How to Locate a Stolen Car By VIN

There are several ways to locate a stolen car by VIN. The VIN is a vehicle's unique identification code, and is stamped on the car in several places. Organizations like the NICB offer VIN lookup databases that can help determine if a car has been stolen. The vehicle's history can also be found by VIN lookup.

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Rachel Bodine graduated from college with a BA in English. She has since worked as a Feature Writer in the insurance industry and gained a deep knowledge of state and countrywide insurance laws and rates. Her research and writing focus on helping readers understand their insurance coverage and how to find savings. Her expert advice on insurance has been featured on sites like PhotoEnforced, All...

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Leslie Kasperowicz holds a BA in Social Sciences from the University of Winnipeg. She spent several years as a Farmers Insurance CSR, gaining a solid understanding of insurance products including home, life, auto, and commercial and working directly with insurance customers to understand their needs. She has since used that knowledge in her more than ten years as a writer, largely in the insurance...

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Reviewed by Leslie Kasperowicz
Farmers CSR for 4 Years

UPDATED: Jan 7, 2022

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What You Should Know

  • A VIN is a 17 number code used to identify a specific vehicle 
  • You can locate your VIN by your vehicle, insurance card, vehicle title, or vehicle registration 
  • The NICB provides a free VIN lookup service

Buying a car can be a stressful and complicated process. Unless you’re purchasing it directly from the manufacturer or at a dealership, you won’t know the vehicle’s full history without doing some research. Luckily, there’s an easy way to find out if a vehicle has a shady past: a VIN check.

Every car has a unique code assigned to it at the time of manufacture. This code is called a vehicle identification number (VIN) and it’s like a fingerprint. No two VINs are the same, and they can be used to identify the car’s history. This includes any history of motor vehicle theft.

In this article, we will go over locating a potentially stolen car using the car’s VIN. Going through this process can help protect you as the registered owner and prevent potential difficulties later on.

Before you learn more about locating a stolen car by VIN, make sure you’re covered if your car is stolen. Enter your ZIP code now to compare auto insurance quotes from top companies.

What is a VIN?

A VIN is a 17-character alphanumeric code that’s used to identify a specific vehicle. The VIN contains information about the car’s physical features and vehicle history. The following information can be found using the VIN:

  • Country where the vehicle was built
  • Manufacturer
  • Manufacturer authorization via a security code
  • Plant where the vehicle was assembled
  • Brand
  • Engine size and type
  • Vehicle model year
  • Serial number

All of this information is useful for tracking ownership history, thefts, and towing. It can also be used to track recalls on the vehicle’s components and monitor insurance claims.

What if my VIN is shorter than 17 characters?

Vehicles manufactured prior to 1981 may have a VIN between 11 and 17 characters. Information about older vehicles may be more limited due to a lack of digital records.

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Where can I find my VIN?

There are four places where you’re likely to find your car’s VIN:

  • Your vehicle
  • Insurance card and other insurance policy documents
  • Vehicle title
  • Vehicle registration

The VIN can appear in different places on a car’s interior. The most common is the dashboard on the driver’s side. It will be written in the bottom left corner, where the dashboard meets the windshield. The next most common place is the driver’s side door jam. There, you may find a sticker containing several important pieces of information, including the VIN.

Some cars may have VIN etching, where the VIN is permanently etched into the car. In fact, you can even get an auto insurance discount for VIN etching.

If you have a suspicion that a car may have been stolen or tampered with, you can also look for the VIN in more hidden places to check for consistency. The VIN may also be printed on the front of the engine block, the front of the car frame under the hood, the top of the rear wheel wells, or underneath the spare tire.

If there are multiple different VINs on different parts of the car or you see signs of tampering, you should be suspicious and report it to the police. Record all of the numbers you see and start researching.

How Do I Check a VIN?

Multiple organizations and agencies maintain records of lost, stolen, or scrapped vehicles. Many of them provide VIN look-up services that are free and easy for consumers to use independently. The most prominent is the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB).

The National Insurance Crime Bureau’s VINCheck

The NICB is an independent organization that aims to combat insurance fraud and theft, particularly regarding vehicles. They work with insurance companies to compile information in one place for easy public use. They provide a free VIN lookup service on their website.

On the VINCheck Lookup page, you will be prompted to provide a VIN.

After you agree to the terms of use, they will search their databases to see if the vehicle associated with your VIN has been reported as stolen or as a salvage vehicle.

If your car has been stolen, the website will prompt you to contact the NICB or law enforcement for the next steps.

Motor Vehicle History Report

The NICB is a good place to start, but unfortunately, their records are not all-inclusive. If you’re worried about a car theft that could have occurred a while ago, check your vehicle’s complete history with a title or registration search. These searches can be requested through the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in the state where the car is registered.

These reports will show collisions or other insurance issues as reported by insurance companies. They will also list the vehicle’s registered owner. It’s one of the things you should check when buying a used car.

Insurance Agencies and Other Private Organizations

There are a wide variety of websites that offer VIN check services. Some are run by insurance agencies and their subsidiaries, and some are run independently. The National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS), which is overseen by the U.S. Department of Justice, houses a list of trustworthy VIN lookup websites.

Locating a Stolen Vehicle by VIN: The Bottom Line

The VIN is your best tool for locating a stolen car. It can also help you to identify stolen parts. With multiple VIN lookup services out there, it’s easy to use the VIN to track vehicle history.

Now that you know how to locate a stolen car by VIN, you can be prepared in the event of theft or tampering with your vehicle. In addition to this knowledge, there’s another way to protect yourself from unforeseen circumstances—car insurance.

Before you find yourself tracking a stolen vehicle by VIN, make sure you have the coverage you need. Enter your ZIP code now for fast, free auto insurance quotes from top companies.

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