A Vehicle Identification Number (commonly called a VIN) is a seventeen digit string of numbers that the manufacturer assigns to a specific vehicle. All vehicles manufactured after 1981 have this long number on the vehicle itself – usually stamped on a plate on the dashboard – near the windshield – or on the driver’s side doorjamb. It can also be found on the engine’s firewall.
The VIN is the first and best way to identify a vehicle that you’re looking for, but it can also tell you a multitude of other things about the vehicle. It’s sort of like a fingerprint or social security number for a car: not only does it tell you about the car itself, but it can tell you the purchase history, inspection history, registration history – the list goes on.
But how do you read a VIN? Here’s a basic breakdown:
- First Digit: Nation of origin, or final point of assembly.
- Second Digit: Manufacturer. In some instances, it’s the first letter of the name – for example, A is Audi, B is BMW. However, A can also stand for Jaguar or Mitsubishi – the next digit will help.
- Third Digit: When looked at in combination with the first two, it will tell you the type of vehicle or manufacturing division. For example, KNA would be a Kia, WBA is a BMW. There’s no easy way to memorize all of these, but Wikipedia has a handy list of all the codes.
- Fourth through Eight digit: the meanings change with the manufacturer, and describe information such as the model, body type, restraint system or airbags, transmission type, engine code, etc.
- Ninth digit: “Check Digit.” This is used to detect invalid VINs, based on a mathematical formula that was developed by the Department of Transportation.
- Tenth digit: Year. The year of manufacture of the vehicle, it applies to all makes and models. Because there are only 21 letters in the alphabet (I, O, Q, U, and Z are not used) and 9 numbers, they are recycled every 30 years. However, a glance at the vehicle itself should tell you if it is a 2013 body style or a 1983 style.
|1980||– A||1997||– V||2014||– E|
|1981||– B||1998||– W||2015||– F|
|1982||– C||1999||– X||2016||– G|
|1983||– D||2000||– Y||2017||– H|
|1984||– E||2001||– 1||2018||– J|
|1985||– F||2002||– 2||2019||– K|
|1986||– G||2003||– 3||2020||– L|
|1987||– H||2004||– 4||2021||– M|
|1988||– J||2005||– 5||2022||– N|
|1989||– K||2006||– 6||2023||– P|
|1990||– L||2007||– 7||2024||– R|
|1991||– M||2008||– 8||2025||– S|
|1992||– N||2009||– 9||2026||– T|
|1993||– P||2010||– A||2027||– V|
|1994||– R||2011||– B||2028||– W|
|1995||– S||2012||– C||2029||– X|
|1996||– T||2013||– D||2030||– Y|
- Eleventh digit: Assembly plant. Each automaker has its own unique set of codes.
- Twelfth through Seventeenth digit: Sequence production number. These numbers identify the specific vehicle itself – kind of like a serial number.