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What is a vehicle identification number (VIN)?

 What is a vehicle identification number (VIN)

What is a vehicle identification number (VIN)?

Every single vehicle on the road today is unique, and that uniqueness is identified through a standardized number known as the VIN. The Vehicle Identification Number can be found on just about every single vehicle on the road today. While there are some slight variations depending on when the vehicle was manufactured, and whether it was imported from another country, they are nevertheless uniquely identified.

What Is A VIN?

The Vehicle Identification Number, which is known simply as a VIN, is a serial number that is specifically designed to identify an individual vehicle. This number has a total of 17 alphanumeric characters, that tell a lot about the vehicle. This standardized Vehicle Identification Number system was designed to not only identify where the vehicle was manufactured, but also who manufactured it, the make and model, and several other very important features that make a particular vehicle unique.

All vehicles that have been manufactured since 1981, feature 17 characters in the VIN. However, older vehicles that were manufactured after 1954, but before 1981, will generally have only 11 characters in their VIN. The number of characters, and the makeup of the VIN for vehicles that were imported after their initial purchase, will feature some variations in the VIN.

Why are VIN Numbers Important?

A Vehicle Identification Number can be used to uniquely identify an individual vehicle. Whenever a vehicle is registered with the Department of Motor Vehicles, the VIN will be needed in order to identify it. As a result, you are able to track the history of a vehicle's ownership, and whether it has been involved in an accident.

Moreover, because of the many different variations of makes and models that have appeared over the past century, it can be difficult for a mechanic to identify the correct parts in order to take care of the vehicle properly. The best way to determine what parts are correct is to use the Vehicle Identification Number, to identify the unique features, add-ons, or packages that were included with the original car.


Where Is the VIN Number?

The first place to look for a vehicle identification number is going to be on the driver-side dashboard, where the windshield and the dashboard meet. The only way to see the VIN number is to look through the windshield from the outside of the vehicle.

In most newer vehicles, you will also be able to locate the Vehicle Identification Number near the handle on the driver's side door. Although older vehicles may also have a VIN plate in the door itself, a lot of times these have been damaged or removed as a result of the restoration process. Many newer vehicles will also have the VIN etched into the engine block, spare tire, or even the car's frame.

How Long Is A VIN Number?

Currently, the Vehicle Identification Number is a 17 alphanumeric code. While some vehicles that were manufactured before 1981 only featured 11 characters, most of the vehicles on the road today feature 17 digits.

How Are VIN Numbers Decoded?

The VIN number itself is broken down into four sections which include the World Manufacturer Identifier, the vehicle descriptor, a check digit, as well as a unique vehicle identification sector.


The world manufacturer identifier, otherwise known as the WMI, encompasses the first three digits of the Vehicle Identification Number. The very first character of the Vehicle Identification Number identifies the location where it was manufactured. The most commonly seen vehicles on the road today, were manufactured either in the US, Canada, or Mexico. As a result, the VIN will start with either a 1, 4 or 5 if the vehicle was manufactured within the US. If it was manufactured in Canada, the first number would be a 2. But, if it was manufactured in Mexico, the first digit would be 3.

The second digit identifies the manufacturer. If the manufacturer was the General Motors Corporation, then it would be represented by the letter G. The Chrysler Corporation is represented by the letter C, and the Ford Motor Corporation is represented by the letter F.

The third digit of the world manufacturer identifier is generally used to identify the particular class or type of vehicle.

Vehicle Descriptor

The next section of the VIN number is known as the vehicle descriptor. These five digits provide more details about the vehicle, such as the model or body type, the engine displacement, the transmission type, and any other important features.

Digit 9 is a check digit.

The ninth digit in the Vehicle Identification Number is known as a check digit. The check digit is used as a security feature that is used to ensure that the rest of the Vehicle Identification Number is authentic. This number is generated by the manufacturer themselves, by first determining the product and weights of all of the other characters in the VIN, then dividing those numbers by 11. The remainder is what is used to transliterate the check number using the manufacturer's own decoding values. If that seems complicated, don't worry because it is designed to be used as a security feature.

Vehicle Identification Section (VIS)

Next, you have the vehicle identification sector. This section of the Vehicle Identification Number identifies the individual vehicle itself.

Model year

The tenth digit is used to identify the year that the vehicle was manufactured. This alphanumeric character can be either a letter or a number, representing the years from 1980 to 2039.

Plant Code

The manufacturer's individual plant code can be found in the eleventh position. Since every manufacturer has its own system of manufacturing their vehicles, they all have a unique code to represent which individual plant the vehicle was built.

Production Number

Finally, you have the twelfth through the seventeenth digits. These numbers are produced sequentially on the production line, as a vehicle rolls through it. Generally speaking, the very first vehicle to be produced that year, and on that line, will be represented by a series of zeros followed by a 1 at the end.

Letters not used in a VIN

It is also important to note that there are three letters that are not represented on a Vehicle Identification Number. In order to avoid confusion, the O is not used because it can be mistaken for a zero. Likewise, the letter I is not used because it will quite often be confused with the number one. Lastly, there will be no Q in the VIN, because the lowercase letter can be confused with the number nine.

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