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How to Read a VIN (Vehicle Identification Number)

Your vehicle identification number, called VIN for short, is a unique grouping of numbers and letters that sets your vehicle apart from others.

How to Read a VIN Number

There are many practical applications for using your VIN, but first you need to know how to locate and read your vehicle identification number, or VIN for short. Your insurance company uses it, as does your auto repair specialist. If your vehicle is ever stolen, the authorities will use it to determine if they’ve found your car, and you can use VINs to check out the history of a vehicle before purchasing it or verify if it was involved in any recalls. What many people don’t realize, however, is that the string of characters isn’t randomly generated. Each character, or small groups of characters, can provide insights about the vehicle and its origins.

How to Locate Your VIN

Auto manufacturers include VINs on several parts of the vehicle in order to make sure it can be identified easily and to ensure the integrity of the VIN. If you don’t already know what your VIN is, check:

Your Vehicle Paperwork: The easiest way to get your VIN is to check your auto insurance card, title, or registration.

Driver’s Side Dash: If you don’t have your paperwork, you’ll find your VIN on the dashboard facing up toward the windshield on the driver’s side.

Driver’s Side Door: All vehicles should have information about the vehicle, including the VIN, on an information plaque on the driver’s door or frame.

Engine Block: The engine block is stamped with a lot of information as well. If you’re sure the engine has not been changed out, you may be able to find a full or partial VIN there.

How to Decode Your VIN

There are many sites devoted to VIN decoding. Some are free, while others charge money and may give you a report about the vehicle’s history as well. You may opt to use a site or decode your VIN manually, using the information outlined here.

The 1st character tells you the vehicle’s origin.

Most auto manufacturers have a World Manufacturer Identifier (WMI) assigned by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). It’s three characters (numbers and/or letters) long. These will be the first three characters of your VIN, with the first one denoting the location of the plant.

If the First Character Is...
Your Vehicle Was Made In...
A-H
Africa
J-R
Asia
S-Z
Europe
1-5
North America
6-7
Australia or New Zealand
8-9
South America

 

The 2nd and 3rd characters tell you the vehicle’s manufacturer and the vehicle type.

There are many combinations, though the second denotes the manufacturer while the third relates to the division of the company that made the vehicle or clarifies what type of vehicle it is. For example, if the first three characters are 1G1, the 1 refers to the vehicle being made in the United States, the G indicates it’s made by General Motors, and the final 1 means that it’s a passenger car. A few of the most common codes are detailed below.

If the Second Character Is...
Your Vehicle Was Made By...
H
Honda
T
Toyota
M
Hyundai
G
General Motors
1
Chevrolet
C
Chrysler
J
Jeep
4
Buick
6
Cadillac

 

The 4th-9th characters are referred to as the vehicle descriptors.

Every auto manufacturer utilizes a different coding system. With information from your auto manufacturer, you can decode your vehicle’s model, engine type, safety/ restraint information, and other details using the fourth through eighth characters. The ninth character, on the other hand, is assigned by the Department of Transportation. DOT has an algorithm which calculates the ninth character as a means to prevent VIN fraud.

If the Tenth Character Is...
Your Vehicle Was Made In...
A
2010
B
1981 or 2011
C
1982 or 2012
D
1983 or 2013
E
1984 or 2014
F
1985 or 2015
G
1986 or 2016
H
1987 or 2017
J
1988
K
1989
L
1990
M
1991
N
1992
P
1993
R
1994
S
1995
T
1996
V
1997
W
1998
X
1999
Y
2000
1
2001
2
2002
3
2003
4
2004
5
2005
6
2006
7
2007
8
2008
9
2009

 

The remaining characters (10-17) are referred to as the vehicle identifier section, with the 10th character denoting the model year.

The 11th character identifies the plant.

Each manufacturer assigns its own plant different characters, which may be a letter or number.

The final 6 characters identify the vehicle, itself.

As each car rolls off the assembly line, it’s given a sequential number.

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