Every vehicle owner has heard of it at some point, and somewhere in the back of the head think that there is more to it than meets the eye. But what is a VIN code, actually? Why is it so important, and what does it mean for your vehicle? Read on, so you know what's what.
Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) is a unique code given to motor vehicles by their manufacturer for identification purposes.
Essentially unique to your vehicle, VIN isn't just a random jumble of numbers and letters; in fact, the automotive industry uses this complex combination of characters as the vehicle's fingerprint or birth certificate that distinguishes it from other vehicles, guaranteeing that no two cars can have the same VIN.
This vehicle identifier is described by several ISO standards:
In a nutshell, VIN is like a key to "everything you want to know" about the vehicle. If you know the VIN code, you can unlock info on its features and technical specs like the car's:
Some manufacturers also encode:
If you know the vehicle's unique identifier, you can also look the VIN up in several databases to figure out whether the vehicle has been stolen, recalled, etc.
Modern-day VINs are made up of 17 characters (numbers and capitals letters) that do not include the letter O (o), I (i), or Q (q) to avoid confusion with numerals 0, 1 and 9. First VINs already appeared in the 1950s, but different manufacturers used different numbering formats to stamp vehicles with unique IDs, and it took several decades before the format was standardized and universally accepted. Before that, cars and trucks were usually registered by their engine number - which could become a problem since engines were commonly replaced at that time. In 1981, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration created a consistent, unified format. And since then, all sold on-road vehicles must be identified by the agreed-upon digit sequence and concealed chassis markings of the specific and very complex structure of VIN code.
A VIN is composed of 17 characters (numbers and capital letters) that break down into 3 main components - World Manufacturer Identifier, Vehicle Description Section, and Vehicle Identifier Section.
Modern VINs are based on standards issued by the ISO (most common is the ISO 3779 used in the EU). All in all, the structure of a particular VIN depends on the very standard used to encode it. Compatible yet somewhat different applications of the standards have been adopted by the EU and the U. S. markets. But do not get mistaken; when it comes to rules, the EU has similar regulations for VINs, only not as strictly bound by them compared to the North American type. European VINs are not required to include year, factory, or vehicle attribute data.
|ISO 3779||World Manufacturer Identifier||Vehicle Descriptor Section||Vehicle Identifier Section|
more than 500 vehicles/year
|World Manufacturer Identifier||Indication of "the general characteristics of the vehicle"||Indication that provides "clear identification of a particular vehicle"|
500 or fewer vehicles/year
|World Manufacturer Identifier||9||Indication of "the general characteristics of the vehicle"||Indication that provides "clear identification of a particular vehicle"|
more than 2,000 vehicles/year
|World Manufacturer Identifier||Vehicle Attributes||Check Digit||Model Year||Plant Code||Sequential Number|
2,000 or fewer vehicles/year
|World Manufacturer Identifier||9||Vehicle Attributes||Check Digit||Model Year||Plant Code||Manufacturer Identifier||Sequential Number|
In general, all on-road vehicles must have a 17-character long VIN code consisting of only numbers and capital letters. A valid VIN will never contain letters O, I, or Q, as they are easily confused with numerals 0, 1, and 9. Complex as it may look at first glance, there is a mechanism behind the madness, and each portion of the string tells you a different part of the story.
Each of the 17 characters has a specific meaning, and the whole code is organized into 3 groups. So, without further ado, let's take a look at what goes into the components so you can quickly read your VIN because its search can tell you a lot about your vehicle.
The group of first 3 digits designates the manufacturer of the vehicle. Manufacturers that produce fewer than 500 vehicles per year in the EU (and fewer than 2000 vehicles per year in North America) use a number 9 as the 3rd character and the 12th, 13th, and 14th (3rd, 4th, and 5th of VIS) position of the VIN as a second part of the identification.
