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Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) System

What is the Vehicle Identification Number?

The Vehicle Identification Number, or VIN, is a unique 17-character code that the manufacturer assigns during production. It can be compared to a person’s fingerprint or tongue print where no two are the same.

In a 60-year period, no two vehicles can legally have the same VIN. The characters used in the VIN consist of both capital letters and numbers except the letters “I”, “O”, and “Q”. These letters could be confused with the numbers zero and one.

Once decoded, the VIN reveals a wide range of specific information about the vehicle. Information such as the vehicle’s year, make, model, place of production, and engine specifications to name a few.

Decoding the Vehicle Identification Number

The three sections in the modern VIN system standard:

World Manufacturer Identifier (WMI)

The WMI consists of the first three characters of the VIN. They are assigned by the Society of Automobile Engineers (SAE) in the United States per 49 CFR 565.16.

  • The 1st character signifies the manufactured vehicle’s continent.
  • The 2nd character identifies the produced vehicle’s country/region and manufacturer.
  • The 3rd character identifies the vehicle type or manufacturer division.  The meaning of this character varies.

Vehicle Description Section (VDS)

The VDS provides a general description of the vehicle.  The manufacturer has some discretion for using these characters.  In North America, the VDS further separates into two more sections.

  • The 4th through 8th characters indicate the attributes such as the vehicle model, body style, engine specifics, transmission, etc.
  • The 9th character is the Check Digit. This character is a numerical character or the letter “X”. The intent is to detect an invalid VIN based on a mathematical formula. This character is often part of the general vehicle description outside of North America.

Vehicle Identifier Section (VIS)

The VIS more specifically identifies the vehicle attributes and chosen options of the original build.

  • The 10th character is the model year of the vehicle.  This does not necessarily indicate the year it was manufactured.  It is not uncommon for manufacturers to start building a model year in the second half of the previous year.  (Learn more about decoding the 10th character!)
  • The 11th character is the assembly plant of the vehicle.  Each manufacturer has its own set of plant codes.
  • The 12th through the 17th characters are the production or serial number of the vehicle.  There is not a fixed industry standard for these characters.  Each manufacturer uses these differently.  In North America, the last five digits are to be numeric.

Where to find the VIN?

Manufacturers differ on the multiple physical placements of the vehicle identification number. However, there are standard locations that every manufacturer locates the VIN. For instance, the driver’s side dashboard (best viewed by standing outside of the vehicle) and inside the driver’s side door jamb (typically a sticker) are the most common locations to find the VIN.

Engine blocks, side of the glovebox, around the spare wheel or under the driver seat are less common VIN locations.  In addition, auto insurance documents, vehicle title, and purchase documents are also locations the VIN can be found.

Does your Vehicle Identification Number not have 17 digits?

Automakers started using Vehicle Identification Numbers systems in the mid 1950’s. However, there was no standard in that era so the VINs had many different variations. As a result, the manufacturer had the freedom to the length and formatting of the characters contained in the VIN.

In 1981, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) established the system used today. The production of vehicles continues to climb and the number of vehicles on the road steadily increases. Therefore, the current VIN system has proven its worth with providing unique identification.

Where is my VIN? What does it mean for my car?

Do you need help locating or interpreting your Vehicle Identification Number? Call Autopractor today at 630-444-1414.

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