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Why an RV VIN Lookup Is Essential If Buying Used

| Updated Jan 4, 2024

Do you know why an RV VIN lookup is essential? Don’t learn the hard way! Be sure to check the RV VIN before buying a used RV. Otherwise, you may lose out like this real-life RVer…

Is that used RV you have your eye on safe to drive and legal to own? 

You may think that you are doing everything right, like checking Carfax. But some used RV retailers are selling unsafe RVs to unsuspecting people. 

There is good news, though! There are legitimate ways to check out used RVs before purchasing them. We'll tell you how, and answer even more VIN FAQ.

A Real RVer Who Learned the Hard Way

One of RV Lifestyle Facebook followers, Christine, shared a horror story recently. She bought a 2011 Tiffin and thought everything was fine since the Carfax said the vehicle's VIN was clear. Little did she know that it was not fine, and she ended up with a $57,000 loss! 

Here is her story: 

In March 2019, she and her husband purchased a 2011 Tiffin Allergo Bus from a company called Northern Kentucky Auto Sales. It took about nine months for them to get the title to the vehicle, which occurred right before their leaving to go to Florida for the winter. 

The title was issued in Pennsylvania, even though the RV was originally purchased by the sales company in Texas. The couple went through several legal processes to secure the title, and Indiana would not title the vehicle. The Indiana Attorney General denied the titling. 

Why Would They Deny It, You Ask? 

Apparently, the RV was sold at a Texas auction in Texas and was only supposed to be used for parts!

This was particularly upsetting to the couple because despite the rig being unsafe to drive, the couple had been driving it all over Alabama. They had already put 15,000 miles on the rig!

Once the couple discovered that it was not allowed to be driven, they stored it in Florida and hired an Indiana attorney to get their money back. They wanted what they paid and to give the RV back to the seller. 

In the end, the dealership took the rig back but only paid a portion of what it was sold for. Overall, the couple lost $57,000 in the deal and learned some important life lessons. 

Christine shared this on social media to warn other people from doing the same thing. 

Do not find yourself in the same predicament. The following are ways to ensure that you are buying an RV with a clear title and one that is safe to drive. 

What Is a VIN?

Why an RV VIN Lookup Is Essential If Buying Used

A VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) is a unique 17-digit number that every road vehicle made after 1977 has. The VIN number usually comes as a mix of letters and numbers and can be found somewhere on the vehicle. 

VINs are assigned to every road vehicle, such as cars, RVs, trailers fifth wheels, and any others you can think of. The vehicle sold is recorded on the title associated with that VIN number. 

Why Is It Important to Check the VIN?

Christine's story provided one reason to check the VIN: roadworthiness. But it's not the only reason you should check your RV VIN.

The VIN records can show you:

  • If the RV is road-worthy
  • If the RV was stolen
  • If the seller is lying (or ignorant) about specifications
  • Maintenance and service history
  • Recalls on the RV

If there have been recalls on the RV, ask the seller if the problem has been fixed already. It's best to verify their answer by checking recall information on recalls.gov or NHTSA. Those resources can help identify unrepaired RVs affected by recalls.

How Do I Find My RV VIN?

The VIN may be located on a sticker or as an engraving on the vehicle's metal. On a motorhome, it’s typically found in one of two locations…

  1. Many vehicles have the VIN located inside the driver’s side door and can only be seen when the door is ajar. 
  2. Many RV VINs are located on the lower-left-hand corner of the dashboard, in front of the steering wheel. You can look at the number through the windshield on the driver’s side of the vehicle. 

If you do not find the VIN in those two spots, you can also try looking in front of the engine block. You can also consult the owner’s manual if it is available. 

Where Is the VIN on a 5th Wheel or Travel Trailer?

The VIN can be trickier to find on a 5th-wheel or travel trailer. The first place to look is on the roadside (driver side) front corner of the towable RV, near the bottom of the sidewall. This is where it is required to be.

However, VINs on older towables tend to wear or fall off. If you can't locate your trailer VIN near that location, look near the hitch or pin box. If nothing is there, it's time to check the entry door frame and start opening cabinets. You may find the VIN in one of those locations.