AA-AH = South Africa
J = Japan
KL-KR = South Korea
L = China
MA-ME = India
MF-MK = Indonesia
ML-MR = Thailand
MS = Myanmar
NL-NR = Turkey
PA-PE = Philippines
PL-PR = Malaysia
RF-RG = Taiwan
SA-SM = United Kingdom
SN-ST, W = Germany
SU-SZ = Poland
TA-TH = Switzerland
TJ-TP = Czech Republic
TR-TV = Hungary
TW-T1 = Portugal
VA-VE = Austria
VF-VR = France
VS-VW = Spain
VX-V2 = Yugoslavia
XL-XM = The Netherlands
XS-XW = USSR
X3-X0 = Russia
YA-YE = Belgium
YF-YK = Finland
YS-YW = Sweden
ZA-ZR = Italy
1, 4, 5 = United States
2 = Canada
3 = Mexico
6A-6W = Australia
7A-7E = New Zealand
8A-8E = Argentina
8F-8J = Chile
8L-8R = Ecuador
8X-82 = Venezuela
9A-9E, 93-99 = Brazil
9F-9J = Colombia
Rows = 1st character of WMI
Columns = 2nd character of WMI
The next 6 characters (positions 4 thru 9) are used to describe the vehicle with information like the model, platform, body type, transmission used, engine code, or other features such as safety belts, airbags, etc. The specific use of these digits differs from company to company, so if you want to get more details, you need to go to the manufacturer website for your vehicle.
The 9th character has a special meaning in the world of VIN - in North America, it is always a check digit that is used to detect an invalid VIN. However, this is not the case in Europe, as there is no way to check if there is an error in VIN; this digit then allows for more space to further identify the specs of the vehicle with information like the engine code, body, etc.
Positions 10 thru 17 are used by manufacturers to identify the individual vehicle. In North America, the last 6 digits must be numeric.
The 10th character is the model year encoding, required worldwide, with the letters from A to Y identifying model years 1980 to 2000 (as stated earlier, letters I, O, Q, are omitted within the full length of VIN, and U, Z and 0 are not allowed to be used in the 10th position identifying the model year). From 2001 to 2009, numbers 1 thru 9 were used in place of letters - 2001 was given code 1, 2002 is code 2, and so forth. The alphabet starts over from A in 2010 and will continue until 2030. And then all over every 30 years. Which means that no two cars built can have the same VIN.
The 11th character is the plant code, representing the factory where the vehicle was assembled, with each automaker having its own set of plant codes. And since each vehicle produced by the same factory has its own production sequence number, every vehicle produced in a given year has a unique VIN.
The last six characters (positions 12 thru 17) are production sequence numbers that each vehicle receives as it rolls off the assembly line. They help to identify the vehicle itself, sort of like the serial number. Small manufacturers (those making fewer than 500 cars per year) use the 12th, 13th, and 14th character as additional manufacturer identification codes.
Where is your VIN hidden? First things first, it will be listed on the car's title, registration, on the declarations page of your liability insurance policy, and the service book. Last but not least, it has to be located on the body of the vehicle, fixed to a special plate by the manufacturer.
If you are looking to know what your car's VIN is, you are sure to easily locate it in the vehicle title where it must be listed, no matter what. And obviously, the VIN in your documents needs to be the same with the VIN code stamped into a plate mounted on your vehicle.
But where is VIN on your car? Primarily, it has to be directly marked on an integral part of the vehicle, i.e., somewhere permanently fixed to the vehicle - either on the frame-body or on a part of the body not easily removed or replaced. In general, there are more places to find it, and different manufacturers will have VIN on different parts of the vehicle. Typically, it can be found under the hood, often stamped on the engine block. Some vehicles have them placed in specific locations. And of course, manufacturers also place them in unadvertised locations for safety purposes. However, usually, it is under the front passenger seat, on a sticker or a plate on the inside of the driver-side door jamb. Sometimes you can also find it printed inside the glove compartment. Here are a few other places you may be able to locate the VIN on your vehicle:
The most common location for VIN is on the dash on the driver's side. Typically it will be stamped into a plate mounted close to where the windshield and the dashboard meet so that it gives the best view when trying to read it from the outside of the car. Sometimes, the VIN can also be etched by weak acid into other windows of the vehicle, but this has been lately viewed as an unnecessary investment on the part of the vehicle owner.