How to Decode your Car's VIN Number

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How to Decode your Car's VIN Number
Your Vehicle's DNA
When you own a car, there are times when you need to know about something called a VIN number. Like when you are applying for car insurance or getting the registration for your car. You will definitely need it when you trade in your car. A vehicle's VIN number will also allow you to run a vehicle history report on a car, SUV or truck that you are thinking about buying. But what is a VIN number? How do you read a VIN number? Where is the VIN number located on a car?
VIN stands for Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) and it is the identifying code for a specific automobile. The VIN number is sort of like the car's fingerprint, totally unique to your car. No two cars have the same VIN number. You could say the VIN number represents your car's DNA.
A VIN is usually composed of:
  • 17 characters including digits and capital letters, that acts as a unique identifier for your car. 
  • The VIN number tells you when and where the car was built. It tells you the manufacturer, year, make and model, and the trim level including unique features and specifications. 
  • Your car's VIN number can be used to track recalls, registrations, warranty claims, thefts and insurance coverage. 
  • You can also use it to get a vehicle history report on your car.

Your Vehicle’s DNA

In the early days of automobiles, the specific car's identifying number was called the chassis number or frame number. A tin plaque was stamped with the vehicle's specific number and displayed under the hood, usually on the top right of the firewall. 

VIN numbers were first used in 1954 in the United States. The U.S. government asked auto makers to come up with a new standardized numbering system to identify vehicles. Up until then, manufacturers used engine numbers to register and title cars, trucks, and motorcycles. This became a problem if the motor was replaced, which was fairly common at the time. 

From 1954 to 1981, there was no accepted universal standard for these numbers, so different auto and motorcycle manufacturers used different formats. Then, in 1981, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) standardized the format. It required that all on-road vehicles contain a 17-character VIN, which does not include the letters O, I, and Q to avoid confusion with numerals 0, 1, and 9.   

VIN numbers on vehicles today are based on standards set by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) in 1979. Compatible ISO standards have been adopted by the United States and the European Union. 

Where can I find the VIN?

Your vehicle's VIN number can be found in several places on your car. It is most common that your car's VIN number can be found by looking at the dashboard on the driver's side of the vehicle. The easiest way to view it is to stand outside the vehicle on the driver's side and look through the windshield to the corner of the dashboard where it meets the windshield. 

If the VIN number cannot be found there, open the driver's door, and look at the door post (where the door latches when it closes). It is likely that your VIN number will also be displayed in this location. Most gasoline-powered vehicles also have the VIN number stamped on the front of the engine block. 
You will find your VIN number on your car insurance card as well as on the title and registration for the vehicle. For motorcycles, the VIN number is usually found stamped on the frame neck. As with cars, pre-1981 bikes go by the engine numbers, usually found on the engine cases. 

Decoding your VIN

Ever wonder what the 17 digits on your VIN number mean? Let's decode them.

  • The first character tells you where in the world the vehicle was built. It tells you the country of origin. 
  • The second character denote the manufacturer. 
  • The third character tells you the vehicle type or division. 
  • The fourth through the eighth characters tell you the vehicle brand, body style, engine size and type, model, and series. 
  • The ninth character is a security code that identifies the VIN as being authorized by the manufacturer. 
  • The tenth character is the model year of the car. 
  • The eleventh number tells you which plant assembled your car. 
  • The last six numbers are the specific vehicle production number representing the serial number of the vehicle. 
Free VIN Check 
You will need your car's VIN number when applying for car insurance or to get a vehicle history report on your car. There are a number of websites that offer free VIN number checks online. If you are looking to buy a used car, you can conduct a vehicle history report to find out about the vehicle's previous owners, check for any accidents or repairs to the car, even find out if the car was ever stolen. You can also find out if the manufacturer ever issued recalls on the vehicle you are thinking about buying and find out if those repairs were made to the vehicle. 

You'll need your VIN when it comes time to sell your car. Lithia Motors can help with that as well as run a vehicle history report on a car you are considering for purchase.