Think of the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) as a car or truck's DNA. It is a unique combination of 17 letters and numbers that is assigned to the vehicle when it is built and that stays with it throughout its life. The VIN is used to track the vehicle as it changes hands and as it is repaired and serviced. If the vehicle is severely damaged and is assigned a "salvage title," this information should appear when the VIN is used to generate a vehicle history report, such as those offered by AutoCheck, Carfax and the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System. It is possible to determine the year, make and model by deciphering the placement of the letters and numbers in the VIN. You also can use a car's VIN to check for recalls: Just enter the VIN in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's VIN Look-up Tool.
Below are links to articles with more detailed information on a car's VIN and links to purchase full vehicle history reports.