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How to Read a VIN - Vehicle Id Number

Picture of a VIN on the dash of a car.|

What is a Vehicle Identification Number (VIN)

A vehicle identification number, VIN for short, is a distinctive serial number used by automotive manufacturers to identify each individual motor vehicle. Vehicle identification numbers were first used on motor vehicles in 1954; each manufacturer used their own VIN format until 1981 and made the system very confusing.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) of the United States standardized the format in 1981 to become the current 17 digit VIN format today.

The NHTSA required any on-the-road motor vehicle to be sold, must have the standard 17 digit vehicle identification number.

To avoid any confusion, the standardized NHTSA VIN format does not include the letters O, Q, or I.

What does VIN stand for?

VIN is the abbreviation for Vehicle Identification Number. Other terms and verbiage of VIN are:

  • Vehicle ID Number
  • Car ID
  • Serial number
  • Car VIN
  • VIN number (redundant, however incorrect)

What does a VIN look like?

A vehicle ID number contains 17 characters, these characters contain letters and numbers. The letters I, O, and Q are not used, this is to prevent any confusion with the numbers 1 and 0 when reading a VIN.

1998 Honda Accord EX VIN - 1HGCG1659WA029633

How to Tell a Vehicle's History by the VIN

The vehicle identification number is like the fingerprint of a vehicle, unique to the individual car, it can tell you a lot about the vehicle's history. Anything reported about the car through insurance companies, title companies, law enforcement agencies, etc., will be reported through the VIN of the vehicle (Similar to your personal social security number).

There are several online vehicle history companies that provide car buyers the information they need to find branded title vehicle's and lemons by doing a search of the vehicle's history by using the VIN.

Two things you must do to protect yourself before buying a used car:

1. Obtain a used car history report on the vehicle.
2. Have the vehicle inspected by a certified mechanic.

Before buying any used car I recommend you have an independent certified mechanic check for any mechanical issues with the vehicle, and reviewing a used vehicle's history report for any hidden problems that may cost you money in the long run.

I recommend using a company that provides you with an unlimited amount of used car history reports. Most people shop and compare several different used cars before making a final decision.

A company such as AutoCheck will allow you to run an unlimited amount of reports for up to 30 days. You can even run the history on a vehicle from your smart phone, tablet or iPad while on the dealer's lot.

Where to Find a Vehicle ID Number on a Vehicle

Depending on the manufacturer, the VIN can be found on VIN plates, stickers or stamped all over a vehicle. The most common places a Vehicle ID Number can be found are:

VIN locations on a car.
  • On the dash, in front of the driver, where the windshield meets the dash. (Most common location on a vehicle)
  • Drivers door jam on the inside edge of the door where it latches to the frame. (Second most common location)
  • In the engine compartment on the firewall.
  • On the vehicle stats plate located under the hood somewhere in the engine compartment.
  • On the steering column on some of the older vehicles.
  • On the inside of body panels, engine, heads, frame, etc.
  • Sometimes it can be found on the glass of some vehicles.

How to Read a VIN Number

Each digit of the VIN has a different meaning. Below I've broken down each character and given you a brief description of what each one means.

How to tell the year of a vehicle buy looking at the VIN

This is the most common character used in a VIN, the 10th character from the left will tell you what year the vehicle is.

Car VIN# 1HGCG1659WA029633

Look at the 10th digit of the VIN - W = 1998

Year of a Vehicle by the VIN

1981 = B 1991 = M 2001 = 1 2011 = B
1982 = C 1992 = N 2002 = 2 2012 = C
1983 = D 1993 = P 2003 = 3 2013 = D
1984 = E 1994 = R 2004 = 4 2014 = E
1985 = F 1995 = S 2005 = 5 2015 = F
1986 = G 1996 = T 2006 = 6 2016 = G
1987 = H 1997 = V 2007 = 7 2017 = H
1988 = J 1998 = W 2008 = 8 2018 = J
1989 = K 1999 = X 2009 = 9 2019 = K
1990 = L 2000 = Y 2010 = A 2020 = L

(Car VIN code for year of manufactured for 2020 not yet confirmed)

How to Tell the Country of Origin by the VIN

The first character of a VIN will tell you the Country of origin where the vehicle was made.

