- Helping you drive happy

8. What can I do with the VIN number?

The VIN number, or Vehicle Identification Number, is the car's birth certificate. It can tell you where the car was built (country and factory), the year it was built and a number of other items including powertrain and finish colour.

With this number, all departments of transportation across Canada and the United States keep track of every vehicle on the road. Accidents, recalls and various other activities are all assigned to this number.

Vehicle's history
With VIN in hand, you'll be able to get the vehicle's history by visiting a number of dedicated websites such as Carfax (American), Carproof (Canadian) or by using's VIN check section.

VIN history report costs
The cost for a detailed vehicle history report runs between $35 and $45 and may be well worth the investment. It will potentially tell you the number of owners that car has had and how long it has been registered. If you are lucky, it may even indicate the mileage that it had at the time of the last transaction.

- Look up the Canadian Police Information Center to find out if the car you're looking at has been declared stolen. This search is free and takes mere moments to complete.
- There is a cost for this one, but is especially useful when purchasing from a private seller - with the VIN, you can search for liens on the car by surfing or Carproof. The cost is between $20 and $50.
- You can also call a dealer or the manufacturer of the make to find out about repairs done under warranty.
- If the salesperson has misrepresented the car, e.g. said that it was a 1-owner car and you now have proof that there were several owners, you can either negotiate or walk away from the transaction.




The VIN number is the car's barcode. Modern cars all have VINs with 17 digits and through them it is possible to determine the exact origin and nature of the car to which it is affixed. The digits are broken into the following descriptions:

Digits           Description

1-2.............. Country code 
2-3.............. Manufacturer
4-8.............. Equipment codes 
9................. Check digit 
10............... Model year 
11............... Manufacturing plant 
12-17.......... Serial number

Each digit features a series of codes for deciphering. For example, the country code for Canada begins with a "2". If the vehicle was assembled in the US, the country codes begin with a 1, 4 or 5. Built in Japan, the VIN begins with a "J". In Germany, with a "W".

It is also with this number that the vehicles are tracked and logged. From the moment the car is put into service, in other words, put on the road, any and all incidents or activities related to the car are expected to be documented under the VIN.

VIN history reports

These documents have proven to be both extremely useful as well as misleading. Although a fair amount of information can be found within, it's what's not on the report that is worrisome. On numerous occasions, we've heard of sellers offering cars with report in hand indicating no accident or damage reported when in fact, the car had sustained serious damage in a recent accident.

Depending on the situation, the seller may or may not figure as an owner in a report. In some cases, once the vehicle has been registered in the buyer's name, only then will the seller appear as a previous owner. If the vehicle has changed hands between dealers, they may all only show up once the car is plated.

If cost is an issue, we recommend getting the vehicle inspected over paying for a VIN history report. There is a price gap between the two elements however a clear current picture of the condition of the vehicle will always trump the car's pedigree.


Once back home, the Johnsons begin researching details on the Audi Q7 they've recently test-driven.

On both Carfax and Carproof, they find that each site comes up with 9 history records. They pay for one and print out the results. Of the records, none indicate the presence of an accident or total loss and only one owner is listed.

They also take a chance and contact a different Audi dealership and ask to be transferred to the service department. Once there, they enquire about a VIN look-up however the person at the other end of the phone explains that they do not divulge this type information and that they should contact the manufacturer.

The manufacturer's customer service 1-800 number reveals nothing more than the fact that there are not pending recalls to be performed.