A vehicle identification number appears on many documents such as registration, title, accident reports and auto repair records. It can easily be traced to the owner of the vehicle and can be used to obtain a car's license plate number as well as the owner's name and address.
A VIN identifies a vehicle in the same manner that a Social Security number identifies a U.S. citizen. It's associated with a collection of data that accrues from its creation in the factory and continues throughout the lifetime of the vehicle. Information that can be obtained by tracing a VIN includes the vehicle's manufacturer, background, model year and where it was made.
When purchasing a vehicle through a private sale, one should obtain a vehicle history report using the VIN before finalizing the sale and confirm the VIN on the vehicle matches the title and registration documentation. A VIN is always 17 digits in length.
It's strongly recommended to beware of online search companies that provide services for looking up a driver's plate and personal information by using a VIN. As of 2015, it is illegal to run a license plate check on another individual, regardless of circumstances. The right to do so is reserved only by members of law enforcement.