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#NotFAQs: The what, why and how of a Vehicle Identification Number

If you’ve ever bought motor insurance, you’re likely to have come across the terms Vehicle Identification Number or VIN and chassis number.

  • 10 Jul 2020
  • min read

If you’ve ever bought motor insurance, you’re likely to have come across the terms Vehicle Identification Number or VIN and chassis number. You must wonder why insurance companies insist on having this information. That’s because VIN is like a genetic identifier for your car. Think of it as the vehicular equivalent of a thumbprint.

What is a VIN or chassis number?

Vehicle identification number or VIN is a set of 17 characters that are unique to the vehicle, like a vehicle’s unique identity code. Yes, it is used interchangeably with chassis number because it’s stamped to the chassis of the vehicle, although strictly speaking, chassis number is part of VIN. If you locate VIN, you can identify the chassis number.

Issuing a VIN to every vehicle is standard practice across the world. It helps to mark out every vehicle whether commercial or private, make, model, manufacturer and year.

But why 17?

The alphanumerical sequence actually denotes important information. The several components of VIN are described below to help you understand your vehicle better. Please note that this is a generic break-up that is followed by most manufacturers.

The first three characters in the VIN are referred to as WMN and symbolize the country of origin and the manufacturer. The first character reveals the country where the vehicle was built. The next two characters reveals the manufacturer.

#DidYouKnow – The Society of Automotive Engineers in the USA assigns WMIs to countries and manufacturers. For India the WMIs are MA-ME & MZ. The Bureau of Indian Standards receives the WMIs from SAE and allots them to Indian vehicle manufacturers.

Vehicle Description Section

The next six alphanumerical sequences are the key to your vehicle’s details. The VDS also varies from manufacturer to manufacturer.

  • The 4th character tells you the vehicle type; whether it’s a scooter or a sports bike and so forth.
  • The 5th character stands for engine movement or the power range of the engine.
  • The 6th character tells you the type of engine that runs your vehicle. For e.g. whether it is a double strike or single stroke engine.
  • The 7th character shows the sequence of design.
  • The 8th character denotes the vehicle version.
  • The 9th number is a check digit to maintain VIN accuracy.
  • The 10th character helps to identify the year of manufacture of the vehicle.
  • The 11th character identifies the plant where the vehicle was manufactured.

The character from 12th to 17th is the vehicle’s serial number or chassis number.

Got it! But where in my car is it stamped?

This differs from vehicle to vehicle but it’s usually to be found in the following places:

  • On the door frame of the front doors. Mostly it’s the driver’s side but could also be stamped on the passenger side.
  • On the dashboard near the windshield.
  • On the steering wheel or the steering column.
  • In the inner wheel arch towards the left hand side.
  • Radiator support bracket.
  • On the car’s registration papers.

And where can I find the Vehicle Identification Number on a bike?

As in a car, in a bike too, VIN is located differently in different models. Often, the chassis number of the bike can be found near the handle or the motor. If you still can’t locate it, you’re sure to find it mentioned in your bike registration certificate.

Is it possible to check for it online?

Yes, you can. VAHAN, the Ministry of Roads and Transport’s online registry database hold vehicle registration details through which you can track down your vehicle details. Just follow these steps:

  • Visit the VAHAN website
  • Click on Know Your Vehicle Details
  • Type your car’s registration number
  • Hit ‘Search Vehicle

In order to meet privacy norms, the website does not provide the entire chassis number.

Good to know! What role does VIN or chassis number play in motor insurance though?

Well, the better we know your vehicle, the better we can help if the need arises. Knowing the Vehicle Identification Number/chassis number of your car or two wheeler, at one go, gives insurance players like us information that is crucial. In insurance, chassis number is reviewed to authenticate ownership and existence of the vehicle. For e.g., a car may have been written-off/stolen and sold again to an unsuspecting buyer. The insurance company, through VIN can authenticate the car or bike at the time of policy purchase. This helps to end fraud and counter bogus claim settlements. Vehicle Identification Number specially comes in handy during a claim where total loss of the vehicle has been declared. It’s also used to track down theft. The only instance where chassis number changes is when an insurance company pays a claim for replacement of the vehicle body. The chances of this happening, however, are few and far in between. But in case it does, the RTO is immediately notified.

#DidYouKnow- Chassis number can also be used to identify the type and exact shade of paint used on the vehicle. This information however, is only available with the manufacturer-repairer. VIN can also be used to order specific body parts of your car in case they need replacement.

Aside from insurance, VIN also becomes important if you’re thinking of buying or selling a second hand vehicle. By running a check on the car’s Vehicle Identification Number or chassis number, you can also establish if the vehicle has been obtained by illegal means , whether it has been used in any bike insurance or car insurance fraud, if it has ever been put up for auction, etc. Manufacturers also use VIN to issue car recalls, so it’s handy information to have if you’re buying a second hand car. By doing some research you can see if the particular model was ever recalled owing to any defect.

#DidYouKnow- VIN can also be used to get a FASTag in case a RC hasn’t been issued to the owner of a new vehicle.

Will keep this in mind going ahead. But going back in time a little, when was VIN first used?

The implementation of VIN started in the year 1954 and like every alien attack on screen ever, in the United States of America. If you scrutinise economic history, you’ll notice it coincides with the car manufacturing boom that happened in late post-war United States. It was a time when cars started to get made in large numbers and with greater engine capacity. Although from 1954 – 1981, there was no standardisation so manufacturers used different formats. In 1981, the US Department of Transport required all vehicles plying to have a 17 character VIN. This pretty much set the format for the rest of the world.

Also read:

Modern Vehicle identification Numbers are based on two standards- ISO 3779 and ISO 3780. In India, it’s based on ISO 3779 & ISO 4030

Well, now you know exactly what you’re looking at the next time you glance at your Vehicle Identification Number, not to mention where to find it. Curious to know more? Read how micro-dot technology etched to a vehicle’s VIN acts as anti-theft deterrent.

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