Each manufacturer must write the VIN number on different parts of each vehicle it puts into circulation. It is registered on the gray card at the time of its sale, and at each change of owner.
What does it look like?
The VIN number is made up of 17 characters divided into 3 categories that identify different elements:
Manufacturer code (WMI);
General Vehicle Description (VDS);
Indicator code (VIS).
The manufacturer code, or WMI code (World Manufacturer Identifier) refers to the first 3 characters of the code which are assigned to each manufacturer by the authorities of the country on which it depends.
Each character determines specific information:
Character no. 1: the first character designates a specific geographical area (1 for the United States, 2 for Canada, V for France or Austria, etc.). A single letter can group together several countries: this is particularly the case for the letter V, which can refer to Austria, France, Spain, Croatia or Estonia.
Character no. 2: the second character designates a geographical sub-zone in order to guarantee greater precision.
Character no. 3: the third character is assigned to each manufacturer in order to identify it specifically.
General description of the vehicle
The descriptor code, or VDS code (Vehicle Description Sector), refers to the technical characteristics of the vehicle.
The 6 characters that compose it can thus refer to:
Type of roof;
Place of production;
The indicator code, or VIS (Vehicle Indicator Sector) code, is made up of the last 8 characters of the VIN number. This part is specific to the vehicle, each number referring to specific information:
Character n°10: model year;
Character n°11: factory;
Characters n°12 to 19: serial number.
Where to find the VIN code?
The VIN number, which has 17 digits, can be found in several places:
On the vehicle : although this data must be stamped at least on the manufacturer’s plate and the chassis, it is often found in other places, such as the windshield, the floor or inside the trunk.
In the on-board computer for newer cars: only properly equipped garages and dealers can retrieve the VIN report through the on-board computer.
On the engine
On the gray card: following a standardization of regulations at European level, this number appears in box E of the registration certificate.
It is essential that the number on the vehicle registration document matches those on each part of the vehicle.
It is therefore the responsibility of the purchaser of a vehicle to verify it before signing the transfer certificate jointly with the former owner. Indeed, if the number appearing on the vehicle does not correspond to that registered on the gray card, its process of requesting a gray card could be compromised.
What is the VIN number used for?
The VIN number has several interests, both for the buyer of a vehicle and for the administrative or judicial authorities:
Identify the parts adapted to the vehicle: when the owner of a vehicle wishes to change some of his parts, the VIN code allows him to determine which ones are adapted to the model, thus avoiding any incompatibility with the original vehicle.
Check the condition of the vehicle: when purchasing the vehicle, it is strongly recommended that the purchaser check the VIN number on all the parts to ensure that they are indeed original, but also their compatibility with the code appearing on the gray card. Otherwise, the vehicle could present defects, but also be put on sale following a theft. It is therefore important that the number appearing on each part is clearly legible, and not erased.
Insure the vehicle: in order to insure the vehicle, the insurance will systematically ask for the VIN number which makes it possible to identify it in a specific way. This is a prerequisite in order to issue the insurance certificate that the driver must present in the event of a roadside check.
Identify the vehicle in the event of an accident or crime: when a vehicle is abandoned or involved in an accident, the police and the gendarmerie will check the VIN code to determine if it has been stolen, but also to identify its owner in the purpose of triggering civil liability.