How to Locate a Classic car VIN

Vehicle identification numbers (VIN) have been a requirement for all vehicles within the United States since 1954. In the early years, VINs were determined by the vehicle's manufacturer. There was no set standard in terms of character type, length, number sequence, etc.

However, this policy changed for 1981 models when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) created a standard when it came to the assignment of VINs. From that point onward, all vehicles were required to have VINs that were 17 characters in length that consisted of numbers and letters.

The importance of VINs for older vehicles

There are a number of reasons why you may need to know the VIN of an older vehicle. Some of the more common reasons often include:

  • Finding production numbers for special edition or rare vehicles.
  • Searching for an old automobile you used to own.
  • Learning the actual value of your value if you decide to sell.
  • Learning the history of a vehicle, you may own.
  • Ensuring the authenticity of an older vehicle before you make a purchase.

You should make it a point to know as much information as possible when you're researching an older car or truck. This includes history, value, and more. Generally, rare older vehicles tend to have a heftier price tag and come with more risk as a result. Knowing as much about the vehicle as possible will help you make the right decisions when it comes to buying or selling.

Finding the VIN for older vehicles

If you're searching for an older vehicle or if you're digging into the history of an older vehicle you're interested in buying (or already own), the first step is to locate a VIN or serial number. If you find yourself in a situation where the VIN stickers and plates are missing from the vehicle in question, there are several alternate methods you can employ to locate the VIN of the vehicle. These include:

  • Checking the repair records from the car dealership where you bought the vehicle. You can also try checking repair receipts.
  • Loan papers may also have the information you seek. Banks often keep this information on hand when they assign loans.
  • Checking insurance cards and old registration.
  • Checking insurance claims and/or police reports. If your vehicle was involved in an accident, you might find the VIN information on file.
  • Checking the records of previous insurance companies. You can either check with your current insurance company or check with the previous owner's.

Finding VIN information with photos 

The above methods may not always work when you're attempting to track down a vehicle's VIN. If that's the case, you can try searching through old pictures. The following methods may not directly lead to the discovery of a VIN, but they may lead to information pertaining to the history of the vehicle.

Old photos can reveal a wealth of information. These include:

  • The original color of the vehicle.
  • Information pertaining to the interior design of the vehicle.
  • License plate numbers.
  • Information pertaining to transmission type, original body, and engine.

Starting a VIN search for an older vehicle

Whether you have a VIN or not, it can still be challenging to locate an old car or truck. If you do have a VIN or serial number on hand, you can begin your search in a couple of ways. These include:

  • Running your VIN through a search engine such as Google, Bing, or Yahoo.
  • Running a search on a VIN check site that has an extensive database of older vehicles.

Actually having the VIN on hand makes the search much simpler. However, if you don't happen to have the VIN or serial number, you can try the next best thing -- posting a search history on the vehicle. A search history is an ad that you create that usually features a short description or story that relates to the vehicle in question. You can post a search history to a number of online sources:

  • Social media platforms such as Facebook
  • Message boards for enthusiasts
  • A self-made blog
  • Car club websites and newsletters

Posting a search history may or may not provide the information you're seeking, thus it's a good idea to also contact the previous owners of the vehicle to see if they have further useful information. If you happen to have the name or address of the previous owner, you can try contacting them through social media. If you only have their name you can try running a public records search to see if you can ascertain their contact information.

Searching online through various sources can often lead to essential information such as the VIN of the vehicle, the license, and more information that will help you to continue conducting your search. 

Featured image credit: paulbr75 / Pixabay