Can I Check an RV VIN Free?

check the rv vin

Good ol' Google is a great place to start. There are multiple free resources you can choose from to look up VIN numbers, including EpicVIN and FAXVIN.

Simply google “free VIN decoder” or “free VIN lookup” and a list of free resources will populate. Select one, enter your VIN, and get an instant report that usually outlines the manufacturer, brand, make and model, body style, engine size assembly plant, and model year.

This information allows you to double-check that the VIN matches the vehicle you're looking to buy. Some also provide a full vehicle history report.

In fact, that’s what Christine did when her title was denied. When she googled the VIN, she found out about the Texas auction sale. 

Check the RV VIN at the DMV

Another way to check the VIN is to go directly to the DMV. The DMV can often run the number for you to let you know if the vehicle is legally open for purchase. 

How Do I Decode My RV VIN Number?

Each number of the VIN represents specific information. To easily decode the RV VIN, simply enter the VIN into the NHTSA VIN Decoder. When you click “Decode VIN,” it will generate a report of vehicle details that you can export to a PDF.

You can also manually decode the RV VIN. The 10th digit is the trickiest one to interpret, but we'll explain that further after this breakdown of each number of the VIN:

  • 1st Digit: Country of origin of the vehicle
  • 2nd Digit: Manufacturer of the vehicle
  • 3rd Digit: Make of the vehicle
  • 4th Digit: Line or series of vehicle
  • 5th & 6th Digit: Body style of the vehicle
  • 7th Digit: Type of restraint system found in the vehicle
  • 8th Digit: Type of Engine in the Vehicle
  • 9th Digit: Check Digit
  • 10th Digit: Year the vehicle was manufactured*
  • 11th Digit: Plant where the vehicle was manufactured or assembled
  • 12th-17th Digits: RV’s unique serial number

*As mentioned, the 10th digit is the trickiest to interpret because it has three possible numeral and alphabetical representations depending on the year the RV was built.

Models manufactured after 2009 are represented by letters corresponding to years. So, A=2010, B=2011, etc. Models manufactured before 2000 are represented by letters corresponding to years in reverse order. So, Z=1999, Y=1998, etc.

Models manufactured from 2000-2009 are represented as a numeral of the year. So, 0=2000, 1=2001, 2=2002, etc.

Should You Trust Carfax? 

While Carfax offers a great service, it should only be used as a starting point in your search for a reliable used vehicle. The downside to Carfax is that it only contains information that was reported. A vehicle with a clean Carfax report does not mean it is truly safe and can be properly titled. 

There is nothing wrong with using Carfax. Just make sure it is not your only source of information in a used vehicle purchase. That's why, no matter what information you find in an RV VIN lookup, we always recommend you get an RV inspection…

Get an RV Inspection Before You Buy!

Like what you see in these videos? We'd appreciate it if you would Subscribe to our YouTube Channel (easy to do right here) and consider “ringing the bell icon” to be notified of any new video from us. 🙂 Thanks!

We also strongly suggest you get an RV inspection before you buy a used RV. In the above video, we are joined by the NRVIA Director of Administration, Stephanie Henson, to get the details on the hows and whys of RV inspections and what it takes to get an RV inspector involved.

Our RV Buying Secrets

Why an RV VIN Lookup Is Essential If Buying Used 1

Next to your home, an RV is most likely the 2nd most expensive thing you'll ever purchase.

We get questions every day of other RVers wondering. “How do you buy a new or used RV?”

So we created a 75+-page downloadable digital guide to help you understand the nuances that come with purchasing an RV, where you can save thousands of dollars in the buying process, what the right questions are to ask dealers, what things to look out for, how to select the right unit, amenities, warranties, and so much more!

This ebook is designed to help make your purchase process as smooth as possible. And to teach you step-by-step exactly what to do so you can start your RV Lifestyle today!


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Why an RV VIN Lookup Is Essential If Buying Used 2

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Mike Wendland

Published on 2024-01-04

Mike Wendland is a multiple Emmy-award-winning Journalist, Podcaster, YouTuber, and Blogger, who has traveled with his wife, Jennifer, all over North America in an RV, sharing adventures and reviewing RV, Camping, Outdoor, Travel and Tech Gear for the past 12 years. They are leading industry experts in RV living and have written 18 travel books.

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