How to Decode VIN Numbers on Cars

by Contributing Writer

The Classic Car Club of America (CCCA) defines a classic car as a "fine" or "distinctive" automobile, manufactured between 1925 and 1948. Because Vehicle Identification Numbers (VINs) were not standardized until the early 1980s, there is no standard format for classic car VINs (also called body plates). Fortunately, there are databases and online forums that can help you decode classic car VINs.

Under The Hood:

 How to Decode a VIN for a Harley-Davidson

Determine whether your model was made before or after 1981. Before 1981, a Harley's VIN would be 9 digits or so. After 1980, Harley VIN number should be 17 digits. Harleys made during the 1960s and earlier can have VINs of 11 characters or more, but never as many as 17. The general breakdown of the 17-character (post 1980) VIN is as follows: Characters 1 through 3 identify the motorcycle as a Harley Davidson model (ex: 1 HD). Character 4 determines the bike's weight class (heavyweight, lightweight, and sidecar). Characters 5 and 6: determine model designation. Character 7 indicates engine type. Character 8 signifies the bike's introduction date. Character 9: Check digit. Character 10 indicates the bike's year of manufacture. Character 11 tells what factory the Harley was built in. And characters 12 through 17 are the ID number of that particular motorcycle; they're a numerical designation telling what bike this was in sequence coming off the assembly line.

Call a Harley-Davidson dealership and give the appropriate person your VIN. The dealer will have a breakdown of model numbers in their parts guide and should be able to tell you the exact model and year of your bike based on your VIN. This is particularly useful for older models, especially those from 1960 and earlier.

Go to the Motoverse website and enter your VIN if you have a 17 digit VIN. They have a decoder system online that will automatically break down the details. Note that it does not understand shorter VIN numbers.

Download the Harley VIN decoder from Freewebs.com. Save the file to your computer and double-click the file to install. The program will break down details of your Harley, such as model and engine type, year and location of production. Knowing what the VIN character sequence means is one thing, but determining the details of each individual character is altogether more empowering. This website will help you get the exact details of your Harley model.

 How to Decode VIN Numbers on a Trans Am

Interpret the 10th character as the model year, for model years later than 1980. The interpretation of many other characters varies by model year, so knowing the model year is the first step to decoding much of the rest.

Interpret letters as follows: A->1980 B->1981 ... Skip I, O, Q, U and Z. They aren't used, due to their similarity to other characters. Therefore, Y equals 2000, 1 equals 2001 and 2 equals 2002. Numbers continue up through 2009. So 9 equals 2009, A equals 2010 and B equals 2011.

Interpret the first character as the company of manufacture for models years later than 1980. 1 is for the U.S., 2 is for Canada and 3 is for Mexico.

Interpret the second character as the manufacturer. For the Trans Am, it is G, for GM.

Interpret the third character as the make. For the Trans Am, it's 2, for Pontiac.

Interpret the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh characters as determining the body type, model and restraining features. Which character refers to which description has varied through the years. Look up the PDF file vincardXX.pdf at wrath.com/vindecode/, where XX is the model year, in order to be sure of your interpretation.

For model year 1987, for example, characters 4 and 5 are FW for the Trans Am. Character 6 is 1, for two-door coupe. Character 7 is 1 for manual seat belts and 4 for automatic.

Interpret the eighth character as the engine type. It describes the displacement, the cylinder count and the carburetor. Therefore, the table for any one year is too large to reproduce here. See vincardXX.pdf for your model year to determine your engine type.

Ignore the ninth character. GM uses it internally.

Interpret the 11th character as the plant location, for model years after 1980. The list is too lengthy to reproduce here. Refer to vincardXX.pdf.

Interpret the last six characters as the order in which the car came off the assembly line. Pontiac may be able to determine the exact date of manufacture with this number.

 How to Decode the VIN Number on a Pontiac

Locate the VIN number. It is found on the left side under the windshield molding attached to the dash panel. It can also be found on the title.

The first character indicates the country where the vehicle was manufactured. The digit 1 is for USA.

Interpret the second character. The letter G designates General Motors

Interpret the third character. This number indicates the division. The digit 2 is for a Pontiac.

Interpret the fourth and fifth characters. These indicate platform and series. HX is for the Bonneville SE, HY for the Bonneville SLE, HZ for the Bonneville SSEI, JB for the Sunfire, NE for the Grand Am SE, NF for the Grand Am SE1, NG for the Grand Am SE2, SL for the Vibe, SM for the Vibe all-wheel drive, WK for the Grand Prix SE, WK for the Grand Prix SE1, WP for the Grand Prix GT, and WR for the Grand Prix GTP.

