in a major accident or incident that might affect its resale value, such as a flood
- The odometer has rolled over or been tampered with
All these facts can help you make a more informed decision about your vehicle purchase.
How VINs Deter Thieves
VINs can be altered and tampered with, but inconsistencies between the VIN you’re presented with and the VIN registered in vehicle search databases will quickly surface. This is one of the ways VINs help deter thieves — they make it extremely difficult for a car thief to sell a stolen vehicle to an unsuspecting buyer.
The VIN can also be permanently etched into the vehicle’s windshield using the simple application of an acidic solution. This makes the VIN impossible to hide without replacing the entire windshield, and that alone can make a black market transaction unprofitable.
How to Avoid Becoming a Victim of Vehicle Theft
Unfortunately, VIN deterrents haven’t managed to curb the recent rise in Alberta vehicle thefts. With the province in the grips of an economic slowdown, car and truck thefts have unfortunately become more common in recent years.
Here are some effective tips for protecting yourself:
- Keep your car locked whenever it’s not in use
- Never leave your vehicle unattended while the ignition is running
- Park your vehicle in a covered, locked garage rather than in a driveway or on the street
- Avoid leaving valuables in your vehicle
- Add a car alarm, location tracking device or vehicle immobilization system as an added preventative measure.
You should be extra cautious if you own one of these vehicles, since they are currently the most commonly stolen cars and trucks in Alberta. Also, be sure to review the proper steps to take if your vehicle is stolen.
Theft and Vehicle Insurance
The statistical likelihood that your vehicle will be stolen can affect your car insurance rates, but working with a trustworthy insurance broker will keep your costs to a minimum without affecting the quality of your coverage. Lane’s Insurance of Calgary is a leading brokerage serving Alberta, and offering affordable insurance bundles, excellent advice, outstanding claims support and the industry’s best customer service. Visit Lane’s today to get a fast, free car insurance quote.