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How to Use VIN for Part Identification

Accurate part identification is important for all vehicle owners because it helps with vehicle safety, cost efficiency, and repair quality.

By The Editors

Fri, May 17, 2024 08:18 AM PST

Features image by Tim Mossholder.

Your Vehicle’s Identification Number (VIN) is a crucial code in the automotive industry. The code comprises 17 characters, including integers and capital letters, that give specific information about your vehicle, to aid its component identification. You would usually see this code on your driver-side dashboard by the windshield or your driver-side door jamb.

The VIN acts like the fingerprint for the vehicle they are peculiar to, displaying unique features, specifications, and the manufacturer. It also helps car owners identify compatible parts for their vehicles. You can search car parts by VIN, to help you find correct parts and carry out accurate maintenance and repair.

Accurate part identification is important for all vehicle owners because it helps with vehicle safety, cost efficiency, and repair quality. When you shop for VIN-verified parts, there is a sense of accuracy and convenience that comes with it, especially for online purchases. So, it will be an added advantage to you to incorporate this technique into your subsequent car parts purchases.

Understanding the VIN

The VIN is not just a bunch of random numbers or letters assigned to vehicles, they are standardized internationally by ISO in ISO 3779 (content and structure) and ISO 4030 (location and attachment). This alphanumeric code can assist you in identifying individual motor vehicles, towed vehicles, motorcycles, scooters, and mopeds. It is made up of:

1. World Manufacturer Identifier (WMI): This shows the vehicle's country of origin and/or the manufacturer. For instance, North American vehicles start with “1” or “4”, while Japanese vehicles start with “J”. This makes the first three characters of the code.

2. Vehicle Descriptor Section (VDS): This segment informs on vehicle model, body type, engine type, and more, to identify and categorize the vehicle. It is the next 6 characters of the VIN code.

3. Vehicle Identifier Section (VIS): This gives information peculiar to a specific vehicle including manufactured date and manufacturer plant, that make up an 8-character long serial number.

As a car owner, it is good practice to identify and decode your VIN. You can identify recalls and safety issues related to your vehicle and get vehicle history including past accidents and service records using the VIN.

The VIN can also help you authenticate vehicles and vehicle parts, and help you know what parts are compatible with your car. When you shop for car parts without VIN, you may set yourself up for a series of potentially wrong outcomes related to improper parts identification.

The Challenges of Part Identification

There are a lot of things that can go wrong or that you can miss out on if you do not shop for your car parts with accurate identification means.

To begin with the most obvious, improper identification can lead to high chances of purchasing incompatible parts for your vehicle, not to mention the difficulty that it will entail when sourcing quality parts.

The risks of using incorrect parts for your vehicle include increased threat of accidents, damage to your vehicle (that may mean hefty sums for repairs), and even risk of reduced vehicle efficiency and reliability as your car’s performance may be adversely affected.

There is also the issue of uncertainties that may arise about parts leading to complications that may void your warranty for the part and prove difficult to return.

This is why ensuring you accurately identify your car parts before you buy them is highly important. You have already spent a lot on your car, so you should protect your investment. If you do not have sufficient knowledge about accurate part identification, consulting a reputable professional to assist you with your vehicle’s integrity will suffice.

Benefits of VIN-Verified Parts Shopping

The benefits of shopping for VIN-verified parts are not far-fetched but go a long way in having a seamless auto journey for as long as you are involved in driving cars. The benefits include:

1. Accuracy: Since the VIN accurately identifies key features in a vehicle, it’s almost impossible to get an incorrect fit when you purchase based on the VIN. This code is more or less a fingerprint for automobiles so you always never go wrong with identification issues when you use it in your shopping process.

2. Time-saving: Shopping with VIN cuts out unnecessary guesswork and removes the potential need to return incompatible parts which can be a complex and time-consuming process.

3. Confidence in quality: Shopping with VIN gives you a certain boost of confidence as you are sure that the parts you are getting are genuine and would be compatible with your vehicle, especially as they come from authorized dealers or manufacturers. 

You can get VIN-verified parts from a reputable online marketplace like RockAuto,  7zap, Parts Defects, and O’Reilly Auto Parts, just to mention a few.

How to Use VIN for Part Identification

When you want to use VIN for part identification, it is important to follow the right steps, understand the VIN-based catalog, and follow professional tips. So let's look at these briefly.

Step-by-Step Guide to Decoding the VIN

Following the step-by-step guide below will assist you in using your car’s VIN to identify quality car parts:

1. Locate the VIN: You can find it on your dashboard close to the windshield, on your driver's door jamb, or on your engine block.

2. Understand the VIN Structure: It is usually 17 characters with a mix of numbers and letters.

3. Use a VIN Decoder to decode the VIN. You can get them online too.

4. Interpret the Results: You will see the year, make, model, engine type, and weight of your vehicle from the decoder and will need this information to identify the correct parts.

Tips for Accurately Inputting VIN Information Online

The following tips will help you use your VIN accurately to avoid mismatches and errors when purchasing parts:

1. Double-check the VIN: Avoid any errors in any of the 17 characters. If you miss one, you will be working with a different vehicle.

2. Use Caps Lock: VINs are a mix of numbers and letters and all alphabets are in capital letters, so using caps lock when writing the VIN will reduce the risk of errors.

3. Avoid Confusing Characters: VINs do not contain the letters ‘I’, ‘O’, and ‘Q’ so that people don’t confuse them with ‘1’ and '0’.

4. Use Reliable Sources: Use a reputable part database or the manufacturer's website to decode the VIN to ensure the accuracy of the information.

Best Practices for VIN-Verified Parts Shopping

Getting VIN-verified parts is as easy to get right as it is to get wrong. To get your shopping right, you have to keep your vehicle records up to date with accurate VIN information, double-check the parts listing on websites against the VIN when shopping, and always consult with professionals when part identification becomes too complex for you.

Doing this will reduce the risks of errors when procuring parts and also make the maintenance process for your vehicle smooth. Vin-verified parts shopping remains an effective way to mitigate the problem of vehicle-parts mismatch.

This article was compiled by the editors of LACar.

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