How to Decode a 13 Digit VIN Number

by Chang Lin

For vehicles manufactured before 1981, the unique Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) code given to each vehicle is created from using a 13-digit sequence of letters and numbers. Each character in the sequence provides certain information about the vehicle, such as manufacturer, place of origin, place of assembly, model year, and vehicle type. To decode the 13-digit VIN number, you must understand what each character in the sequence means.

Step 1

Examine the first digit of the VIN number to find the manufacturer country of origin. Vehicles manufactuered in the United States will have a 1, 4 or 5 as the first digit in the VIN number code, Canada is 2, Mexico is 3, Japan is "J," Korea is "K," England is "S," Germany is "W," Italy is "Z," Sweden is "Y," Australia is 6, France is "V" and Brazil is represented by the number 9.

Step 2

Find the second digit in the VIN number sequence to determine the manufacturer of the vehicle. For example, Jaguar is represented by the letter "A," Dodge with the letter "B," Chrysler with the letter "C," Jeep with the letter "J" and so forth.

Step 3

Read the third character in the VIN number sequence to find out the vehicle type. For example, a passenger sedan would have a number of "3" while a pick-up truck would be represented by the number "7."

Step 4

Examine the fourth to eighth characters to find out the identification of the engine type, brake system model, restraint system and body style. The ninth character of the VIN number series is known as the VIN number "check digit" verification, which checks the previous VIN numbers for accuracy. According to the Auto Insurance Tips website, the verification process is carried out by a mathematical computation developed by the Department of Transportation (DOT).

Step 5

Read the tenth character of the VIN number sequence to determine the model year of the vehicle. If the vehicle was manufactured between 2001 and 2009, the digits will appear as 0-9. For example, if the tenth character is represented by the number "9," then the vehicle was manufactured in 2009. Beginning in 2010, manufacturers will begin using letters instead of numbers. So 2010 model year vehicles would have a character of "A," 2011 model year vehicles would have characters of "B" and so forth.

Step 6

Find and examine the eleventh character of the VIN number sequence to determine the manufactured plant of your vehicle. Unlike the manufacturer's country of origin, this number represents where the vehicle was assembled.

Step 7

The last two digits, the twelfth and thirteenth characters, represents the unique "serial" number of each vehicle. Although the two characters do not provide much information about the vehicle, it separates the other vehicles of the same kind that rolls off the assembly lines.

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