Vehicle VIN Numbers: Understanding Your Carís I.D.


VIN location
Most people have heard the word VIN and most know that stands for Vehicle Identification Number. Most people understand, too, that every car has one and every car has a unique one. Think of it as your carís fingerprint.

Many people do not how to decipher one and what it means. First, a little history.

VINs have existed since 1954, when American automakers started using sequences to track the cars they made. The first VINs were not systematic, however, and varied by manufacturer. 

That changed in 1969, when a law required that cars have visible VIN numbers. The current 17-character sequence dates to an expansion of this rule in 1976. Starting in 1981, all cars had to contain the 17-character VIN.

VINs could not be repeated for a 30-year period. It was believed that would ensure that each VIN was unique. The objective of the VIN was to decrease auto thefts, improve auto recalls and track insurance and vehicle history.

According to Federal law, the VIN must appear on a part of the vehicle that won't be removed. Each character in the VIN must be either a letter from the alphabet or a number from 0 through 9. They cannot contain the letters I, O or Q to help cut down on mistaken characters. VINs appear on the left side of the dash and must be visible through the windshield. The VIN is also stamped on the frame and various other locations in case of a fire.

There are four parts to the VIN that I will detail for you:

  • World Manufacturerís Identification comprises 1-3 character positions.
    • The first character in this sequence represents the country of the vehicle's manufacturer. The WMI is known as the manufacturer identifier. Some country characters are letters, and some are numbers. The United States is numbers 1 or 4, Canada is 2, and Mexico is 3. For the second character, a letter or number is assigned to represent the automobile's manufacturer. For example, Chrysler is C and Cadillac is 6. The third character represents the vehicle type or the manufacturing section.
  • Vehicle Description Section (VDS) is the next 5 characters in positions 4 through 8.
    • These characters identify different components in the car, such as brake system and body style.
  • VIN accuracy check digit takes place 9.
    • This single character is based on a mathematical formula that checks the other characters for accuracy. Basically, it is a guard against typographical errors.
  • Vehicle Identification Section (VIS) takes up the remainder of the VIN and occupies places 10-17.
    • Model year is position 10 and the vehicleís assembly plant is position 11. Characters 12 through 17 are a unique sequence, like DNA. They number vehicles in a specific grouping within the manufacturerís production facility. This also helps the manufacturer keep tally on the number of vehicles sold.

  • A little trivia about VINS for you, The Federal Parts Marking Program, issued through NHTSA, requires that manufacturers mark 12 to 14 parts of the most commonly stolen vehicles with the VIN number. These parts include the bumpers, the hood, the engine, doors, fenders and quarter panels. This is a huge tool for police agencies to use to help bust stolen car rings. There is also a confidential place on every car that only the manufacturers and police agencies have access to the location. This is a huge help for cars that had the rest of the identification numbers removed.

    Remember that Vehicle I.D. numbers are not like horseshoes, close doesnít count. Also, remember, you will never see the letters O, Q, or I in a VIN, and a common mistake is for people to misuse an S for a 5. This is extremely important when trying to enter the number for an Auto Check history check.
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