When you apply for an auto insurance policy, there is certain information that you need to provide: personal details like your name and address, as well as information about the car. One piece of information you’ll need to have handy is the vehicle identification number (VIN). This number is necessary to complete your purchase of a policy.

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What is a car’s VIN?

VIN stands for vehicle identification number. It is a unique, 17-character alphanumeric identifier that is assigned to your car when it is built. Every car has its own VIN number that stays with it for the lifetime of the vehicle.

You may find the VIN noted in a couple of areas in a car. It may be on the driver’s side windshield, which is usually seen most easily by standing outside the car and looking at the corner where the dashboard meets the windshield. If the VIN is not there, you should find it inside the driver’s side door near where the door latches when it closes. Sometimes, the VIN is noted on the inside of the trunk or trunk latch. Additionally, it can be found on the vehicle’s registration, title and your insurance card.

So what does the VIN tell you? Each character is coded with a particular piece of information, including the following:

  • The country the car was made in
  • The vehicle’s make and model, along with more detailed information such as the engine type and transmission
  • The year the car was made
  • The manufacturing plant where the car was assembled
  • Whether the VIN is valid (known through the ninth character, which is a security code)
  • Manufacturer-specific information, such as factory-fitted options on the vehicle (known through the last six-character serial number)

Do you need a VIN for car insurance?

The short answer is: yes, you do need a VIN when getting car insurance. However, you don’t need one to start the process of purchasing a policy. Insurers are able to give you a general quote without the VIN, so if you are thinking of purchasing a certain car, but haven’t headed to the dealership just yet, you can get a sense of what your insurance costs will be by obtaining a few quotes.

Once you’ve decided on a specific car, you’ll need the VIN to actually buy the policy. The VIN gives the insurance company valuable information and allows them to give you more accurate quotes. No insurance company will sell you a policy without having the VIN in hand.

What you need for car insurance quotes

Getting insurance quotes is easy and can be done online in many cases. The information required for a quote varies from state to state, but you will generally need your name, address, date of birth and driver’s license number. Your potential insurance company will also need to know your vehicle’s year, make and model and its mileage. Some insurers may ask whether the car will be housed in a garage or outside. Additionally, you should be prepared to give information regarding who your previous insurer was (if you had one) and when that policy expired.

You may be asked for the VIN at this point, but you should be able to get the quote without it. Keep in mind that the quote may not be as accurate as it would be if you had the VIN. Your insurer can only give you a final cost quote once they’ve seen the VIN.

If you’re looking at a pre-owned car. but haven’t purchased it yet, ask the owner if you can have the VIN before you begin searching for insurance. Even though it may not be necessary to obtain a quote, you will get much more accurate pricing from the insurance company with the vehicle identification number.

If you’re looking at new cars, you may not have access to the VIN at first, although many dealerships list the VIN with the car’s info if you’re doing your car shopping online. Most major auto insurance companies only ask for a minimal amount of information to be submitted onto their websites to obtain a general quote. This should give you enough information to have a good sense of what your premium will be, but it may not be exactly the same as your final cost.

Remember that insurance quotes are an estimate of what you will pay and are not written in stone. If you do not include the VIN in the initial quote, it’s possible that the quote will change once the insurer has the more accurate and specific information contained in the VIN.

What you need for a car insurance policy

Once you are ready to purchase your policy, you will definitely need the VIN. Your VIN will relay pertinent information for the underwriting process, such as if the vehicle has a history of severe damage or has been stolen. You may also have to provide information that might not have been required for the quote, like your driving history and if you have any past marks on your license. If you have ever had your license suspended, the company will need to know that along with the particulars of your case.

Why do VINs matter?

A VIN is to a car what your fingerprint is to you. It’s unique to each vehicle and includes a wealth of information in its 17 characters that tells your insurer about the car’s origins and history. No car on the road has the same VIN, so your insurer knows exactly what it needs to accurately quote your policy.

As a driver, you don’t need to memorize your car’s VIN, though it is helpful to know where you can find it. For your insurer, the VIN is a vital piece of information that allows it to assess the risk it will undertake when insuring the car. Sharing your car’s VIN with potential insurers allows you to gather more accurate quotes so that you can ensure you’re getting the best insurance policy for the best price possible.

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