A VIN (vehicle identification number) is a specific 17-character string of numbers and letters that uniquely identifies a specific vehicle. Every car has its own VIN, no two cars are exactly alike. But what exactly does the VIN reveal? Is it possible to find out the identity of a car’s owner by looking at its VIN?
How to read a VIN
Each VIN is like a unique fingerprint that can be used to trace the history of a vehicle through its life. The VIN contains all sorts of information about the vehicle, including what country it was made in, what type of engine it has and even its color.
The first three characters of your VIN will tell you where the vehicle is from and where it was manufactured. The next five digits describe the vehicle, the engine, the transmission, and other technical features. The next three digits contain the vehicle’s security digit, model year, and assembly plant location. Finally, the last six digits are your vehicle’s serial number and identify your specific vehicle trim level and other specifications.
Does the VIN reveal the owner of the vehicle?
No, the VIN does not reveal the owner of the vehicle. The name and information regarding the owners of a vehicle are protected by the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act (DPPA) of 1994. Under this act, the DMV agency in each state heavily safeguards driver information. In some cases, depending on the VIN decoding program, it may tell you the state in which the vehicle was last titled, but not the owner’s name.
How do you find the owner of a vehicle?
Since vehicle ownership information is not public, there is an official process you must undertake to request this information. Each state has its own method to request DPPA-protected information. To find the owner of a vehicle, you must request this information directly from the DMV agency and have a legitimate reason for doing so.
The DMV won’t just give out information when it’s requested, you must have a legal or comparable purpose for requesting this information. Oftentimes, the DMV will not provide DPPA-protected information to private individuals, instead there typically must be a third-party involved that will handle the sensitive records.
In short, the VIN provides a full history of the manufacturing and titling of the vehicle but does not reveal the ownership. If you are needing to request the vehicle ownership records, submit a DPPA request to your state DMV agency along with the VIN. Remember, to request this type of sensitive information, you must have a valid reason for doing so. Before proceeding, make sure you’re following all applicable state and federal privacy laws.