VINwiki is a new tech startup started by Ed Bolian of Cannonball fame. Very simply, it’s a user-fed car database. It’s a Wikipedia of VINs. Hence, VINwiki. God, do I love a simple name. Not like “Hammerjack Ltd, maker of fine sandwiches”. The name sums up exactly what the system does. You can search for any VIN, and add in your own data.
Everyone who is even remotely involved in the car world is familiar with Carfax. We’ve all seen the commercials, printouts, and stickers. The logic is sound. It’s a record of that car. In reality, it’s not always so great. I’ve worked in the pre-owned luxury car world for a few years, in varying degrees. That’s a nice way of saying “we be slangin’ Benzes up in this bitch”. During that time, I’ve seen plenty of things that Carfax doesn’t cover. I’ve seen cars with undisclosed frame damage. I’ve seen cars that have had the entire engine replaced with no disclosure. I’ve seen cars that smelled like a St Bernard gave birth in the back.
This sounds like I’m ragging on Carfax, but I’m not. It’s a useful tool, but far from a perfect solution. The downside of the data being very tightly controlled is that a very small cluster of people control what goes into it. VINwiki tackles this by turning to that most internet of concepts: crowdsourcing. Anyone can upload information about any vehicle. I do mean anyone. Unlike Wheelwell, where you only add information about your own vehicle, VINwiki allows everyone access to every vehicle. That means it could be an owner, or a mechanic, or a journalist, or a hobo, if that hobo had an iPhone. So, you know, Johnson County hobos (local reference!).
But viewing VINwiki as just a damage disclosure tool is totally missing the point. While, yes, it can allow you to add, or read, information about repairs and maintenance, that’s not utilizing the full potential. The best use of the tool is for telling stories. As enthusiasts, our cars live very dramatic lives. From road trips, to car meets, to race tracks, to photoshoots. With this, you can add all of those events to your car.
Instead of having to dig through your Facebook memories to reminisce about your various four wheeled escapades, VINwiki will build an elaborate timeline of that vehicle’s life. Think of it as a digital scrapbook, but one that others can add to. I was poking around in the pre-launch version, and found a RUF that had notes going back two years. There were even photos of it in Germany before it ever got shipped over. There were even photos of it added by others who had seen it at various shows. Even though you love your car, she did have a life before you. Those experiences shaped her into who she is today, and you should understand them. Just try to not look at the photos of other people inside of her.
People can follow cars, just like with other social media platforms. With some vehicles, this can get pretty involved. If you find a press loaner vehicle, you can follow it around the world. Say you are in lust with the Mustang GT350R (as you goddamn should be), but you know you’ll never see one. If you follow one of the few press models, you’ll get to see it bounce from Top Gear, to Motortrend, to The Smoking Tire. With each adding their own stories and photos.
An unexpected perk of that is you can avoid being Rob Willis, who unknowingly bought an M3 that Top Gear had kicked the poo out of. Now, owning a former Top Gear car could be a bit of a mixed blessing. On one hand, your new ride has provenance, and smells like Clarkson’s crotch. You could charge internet fanboys to sniff the seat. On the other hand, it’s had Clarkson drive it, and the transmission will probably not be in the best shape. Now, a Carfax report would not disclose anything beyond it possibly being a demonstrator vehicle. Which is a bit vague. Did it get trailered to various car shows for three months, or did Chris Harris drift it halfway across Wales? Slight difference.
Of course, you can also use it as a way to track your own experiences with your car, from general maintenance, to mileage milestones, to adventures. When I was growing up, my father kept a notebook in each vehicle, in which he notated every fuel fill-up, including fuel economy for each tank. Others keep folders of receipts for every maintenance or modification. This information is worth it’s weight in gold if you decide to sell the vehicle later. VINwiki digitizes all of that, and removes the risk of your kids tearing up or peeing on your folder. I’ll be honest, I don’t understand how kids work, so I just assume they work like cats. Claw up papers, poop in boxes, stuff like that.
As with all crowd-sourced data, the success of the platform depends on the user base. But many platforms of this nature have become wildly successful and influential. Wikipedia is the go-to information source for the vast majority of the internet. Waze’s user-loaded traffic data is more accurate and up to date than almost anything else. With luck, VINwiki will join that pantheon. Personally, I’m excited to see where this goes. Professionally, it will help me on reviewing privately owned cars if I can see the history of every car easily, without needed to text the owner asking for a spreadsheet. So get out there, grab the app, and make my life easier.
If you need an explainer, here’s their YouTube intro: