How to Decode 16-Digit VIN Numbers

by Joanne Cichetti

A vehicle’s vehicle identification number (VIN) is like its birth certificate, a unique identifier that sets it apart from all others. Older vehicle models carry 16-digit VINs, while newer VINs are made up of 17 digits/characters. According to Vinguard.org, in early 1980s all manufacturers were required by U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (USDOT) to assign 17-character VINs to all vehicles. By 1983, ISO Standard 3779 introduced a standard VIN system for all manufacturers. However before that, the system was not standardized and the VIN encryption depended on the manufacturer. The VIN contains identifiers including country of origin, manufacturer, model year and vehicle type.

1

Locate the VIN on the vehicle. It might be stamped on the upper side of the dash (toward the driver’s side), under the windshield or on the inner door panel.

2

Note the first digit of the code. This digit represents the vehicle's country of origin. Typically, 1 or 4 is for U.S., 2 is for Canada, 3 is for Mexico, J is for Japan, S is for England, K is for Korea, W is for Germany and Z is for Italy.

3

Note the second digit of the code. This represents the manufacturer of the vehicle. For example, if the manufacturer is Ford, the character will be F. Similarly, A for Audi, B for BMW, 4 for Buick, 6 for Cadillac, 1 for Chevrolet, C for Chrysler, 7 for GM Canada, G for General Motors, H for Honda, L for Lincoln, D for Mercedes Benz, N for Nissan, V for Volvo, T for Toyota and so on.

4

Note the third digit. This digit tells you the vehicle type or manufacturing division. Each manufacturer has their own way of using this field. For example, if you are decoding a Dodge Ram’s VIN, the characters 4, 5, 6 and 7 represent multipurpose passenger, bus, incomplete and truck, respectively.

5

Note the fourth to eighth digits. These digits/characters occupy five positions and are used by the manufacturer to identify the vehicle’s unique attributes like body style, engine type, model and series.

6

Observe the ninth character, which is called the “check digit.” Rather than representing an attribute, this character verifies VIN accuracy and makes your vehicle’s VIN unique from all other vehicles of its type. According to Vinguard.org, after the manufacturer determines all the other characters in the VIN, the check digit is calculated using a mathematical calculation based on VIN position, sample VIN, assigned value code, weight and other factors. The values are then added together and the sum is divided by 11. The result is the check digit number.

7

Note the 10th character, which identifies the vehicle’s model year. For example, 1988(J), 1989(K), 1990(L), 1991(M), 1992(N), 1993(P), 1994(R), 1995(S), 1996(T), 1997(V), 1998(W), 1999(X), 2000(Y), 2001(1), 2002(2), 2003(3).

8

Note the 11th character, which identifies the assembly plant where the vehicle was assembled. The 12th to 16th digits are series numbers used for identifying your specific vehicle. These digits are always numeric, and they identify the sequence of the vehicle production as it comes off the manufacturer’s assembly line. For example, the first vehicle to roll off the assembly line might be 00001, while the second might be 00002 (depending on the manufacturer’s construction of series numbers).

About the Author

Joanne Cichetti has written articles and Web content professionally since 2009, focusing primarily on health and lifestyle. In order to further pursue her writing career professionally, Cichetti inducted herself in the Long Ridge Writers Group, and she looks forward to having a novel published under their guidance.