1997 Nissan Pathfinder LEEnlarge Photo
Question: I keep hearing about my vehicle’s VIN. What is it?
The vehicle identification number (VIN) is similar to a person’s social security number: it follows the vehicle around for life and is used by various government, banking, and insurance agencies for identification. You’ll find a vehicle’s VIN on its state registration documents, insurance card, loan papers, and in more recent models, located in various spots throughout the vehicle as an enhanced security measure.
The VIN is a 17-digit serial number composed of both numbers and letter (alphanumeric). The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has governed its use since 1981. Before that there wasn’t a standard system used by all carmakers.
You can tell a lot about a vehicle if you know how to decode the VIN. You can determine the country where the vehicle was assembled, including the specific assembly plant, the year, make, some features of the vehicle including model, drivetrain, and so on—and it’s serial number.
Would you like to know where your vehicle was made? Here are some of the most common country codes. You’ll find these letters or numbers in the first position of the VIN:
You won’t find any signs (&#%@) or spaces in the VIN. You also won’t find the letters “I”, “o”, or “q” to avoid confusion with the numerals 1 and 0. And here’s a tip for using the VIN in conversation: you only need to say “VIN” because saying “VIN number” is redundant.
Do you remember New York City’s Times Square bomber last year? Faisal Shahzad placed a bomb in a Nissan Pathfinder and left it in Times Square. The bomb did not explode and Shahzad was later caught and sentenced to life in prison. However, the Pathfinder’s VIN played an integral role in Shahzad’s capture.
In an apparent attempt to hide the ownership history of the Pathfinder, someone removed the VIN from the two places most car owners know about: the driver’s door and on the driver’s side of the dashboard where it’s visible from outside the vehicle.
This clumsy attempt to conceal the VIN did not take into account that recent models place the vehicle identification number in multiple locations through the vehicle. This can include the dash panel, firewall, engine, steering column, radiator-support bracket, door or door post, inner fender liner, and other places depending on the manufacturer.
Even though this Pathfinder was an older 1993 model, police were able to trace the vehicle after finding a VIN on the bottom of the engine block. This discovery led to the capture of Shahzad.