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.

vin

  • 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.

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