Car VIN# 1HGCG1659WA029633

Look at the first digit in the VIN 1 = United States

Here are a few of the most common Country of origin VIN Codes:

Country of Origin

United States = 1
Canada = 2
Mexico = 3
United States = 4 & 5
Australia = 6
Brazil = 9
Japan = J
Korea = K
France = F
Germany = W
Sweden = Y

How to Tell the Manufacturer By the VIN

You can tell the manufacturer of a vehicle by looking at the second digit of the VIN.

Car VIN# 1HHGCG1659WA029633

Look at the second character of the VIN H = Honda

Some VIN characters may stand for several different manufacturers.

Here is a list of a few of the most common and discontinued manufacturers. Manufacturers do change; however this list should be accurate and up-to-date.

Manufacturer by the VIN

Mitsubishi = A Acura = H Toyota = T
Range Rover = A Honda = H Volkswagen = V
Jaguar = A Jeep = J Volvo = V
Audi = A Lincoln = L Yugo = X
Dodge = B Daewoo = L Mazda = Y
Chrysler = C Hyundai = M Mercury = Z
Delorean = C Mini = M Hummer = 3
Mercedes Benz = D Nissan = N American General = 3
Eagle = E Infiniti = N Geo = C, G, 8
Ford = F Kia = N
Chevrolet = G Porsche = P
Cadillac = G Plymouth = P
Oldsmobile = G Isuzu = S
Saturn = G Saab = S
Buick = G Suzuki = S
GMC = G Lexus = T

Third Through Eighth Characters of a VIN

The third through the eighth digits in a VIN are for manufacturer use and can mean a variety of things.

Car VIN# 1HGCG1659WA029633

Look at the third through the eighth digits of the VIN GCG165 = Manufacturer Specifics

  • G = Passenger car built in US/Canada.
  • CGI = Honda Accord 4 Door V6 VTEC.
  • 6 = 4 door sedan automatic.
  • 5 = Special (The eighth digit always describes the engine on domestic vehicles.)

These VIN digits can also describe some or more of the following:

  • Vehicle type - Passenger car, multi-purpose vehicle, etc.
  • Restraint system - Front or side airbags etc.
  • Transmission - Automatic or Manual
  • Car Line and Series - Accord, Civic, Malibu, Fiesta, etc.
  • Body type - 4 door, 2 door, Convertible, etc.

What Does the Ninth Character of a VIN Mean?

The ninth number of a Vehicle Identification Number is called the check digit. It is the key number to use when validating the VIN.

Car VIN# 1HGCG1659WA029633

Look at the ninth digit of the VIN 9 = Check Digit

The Tenth Character of a Vehicle Identification Number

The tenth number of a Vehicle ID Number is used to describe the year the vehicle was manufactured.

Car VIN# 1HGCG1659WA029633

Look at the tenth character of the VIN W = 1998

For a full list of year of production VIN codes scroll to the top of the page or click on vehicle production year VIN codes to jump there now.

What the Eleventh Character of a VIN Means

The eleventh digit of a Vehicle ID Number is used to describe the final plant the vehicle was assembled in.

Car VIN# 1HGCG1659WA029633

Look at the eleventh character of the VIN A = ?

Each manufacturer has their own plant codes, final plant assembly changes on a frequent basis with manufacturers. Although the manufacture can change their codes, their eleventh digit location in the VIN is standardized. With this in mind I am unable to keep a current list of these codes.

What the Last Six Characters of a VIN Number Mean

The last six digits in a Vehicle Identification Number are the actual serial numbers of that specific vehicle.

Car VIN# 1HGCG1659WA029633

Look at the last six characters of the VIN 029633 che= Serial Number

  • The last six numbers of a Vehicle Identification Number are always the vehicle's serial number and also vehicle specific.
  • The first ten characters may be the same, however the last six digits will be different on every vehicle.
  • The ninth digit or Check Digit may also be different on the vehicle.

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Used Car Buying Tip

When buying a used car, the two most important things you can do to protect yourself from making a mistake are:

  • Have the vehicle inspected by an independent certified mechanic.
  • Acquire and review a used car vehicle history report.

A mechanic will put the car on a lift and inspect the cosmetic and mechanical systems of the vehicle and the history report will disclose any discrepancies in the vehicles title history to guarantee you're purchasing a clean reliable vehicle.

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