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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