Understanding The VIN Number On Your Car


Getting to know your car, inside out.

Read in this article:

What is a Vehicle Identification Number (VIN)?

Simply put, a VIN is your vehicle's ID number, which can be used to run a VIN lookup on the specific unit. As with most identification numbers issued to people around the world, these are unique to each unit produced and display vital information about the vehicle, including country of origin, year of production, and individual serial number. In most cases, a total of 17 characters, combining both numerals and letters, comprise the VIN. However, the letters Q, I, and O are never included, since they are too easily confused with the numerals 0 and 1.

VIN Code Plate Ford

Your Car ID: Why is the VIN Important?

A car VIN or ID number serves a very specific purpose. If you run a VIN number check, you can find all sorts of information about that unique model. Looking up the car history by VIN will highlight records of previous owners (if any), as well as any serious accidents it may have been involved in, and relevant repairs undertaken on it. Beyond this, the VIN report includes any recalls issued for the make and model, and if the problems were ever corrected (we elaborate on car recalls here). Lastly, it is possible for law enforcement to perform a VIN number search to identify stolen vehicles.

Where Can I Check for the VIN Number?

The location of the VIN varies between classifications, but some of the more common placements include:

  • Drive-side dashboard visible through the window
  • Driver-side door pillar
  • Other key components, such as the transmission
  • On the steering neck of motorcycles.
  • Near the connector on semi-trailers

You may need to look around a little to find it, but if, for some reason, you cannot locate the VIN, it should be present on the vehicle deed or any insurance documents related to it.

In the Frame Under the Windshield on the Driver's Side unsplash.com

What Do the Numbers and Letters in a VIN Mean?

Much like the numbers on the side of your car's tires have meaning, so too does each character in the VIN. By using a VIN number decoder, you can figure out exactly what the VIN number on your car means. The vehicle VIN number, or vehicle identification number, is broken down into 17 characters:

  • First three characters: These account for the WMI, or world manufacturer identifier, which includes the country of origin, vehicle manufacturer, and division.
  • The following five digits/letters: These classify the automobile by brand, body type, engine size, model and series. This means that if you know how to read a VIN number, you can easily identify car specs by VIN.
  • The ninth character: This is simply a security code
  • Position ten: This lets you know the model year of production.
  • The eleventh character: This is a final broad-spectrum identifier, confirming the assembly plant.
  • The remaining six characters: The actual, unique serial number of the specific unit.
Letters in a VIN CarBuzz

What if the VIN is not 17 Characters Long?

Despite the normalization of the 17-character format, there are still a few vehicles on the road that may have fewer digits. These are generally cars that were produced before 1981. Unfortunately, since the VIN number lookup system is built around the new format, it is nearly impossible to find vehicle specs by VIN for these older models. Similarly, other info is just as limited.

World Manufacturer Identifier (WMI) Codes

The first three characters of a VIN serve as the WMI code, which gives the most accurate information on exactly where the specific vehicle was produced. Any number of units can share these three characters, but when read in conjunction with the remaining 14 characters, the VIN verification is entirely unique, at least for a period of 30 years. Here is a tabulation of how the first letters and numbers should be read to determine where a vehicle originated.

A - HAfricaAA - AH : South Africa
J - RAsiaA - J : Japan
KL - KR : South Korea
L: China
MA - ME : India
MF - MK : Indonesia
ML - MR : Thailand
MS : Myanmar
PA - PE : Philippines
PL - PR : Malaysia
RF - RG : Taiwan
S - ZEuropeSA - SM : United Kingdom
SN - ST, W : Germany
SU - SZ : Poland
TA - TH : Switzerland
TJ - TP : Czech Republic
TR - TV : Hungary
TW : Portugal
VA - VE : Austria
VF - VR : France
VS - VW : Spain
VX - V2 : Yugoslavia
XL - XM : The Netherlands
X0 - X3 : Russia
YA - YE : Belgium
YF - YK : Finland
YS - YW : Sweden
ZA - ZR : Italy
1 - 5North America1, 4, 5 : United States
2 : Canada
3 : Mexico
6 - 7Oceania6A - 6W : Australia
7A - 7E : New Zealand
8 - 0South America8A - 8E : Argentina
8F - 8J : Chile
8X - 82 : Venezuela
9A - 9E, 93 - 99 : Brazil
9F - 9J : Colombia
Factory stamping Ford


What is a VIN number?

The VIN is your vehicle's fingerprint or ID. Consisting of 17 characters, it supplies access to loads of information on your vehicle. This includes where it was produced, by which brand and manufacturer, the year of production, and details on chassis size and engine specs. You can also use the VIN to look up recall information, accident history, and legal information such as theft reports.

How do I find out my VIN number?

There are a number of places where you may find the VIN. For the majority of passenger vehicles, you will find your VIN number on the front of the driver-side dashboard. If not here, another place where it may be located is on the driver-side door pillar. For commercial vehicles, motorcycles, or trailers, it is located in other easy-to-find locations.

How can I check a VIN for free?

There are a number of free VIN search applications, which can be accessed via the NICB, VehicleHistory.com, or iSeeCars.Com/VIN. However, if you work through a dealer, you won't need a free VIN lookup, since they use paid sites like CARFAX, AutoCheck, and autoDNA.com.

Can you run a VIN to see if the car is stolen?

It is possible to find out if a car has been stolen through the National Insurance Crime Bureau in the USA. The NICB offers a free VINCheck tool for US residents to research important information of a vehicle, which includes if the car has been reported as stolen.

How do I get a VIN for a custom car?

To register a specially manufactured or significantly altered vehicle for a new VIN number, you will need to take a few extra steps on the road to ownership. Firstly, you will need to organize an independent inspection of the vehicle. This, along with a notarized bill of sale or title certificate will need to be provided to the DMV. It is advised that you also attach some photographic evidence.

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