How to Decode VIN Numbers

VIN Numbers
Learn how to decode Vehicle Identification Numbers, a.k.a. VIN Numbers

Vehicle Identification Numbers (a.k.a. VIN Numbers)

Use the following information to learn how to decode or decipher vehicle identification numbers, commonly known as VIN numbers.

All cars and light trucks built after 1981 have a unique 17-character VIN number that provides access to valuable information about that vehicle’s history. The letters I, O, and Q never appear in a VIN. VINs are on dashboards and driver’s side door jamb stickers. In addition, they are also included in the title documents.

How to Decode a Vehicle Identification Number

When decoded, the Vehicle Identification Number indicates the following information:

  • The country where the car or truck was originally manufactured
  • The year the car was made
  • The vehicle’s make (e.g., BMW, Ford, Lexus, Mercedes, etc.)
  • The model (e.g., 3 Series, Taurus, SC400, E Class, etc.)
  • The serial number
  • The assembly plant where the vehicle was made
  • In some cases, it identifies equipment specifications

The sequence for characters is first A to Z, then 1 to 9, and the last 0. The letters “I,” “O,” and “Q” are typically omitted.

The number is divided into four parts:

1World Manufacturer’s Identification (WMI)Three characters
2Vehicle Description SectionFive characters
3The VIN Accuracy Check DigitOne digit
4Vehicle Identification SectionEight characters

First Character in the WMI (of three) – The first character in the World Manufacturer’s Identification (WMI) sequence represents the country where the vehicle was manufactured. Countries such as the United States (1 or 4), Canada (2), and Mexico (3) are represented by numbers, while other countries such as Germany (W), Italy (Z), and Japan (J) are represented by letters. World Manufacturer’s Identification (WMI).

The second character in the WMI (of three) refers to the manufacturer. The characters can be either letters or numbers. For example, Jaguar (A), Dodge (B), Chrysler (C), Jeep (J), Buick (4), Cadillac (6), or Saturn (8).

The third character represents the vehicle type or manufacturing division.

Vehicle Description Section (VDS) and Check Digit

The vehicle description section consists of five characters (the 4th to 8th characters) identifying everything from the body style, engine type, and braking system to model, series, restraint system, etc.

The 9th character is a VIN accuracy check digit that verifies the previous VIN numbers. It is determined by carrying out a mathematical computation developed by the Department of Transportation (DOT).

Vehicle Identification Section (VIS)

The vehicle identification section includes the last eight characters in the VIN number.

  • The numbers identify the model year (10th character)
  • The assembly plant for the vehicle (11th character). A number or letter may represent the model year. For example, 1998 (W), 2000 (Y), 2007 (7), or 2008 (8).
  • The 12th to 17th characters are the actual serial number of the vehicle—these last six digits make the vehicle unique. It can also help to identify whether the vehicle was the manufacturer’s assembly line’s first, the hundredth, or last car.

VIN Number Check and VIN Number Lookup Websites

If you’re interested in learning more, try Car Detective. Their site provides easy access to VIN decoders and other helpful tools. Another great site to check out is Carfax. You can order a Vehicle History Report at Carfax, the first step to protecting yourself against buying used cars with costly hidden problems. CARFAX searches its nationwide database and provides a detailed vehicle history report in seconds.

Also, find out how to get access to billions of online records.

Learn about car research tools.



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