Interpret the sixth character. This indicates the body style. 1 is for a two-door coupe, 2 is for a two-door, 3 for a two-door convertible, 5 for a four-door sedan, 6 for a four-door sedan hatchback, 8 for a two-door hatchback, and 9 for a four-door station wagon

Interpret the seventh character. This indicates the safety restraint system. 1 is for active manual belts, 2 for manual belts with driver and passenger front inflatable airbags, 4 for manual belts with driver and passenger front and side inflatable airbags, 5 for manual belts with front inflatable and driver's-side inflatable airbags, 6 for manual belts with front and side inflatable airbags with passenger occupant sensor, and 7 for manual belts with both front, side, and rear passenger side inflatable airbags.

Interpret the eighth character. This indicates the engine used. There are many different types of engine combinations for each model and year. Some used are 1 for a 3.8 liter L67, 4 for a 2.2 LN2, E for a 3.4 LA1, J for a 3.1 LG8, K for a 3.8 L36, N for a 3.2 LA3, W for a 2.8 L35, and X for a 3.1 LG5

Decode the 10th character. This indicates the model year. A is for 1980, B for 1981, C for 1982, D for 1983, E for 1984, F for 1985, G for 1986, H for 1987, J for 1988, K for 1989, L for 1990, M for 1991, N for 1992, P for 1993, R for 1994, S for 1995, T for 1996, V for 1997, W for 1998, X for 1999, Y for 2000, 1 for 2001, 2 for 2002, 3 for 2003, 4 for 2004, 5 for 2005, 6 for 2006, 7 for 2007, 8 for 2008, and 9 for 2009, and A for the final 2010 model.

Locate the 11th digit. This indicates the plant location. D is used for Doraville Ga.; E for Linden, N.J. and Pontiac Mich.; L for Van Nuys, Ca.; M for Lansing, Mich.; N for Norwood, Ohio; O for Lansing, Mich.; P for Pontiac, Mich.; and Y for Wilmington, Del.

Decode the remaining 6 characters. The last six digits designate the production sequence and serial number of the vehicle.

Items you will need

  • Vehicle Identification Number

 How to Decode a VIN in a 1965 Ford 600 Truck

Locate the VIN on the inside of the driver’s door. Write out the VIN from the vehicle so you can refer to it while decoding.

Confirm the VIN by checking for another VIN or warranty number, since replacement doors are common. Look for a number on the topside of the right frame rail--below the alternator on 2-wheel-drive pickups or behind the front axle on 4-wheel-drive pickups, according to the Fordification website. The same number is under the seat area and is more difficult to locate.

Read the first position of the VIN on a 1965 as the maker. This should be an F for Ford.

Read the second and third letters as the series. F60 was the Ford 600 series.

Check the fourth letter or number. This is the engine size. A and M are 330 engines, common in this model year. Ford M was 330 HD engine; A was the 330 2V engine.

Look at position 5 as the assembly plant. Additional numbers are the unit number. Below the warranty number, the wheel base, color code, model, body, transmission and axle numbers are noted. See the Fordification website to decode these as the coding is extensive. You can determine the interior trim codes, the rear axle ratio and the front axle capacity, too.

 How to Decode the Vin on the 1969 Chevrolet Chevelle

Decode the first, second and third characters. The first character, which is invariably "1," designates that the car is a Chevrolet. The second and third characters will be a number between 31 and 38 (except 37). These numbers designate the series: 31 -- Chevelle, Nomad (6-cylinder); 32 -- Chevelle, Nomad (8-cylinder); 33 -- El Camino, Greenbrier, 300 Deluxe (6-cylinder); 34 -- El Camino, Greenbrier, 300 Deluxe (8-cylinder); 35 -- El Camino, Concours, Malibu (6-cylinder); 36 -- El Camino, Concours, Malibu (8-cylinder); 38 -- Concours Estate (8-cylinder).

Decode the fourth, fifth and sixth characters. The sixth character is always a "9," which designates the production year of 1969. The fourth and fifth characters designate the body type: 27 -- 2-door sedan; 35 -- 4-door station wagon, 2 seat; 36 -- 4-door station wagon, 2 seat with dual tailgate; 37 -- 2-door coupe; 39 -- 4-door sport sedan; 67 -- 2-door convertible; 69 -- 4-door sedan; 80 -- 2-door sedan pickup.

The seventh character designates where the final assembly of the car occurred. Unlike any of the other characters, the seventh character is most often a letter instead of a numeral, with the exception of cars assembled in Ontario, which were marked with a "1": A -- Atlanta, GA; B -- Baltimore, MD; G -- Framingham, MA; K -- Kansas City, MO; Z -- Fremont, CA; 1 -- Oshawa, Ontario, Canada.

Decode the eighth through 13th characters. The eighth character will most often be a "3," with the exception of some cars assembled in Baltimore and Kansas City, where production exceeded 100,000 vehicles. For cars built in these locations, it's possible that the eighth character will be a "4." The final five numbers (the ninth through thirteenth characters,) designate the order in which the car came off the line. For example, the first car off the line would have a VIN ending in "300001," and the second car off the line would have a VIN ending in "300002."

Put it all together. For example, a car with the VIN "138699A300100" would be a Chevrolet Concours Estate with 8 cylinders and 4 doors, built in 1969 in Atlanta, where it was the 100th Chevelle off the line at that location.

