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What is a VIN?

VIN stands for ‘vehicle identification number’ and is a unique code that each vehicle has as a way of identifying it. It is a 17 character code (if the vehicle is from before 1981 it could have between 11-17 characters) that can typically be found on the driver’s side dashboard and/or on the driver’s side door jamb. The VIN allows for tracking of a vehicle’s history and is sometimes seen as the vehicle’s fingerprint or signature. This makes it easy to be able to see what has happened to a vehicle (which can be very helpful for those looking to buy a car). Here is some of the information that is available from a VIN:

  • Number of owners a vehicle has had
  • Liens on the vehicle
  • Vehicle maintenance
  • Title and accident history
  • Odometer readings
  • “Lemon” check

When Were VINs First Used?

VINs were first used by auto manufacturers in 1954, but because no standards were in place at the time, formats and consistency varied between manufacturers. It wasn’t until 1981, when the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration (NHTSA) put standards in place, that VINs took the shape of the ones we see today. NHTSA required that all vehicles have a 17 character VIN and laid out what each character of the VIN stood for to ensure that every vehicle would have a unique one.

What are the contents of the VIN?

Example VIN Number – 1G1AK58H997000000

First Digit,  1 – Shows where the vehicle was built
Digits 2-3,  G1 – Designates the vehicle manufacturer
Digits 4-8,  AK58H – Denotes vehicle details such as the vehicle’s brand, engine size and type
Digit 9,  9 – Check digit which is used to detect invalid VINs
Digit 10, 9 – Shows vehicle year
Digit 11, 7 – Indicates manufacturing plant that assembled the vehicle
Digits 12-17, 000000 – Displays the serial number of the vehicle

Other VIN facts:

  • The letters I, O and Q are not used in modern VINs to avoid confusion with numerals 1 and 0
  • There is no fixed standard for how a manufacturer has to use the Serial Number section of the VIN as long as it leads to a unique VIN for each vehicle manufactured
  • In order to use the check-digit validation all of the letters in the code must be transliterated into their appropriate numerical counterparts.
  • Modern VINs are based on ISO 3779 and IS 3780.
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Why Pictures Help

Let’s say you’re buying a house and need to get it inspected. You talk to two different home inspectors and are trying to decide which one to use. To help with the decision you ask them both to send you a sample report. The first sends over their sample and right away you notice how detailed it is. It breaks down each section of the home and has written descriptions for everything you can imagine. After reading over the report you feel pretty confident that you’ll be using this company. Then, the second inspector sends over their sample report. You are again impressed by the level of detail provided and the way everything is organized. BUT, this report has something the first didn’t. Each defect found in the report includes a picture or two (with arrows and text on them) showing the defect they just described. Not only can you read the detailed descriptions about each problem but you can actually see them. Based on the contents of the report, which inspector would you choose? Which one would be more helpful?

You’re going to choose the one with pictures. Pictures provide a level of a detail and clarity that text alone can’t achieve. The same thing applies with vehicle inspections. Taking pictures and including them in your reports makes a difference. Of course, if you’re doing paid 3rd party inspections this can be a great way to separate yourself from other inspection options, but even if your simply doing inspections on vehicles for internal purposes pictures are worth including. They can help you track issues and the condition of your vehicles. If a vehicle has a small spot of rust that you’re monitoring, including a picture of it in the report each time you inspect it gives you a way to go back and see how fast it’s growing over time. This can provide valuable information on how high of a priority it is to get it taken care of.

Regardless or what type of vehicle inspections you’re doing pictures have value. If you are trying to show damage a picture with a quick description is so much clearer than a note by itself will ever be.

Let’s look at an example
‘There is a dent in the driver side door’.
OK? How big is the dent? Where is the dent? Let’s get more descriptive:
‘There is a large dent at the bottom of the driver side door’.
That’s certainly better, but when you read a statement like that, the first thing you want to be able to do is see the dent. You instantly try to figure out what ‘large’ means. It’s at the bottom of the driver side door, but where exactly at the bottom? How big of an issue is this?
Having a picture alongside a brief description gives the person reading the report the information they need to get an accurate ‘picture’ of what is going on with the vehicle.

Advantages of Pictures
• Show details in a way that words can’t describe
• Make it easier to communicate condition
• Better looking reports
• People want to see pictures