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.
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. VIN numbers can be found 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 make of the vehicle (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:
|1||World Manufacturer’s Identification (WMI)||3 characters|
|2||Vehicle Description Section||5 characters|
|3||The VIN Accuracy Check Digit||1 digit|
|4||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.
Learn about car research tools.