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What Your VIN Reveals about Your Car Insurance Quote

Ever wonder why they need your VIN to give you an insurance quote? It's not just to be sure it's not a stolen car or even to verify the make and model. The VIN reveals even more about your car that can help you earn discounts on your car insurance.

The 17-digit number unique to each car, called the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), is like your car's thumbprint. It identifies your car for financing, registration and helps police track down stolen cars. Shops use the VIN to be sure they order the correct parts. Although the VIN might look like a random gathering of numbers and letters, there's a lot more to it than many people realize.

Locating the VIN on Your Car

You can find your VIN in one of many places on your car. On older cars, you are likely to find it on the dash panel, in the driver side door, or on the firewall. Today's VINs can be on the dash panel, engine, frame, firewall, steering column, door, doorpost, radiator-support bracket, inner fender liner and other locations. Different manufacturers place them in different spots. In fact, some people even etch them into the car's window glass as a theft deterrent that can secure a discount on car insurance.

When your VIN is etched on every window, car thieves are very likely to pass your car up. Thieves will have a hard time reselling your car with the VIN from a stolen car written on every window. They would have to go through the expense of replacing all those windows before they could sell the car. It's too much hassle for a car thief that could easily move on to the next car.

Even before VINs were used, American car manufacturers used chassis numbers for similar purposes, beginning in 1954. In 1981, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began requiring that all cars, trailers, mopeds and motorcycles use VIN numbers in a universal format. Because VINs are formatted the same way for all cars, you can tell a lot about a car by decoding one. The VIN will tell you where the car was made, who made it, what special features it may have and the unique ID of the car.

World Manufacturer Identifier (WMI)

The VIN begins with three digits called the World Manufacturer Identifier (WMI). The first digit is the country of origin, which means where the final touches were put on the car. The frame and chassis may be made in Mexico, but if everything is assembled in the United States, then the country of origin would be the U.S. Numbers 1,4 and 5 represent the U.S. Number 2 stands for Canada, 3 for Mexico, J for Japan, K for Korea, S for England and W for Germany. The next digit refers to the carmaker.

It will be the first letter of the manufacturer's name, for example, F for Ford or D for Dodge. The final digit in the WMI represents the kind of car or carmaker's division. General Motors is the best example of using this digit to represent divisions. The WMI for cars from this maker start with 1 for U.S. and then G for General Motors. The third digit can represent the Pontiac line of cars or perhaps Chevrolet. That digit depends on which letter or number the carmaker decides to assign.

Vehicle Descriptor Section (VDS)

This is where the money-saving magic happens. Digits 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 are assigned by the carmaker and collectively create the Vehicle Descriptor Section (VDS). Together with the 9th digit, assigned by a mathematical formula that confirms the other numbers, they make the VDS. Although not all carmakers use these digits for identifying information that can help you save money, many do.

For instance, Audi uses these digits as follows:

Position 4: Number of Doors or Engine Size
Position 5: Engine Type (Diesel or Gas)
Position 6: Restrain System (belts and type, air bags and type)
Positions 7 and 8: Line & Model
General Motors assigns them this way:
Positions 4 and 5: Platform & Series (similar to make and model)
Position 6: Body style and number of doors
Position 7: Restrain System (belts and type, air bags and type)
Position 8: Engine type and size
Most American manufacturers do not display the safety features in this section, but most other carmakers do. The information in this section can earn you different types of discounts that will show up in your car insurance quote. For example, you can earn discounts for the types of seatbelts used, for different kinds of air bags and for head restraints.

Vehicle Identifier Section (VIS)

The remaining digits are called the VIS. The 10th digit indicates the model years. The system for the years started in 1980 with the letter A. 1981 through 2000 were B through Y. 2001 – 2009 were 1 through 9. Some letters are omitted because they can be easily confused with numbers. The cycle began again in 2010 with A. 2011 is B and 2012 will be C.

Position 11 tells which manufacturing plant assembled the car and is assigned by the carmaker. The final 6 digits are assigned in sequence as cars are produced to identify the specific car. So, with this series of 17 digits, you can decode much about your car. You can even get an idea of which safety features you have that might earn you a discount when you compare car insurance quotes.