Purchasing a vehicle — particularly a used vehicle — can be a stressful experience. This is true whether you are searching for a vehicle at a dealership, on the internet, or from a mutual acquaintance.
The main culprit of this anxiety is likely one thing. As the purchaser of the vehicle, you are at a significant disadvantage due to lack of information. The owner of the vehicle often knows much more about the vehicle’s history and its true value. While many owners of vehicles negotiate in good faith, you may encounter a bad apple who hopes to use this information asymmetry to their advantage
So what can be done? How can you turn the tables so that you can enter negotiations on a more level playing field?
Luckily, there is an answer. It lies within a collection of digits and letters known as a vehicle identification number (“VIN number”). By looking up a vehicle’s VIN number, you can not only gain a significant amount of information about the vehicle: you can use that information to negotiate a better price (or avoid that vehicle entirely).
VIN Number Lookup: The Basics
A VIN number is a pretty simple concept. Essentially, it is an identification number for a specific vehicle. No two vehicles on the road have the same VIN number. As for the number itself, it is normally comprised of a combination of 17 digits and capital letters. There are no spaces between the characters and VIN number don’t contain the letters “Q”, “I”, or “O.” If you are looking at a vehicle that was manufactured before 1981, the VIN may vary in length between 11 and 17 characters. Ultimately, the particular numbers and letters in the VIN number represent a vehicle’s manufacturer, unique specifications, and unique features.
A vehicle’s VIN number can be found on the vehicle. Specifically, you can find it on the dashboard on the driver’s side. It is easiest to view it when you are outside the vehicle. That said, if you cannot find the VIN number there, you can also look on the door post on the driver’s side of the vehicle. And if you can’t find the VIN number there? It will be on an insurance card or insurance policy or on the vehicle’s title and registration.
Understanding what a VIN number is, you likely can surmise why it would be useful. You can use a VIN number to examine a vehicle’s history. Upon obtaining a vehicle’s VIN number, you can input the number into VIN number lookup software to learn more. The software will produce information like the vehicle’s manufacturer, brand, make and model, model year, body style, engine size, and even the assembly plant.
All of this is well and good, but the real magic with a VIN number lookup comes from the vehicles’ history. Many data registries use a vehicle’s VIN number to track whether the vehicle has ever been in an accident or has been repaired. You can also use a VIN number to identify whether a particular vehicle has been stolen. Your vehicle’s VIN number can be also used to track whether the vehicle has been recalled and, if so, whether repairs were actually made to the vehicle.
This is just some of the information that you can obtain when looking up a vehicle’s VIN number. You can think of a VIN number as a vehicle’s fingerprint. Regardless of the buyer’s representations to you, you can obtain a real snapshot of the vehicle’s history by taking a look at its VIN number.
Even the Playing Field
As the buyer of a potential vehicle, you are at an inherent disadvantage. Your unfamiliarity with the vehicle may end up costing you thousands (or tens of thousands) of dollars. Understanding this reality makes an already stressful situation even more stressful.
However, you do have one powerful tool on your side. By looking up the particular vehicle’s VIN number, you can gain an accurate snapshot of the vehicle’s history. Armed with this information, you can be more confident and more composed as you negotiate the vehicle’s price.
And who knows? You may decide to walk away. Whatever you choose, you can rest assured that you are informed before making your decision.