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Understanding VINs Hero image

Understanding VINs

Your car’s fingerprint – its Vehicle Identification Number – tells its history. When you’re choosing a car, it's important to understand where to find its VIN and what it means. VINs are used by many people and organizations to confirm a vehicle’s identity.

Where to find your VIN and why it’s important

Since 1981, all vehicles sold in North America are assigned a 17-character VIN (letters and digits). Manufacturers put VINs in multiple locations to help with identification in the event of damage or theft. You can check the authenticity of your VIN by checking that it’s identical in each place it appears. You can typically find your VIN engraved on a metal plate on the driver's side of the dashboard; on the bottom of the driver’s door post; on the ownership permit, and on the pink liability card (proof of insurance).

VINs are used by insurance companies to set fair and accurate premiums. They provide key information about a car’s manufacturer, model, model year, make, equipment and class. They also identify a specific car to the insurance industry, law enforcement, governments and concerned stakeholders in order to track the car’s history. For example:

  • Whether it has been in any serious crashes

  • Whether it has been stolen

  • How many owners it has had

If a car is stolen, its VIN can help police identify and recover it. This is because the VIN stays the same no matter how many times the car changes owners and licence plate numbers.

5 reasons you should check VINs

It’s important to confirm all VINs on a car are identical and accurate.

Checking VINs can confirm a car’s identity and ownership, as well as:

  1. Assist you in buying a used car. If you know how to check a car's VIN, you will be less likely to buy a car that’s unsafe or has been identified as stolen.

  2. Help ensure a hassle-free transaction when you register your car, renew your licence plate permit or transfer ownership and help law enforcement identify and recover stolen vehicles.

  3. Make it easier for auto body and maintenance shops to order appropriate parts for your car. For example, a VIN identifies a car's model series, engine and drivetrain.

  4. Help your insurance company identify your car to ensure that your insurance is properly rated and confirm ownership in the event of a claim.

  5. Protect your car's identity. Unlike a fingerprint, duplicate vehicle identities can be created, making it easier to sell stolen cars. This is a type of insurance crime that all policyholders pay for.

If the VIN on the vehicle ownership permit doesn’t match the VIN plate on the dashboard, contact the motor vehicle licensing/registration office in your province or territory right away. If the VIN on the pink liability card doesn’t match the VIN plate on the dashboard, contact your insurance agent, broker or insurance company or local police for both situations right away.