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Guide to Vehicle Identification Numbers

A VIN is basically a formulaic serial number for a specific vehicle. Every vehicle manufactured is assigned a unique Vehicle Identification Numbers made up of seventeen digits and letters.

Before 1981, they were not subject to any standardization, and every manufacturer had their own system of letters and numbers they put on their cars.

Vehicle Identification Numbers History

In 1981, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) standardized the format, requiring all vehicle manufacturers to adopt the 17-character system, based on ISO 3779:2009. The policy prohibits the use of the letters (i), (o) and (q) to avoid any confusion.

Different countries, however, use different standards (one of four accepted) to identify their vehicles. There is a world identifier list that you can use when an international.

How to Decode a VIN

The numbers and letters that make up the Vehicle Identification Numbers are not random. Much like your driver’s license number, they tell a story. The story is who made the car, the make model and engine type and where the car was built. Here is a breakdown of the entire 17 characters and what they mean.

  • 1 This first character tells us the country in which the vehicle was built.
  • 2, 3 The second and third characters are a code for the manufacturer.
  • 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 These characters use a code to tell us the brand of the vehicle, the engine size, and type.
  • 9 This character is a unique security code authorizing that it is indeed a legitimate VIN from the manufacturer.
  • 10 This shows us the model year of the car. There is a code list for each year.
  • 11 The eleventh character stands for which plant manufactured the vehicle.
  • 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17 These characters comprise the serial number for the car.

Country Codes

  • 1 United States
  • 2 Canada
  • 3 Mexico
  • 4, 5 United States
  • 6 Australia
  • 9 Brazil
  • V Yugoslavia
  • F France
  • J Japan
  • K Korea
  • W Germany
  • L Taiwan
  • Y Sweden
  • S England
  • Z Italy

Manufacturer Codes

  • A Audi, Mitsubishi, Range Rover, American Motors, Sterling, Alfa Romeo, Maserati, and Jaguar
  • B Dodge
  • C Chrysler. Checker, Delorian, some Geo Metro’s and Trackers
  • D Daihatsu and Mercedes
  • E Eagle
  • F Ford, some Subaru’s, i.e., Forrester and Impreza, Fiat, Peugeot, Renault, and Ferrari. Note regarding Subaru, Fiat Peugeot, Renault and Ferrari, the 2nd Character = F, means the vehicle was manufactured in France.
  • G General Motors (Chevrolet, Oldsmobile, Buick, Cadillac, GMC, Saturn, and some Geo Metros and Trackers)
  • H Honda and Acura
  • J Jeep
  • L Lancia, Daewoo, and Lincoln
  • M Hyundai and Mini
  • N Infinity, Nissan, Kia and Ford Aspires, possibly Ford Festiva, and possibly some Toyotas.
  • P Porshe and Plymouth
  • S Isuzu, Saab, some Subaru’s (i.e., Baja and Legacy) and Suzuki
  • T Toyota and Lexus
  • U Aro
  • V Volkswagen and Volvo
  • X Yugo
  • Y Mazda and Geo Prizm
  • Z Mercury
  • 2 Avanti
  • 3 American General (Hummer)
  • 8 Chevrolet Luv and Geo Storm
  • 9 Acura

Manufacturing Year Codes

  • A 1980 or 2010
  • B 1981 or 2011
  • C 1982 or 2012
  • D 1983 or 2013
  • E 1984 or 2014
  • F 1985 or 2015
  • G 1986 or 2016
  • H 1987 or 2017
  • J 1988 or 2018
  • K 1989 or 2019
  • L 1990
  • M 1991
  • N 1992
  • P 1993
  • R 1994
  • S 1995
  • T 1996
  • V 1997
  • W 1998
  • X 1999
  • Y 2000
  • 1 2001
  • 2 2002
  • 3 2003
  • 4 2004
  • 5 2005
  • 6 2006
  • 7 2007
  • 8 2008
  • 9 2009

How to Lookup VIN Number?

On most American-made vehicles it is displayed on the driver’s side of the dashboard. You can search it best from outside of the car looking through the windshield. If yours is not located on the dash, check the door panel (the edge where it latches). The code should be displayed there also.

You can also check your identification number on your insurance policy, card or vehicle registration and title paperwork. Other paperwork that you received when you purchased the vehicle may also help in the VIN lookup.

What is a Vehicle History Report (VHR)?

A vehicle history report, which may also be called a VIN check or VIN lookup, is a report that details specific information about a car, boat, truck or other vehicles. To request a VHR, you must have the correct identification number for your lookup.

Different companies offer levels of detail and some are free and others you need to pay a small fee to access.

What Information is Available on a VIN Check Report?

Vehicle history reports are beneficial when you are trying to check VIN number to purchase a used vehicle or not. They may show critical information about open recalls, accidents the vehicle has been in-volved in and other things that make or break the deal.

The specifics of what may appear on the report will vary by VIN lookup service, but the basics are:

  • All the past owners of the vehicle, based on title records.
  • Liens currently on the vehicle.
  • How the vehicle was maintained.
  • Any title issues that occurred.
  • Issues regarding the odometer and its accuracy.
  • If the car was in a flood and if there is any resulting damage.
  • The complete accident history for the vehicle.
  • A title check to make sure the title is valid and clean.
  • Any recalls or known defects if the car is a lemon.
  • Airbag information and a list of deployments.

The Importance of Having all the Information

If you are buying or interested in a used car, you should obtain a complete copy of the vehicle history report. You will save yourself a lot of headaches down the road.

Even if you are the person selling the vehicle, it makes sense perform VIN check to get a copy of your history report. You can avoid any surprises during the sale and be prepared to answer questions about open recalls, accidents or title history. By having all the facts at your fingertips, you ensure a smooth sale without any problems.

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