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, more commonly known as VIN numbers.

ll 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.  VIN numbers are on dashboards, driver’s side door jamb stickers, and title documents.

How to Decode a Vehicle Identification Number

When decoded, the Vehicle Identification Number indicates the country and year that the vehicle was manufactured, the make of the vehicle, make, model and serial number; the assembly plant where the vehicle was made, and in some cases it identifies equipment specifications.  The sequence for characters is first A to Z, then 1 to 9, and last 0. The letters “I”, “O” and “Q” are typically omitted.

The number is divided into four parts:
World Manufacturer’s Identification (WMI):  3 characters
Vehicle Description Section: 5 characters
The VIN Accuracy Check Digit: 1 digit
Vehicle Identification Section: 8 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) which identify 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 which 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 6 digits make the vehicle unique. It can also help to identify whether the vehicle was the first, the hundredth, or the last vehicle off the manufacturer’s assembly line

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. At Carfax, you can order a Vehicle History Report, 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 a matter of seconds.



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