How to Check the History of Any ATV Before Buying

The ATV market is booming. In 2020, it hit another all-time record — for the 8th time in a row! Over 1.2 million Americans own an all-terrain vehicle. If you are looking for a second-hand ATV, you should know how VINs work. They can prevent a plethora of problems. Not all sellers are truthful, but a quick online check is enough to catch them in a lie.

Since 1981, every vehicle produced in the United States has been given a 17-character identifier. The vehicle identification number, or VIN, contains letters and numerals (I, O, and Q are not included), and it is always unique. A simple ATV VIN lookup online provides an in-depth report with a wealth of information detailing the past and present condition of the vehicle.

Key Facts About VINs

  • These identifiers were introduced in 1954, but manufacturers did not follow the same standard until 1981
  • VINs are assigned to all passenger cars, motorcycles, ATVs, trailers, and trucks in the US. 
  • No two vehicles may have the same VINs (unless one of them has been tampered with the same number). 
  • The VIN on the ATV must match the VIN in its registration documents.
  • VINs may not be changed with only a few exceptions, such as restoration of vintage vehicles or importing of foreign cars.

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The Structure of a VIN

Each of the 17 positions from left to right has a specific meaning. Online decoding will reveal the following information: 

  • Position 1: the country of manufacturing;
  • Position 2: the automaker;
  • Position 3: the vehicle code;
  • Positions from 4 to 8: the model, body type, engine specs, etc.;
  • Position 9: confirmation of accuracy;
  • Position 10: the year;
  • Position 11: the factory code;
  • Positions from 12 to 17: the serial number. 

Where to Find the Number 

Even though all VINs follow the same pattern, different manufacturers place them on different parts. These are always non-removable elements, and you are most likely to find the code on the inside of the ATV. 

For instance, Toyota places VINs on the top of the dashboard or the door jamb on the driver’s side. Other companies may imprint the codes on the frame under the shifter. In this case, the identifier is found on the left-hand side. Other common locations include: 

  • the slit in the plastic hood,
  • the left wheel well (inside or behind it);
  • the frame under the tail;
  • the part of the frame next to the engine (on the left).

How to Check

Inspect the vehicle thoroughly and check the documents that come with it. The code on the ATV must match the code in the insurance documents, registration, title, and the original bill of sale from the dealer. In case of any discrepancies, walk away. 

Criminals replace VINs on stolen cars with identifiers from other vehicles. They may also sell vehicles containing parts of different ATVs. In this case, you will see different identifiers on the same vehicle. 

If the numbers match, you still need to run a check. Visit a website providing such services to get the full report. It will highlight all important events in the history of the ATV you plan to buy. You will immediately understand if the seller is honest. For example, the data will tell you if:

  • the ATV has been involved in any accidents,
  • it has been damaged by the elements (fire, flood, hail),
  • it has been recalled due to manufacturer defects,
  • it has been stolen, recovered, or repossessed
  • it has been rented or used by law enforcement.

You will also see the full vehicle specifications, along with the history of inspections, servicing, and registration changes. This information will be collected from multiple credible sources, including the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System. If the seller is honest, the report will not contradict their version of the past. If they have something to hide, this is a major red flag. 

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A Couple of Clicks to Prevent Big Problems

Before buying an ATV, check its history online. Vehicle owners should not be reluctant to provide their VINs, as the checks do not expose any sensitive information. The number on the ATV must match the code in the documents. If the seller is reliable, the check will dispel your doubts. If they are lying, you will avoid an expensive mistake. 

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