 How to Decode the Vin Numbers on a Chevy Tahoe

Note the first character in the VIN code. This tells you in what country the van was made. The number "1" indicates the van was built in the United States. A "2" indicates the van was built in Canada and a "3" indicates the vehicle was built in Mexico.

Note the second character in the VIN code. The "G" indicates it is a General Motors vehicle.

Note the third character in the VIN code. This tells you the make of the van. An "A" indicates it is a bus. A "B" indicates it is incomplete. A "C" indicates it is a Chevy truck. An "N" indicates it is Chevy MPV.

Note the fourth character in the VIN code. This tells you the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR). A "B" indicates 3001 to 4000 GVWR. A "C" indicates 4001 to 5000 GVWR. A "D" indicates 5001 to 6000 GVWR. An "E" indicates 6001 to 7000 GVWR. An "F" indicates 7001 to 8000 GVWR. A "G: indicates 8001 to 9000 GVWR. An "H" indicates 9001 to 10000 GVWR. A "J": indicates 10001 to 14000 GVWR. A "K" indicates 14001 to 16000 GVWR.

Note the fifth character in the VIN code. This tells you the type of chassis that van has. A "C" indicates it is a conventional 4X2. A "K" indicates it is a conventional 4X4. A "P" indicates it is a forward control 4X2. An "S" indicates it is a small conventional 4X2. A "T" indicates it is a small conventional 4X4. An "H" indicates it is a chassis cutaway 4X2.

Note the sixth character in the VIN code. This is the weight code. A "1" indicates it is a 1/2 ton. A "2" indicates it is a 3/4 ton. A "3" indicates it is a one ton.

Note the seventh character in the VIN code. This tells you the body type. A "1" indicates it is a Hi Cube. A "2" indicates it is a Forward Control. A "3" indicates it is a 4 Door Cab. A "4" indicates it is a 2 Door Cab. A "7" indicates it is a Suburban.

Note the eighth character in the VIN code. This tells you what engine it has. A "4" indicates it is a 2.2 Litre. An "H" indicates it is a 5.0 EFI. A "K" indicates it is a 5.7 EFI. An "N" indicates it is a 7.4 EFI. A "w" indicates it is a 4.3 CPI. A "Y,""P,""S" or "F" indicate it is a 6.5 Diesel. A "Z" indicates it is a 4.3 EFI.

Note the tenth character in the VIN code. This tells you the year. An "R" indicates 1994. An "S" indicates 1995. A "T" indicates 1996. A "V" indicates 1997. A "W" indicates 1998. A "Y" indicates 2000. Starting with 2001, the tenth character is the last digit of the year.

Note the eleventh character in the VIN code. This tells you what assembly plant the van came out of. A "B" indicates Baltimore. An "E" indicates Pontiac. An "F" indicates Flint. A "J" indicates Jamesville. A "K" indicates Linden. A "Z" indicates Fort Wayne. An "O" indicates Pontiac. A "1" indicates Oshawa. A "2" indicates Moraine. A "3" indicates Detroit. A "4" indicates Shreveport.

 How Do I Decode a VIN on a 1969 Chevy Nova?

Look through the windshield to find the VIN number. It's stamped on a plate attached to the top of the driver's side instrument panel.

Write down the 13 digits so you can decode the VIN. The first digit is the number 1, which stands for the General Motors division that made the vehicle: Chevrolet.

Note the second and third digits, which indicate the vehicle's series:

15 = Nova, L6

16 = Nova, V8

17 = Nova SS, L6

18 = Nova SS, V8

Check the fourth and fifth digits, which indicate the body code:

27 = 2-door sedan

37 = sport coupe

69 = 4-door 6-passenger sedan

Look for the sixth digit, which stands for the model year. On a 1969 Chevy Nova, this digit should be 9. (On a 1965 Nova, the sixth VIN digit would be a 5; on a 1966 Nova, it would be a 6; etc.)

Note the seventh digit, which stands for the location of the assembly plant where the vehicle was built:

A = Atlanta, GA

B = Baltimore, MD

C = Southgate, CA

F = Flint, MI

G = Framingham, MA

J = Janesville, WI

K = Kansas City, MO

L = Los Angeles/Van Nuys, CA

N = Norwood, OH

P = Pontiac, MI

R = Arlington, TX

S = St. Louis, MO

T = Tarrytown, NY

W = Willow Run, MI

Y =Wilmington, DE

Z = Fremont, CA

1 = Oshawa, Ontario, Canada

2 = Therese, Quebec, Canada

Check the eighth through 13th digits of the VIN, which indicate the production sequence of the vehicle. The sequence for vehicles made in 1969 starts at 300001, so if the last six digits of your VIN are 300101, your 1969 Chevy Nova was the 100th one made.

Items you will need

  • 1969 Chevy Nova VIN

  • Paper

  • Pen or pencil

 How to Decode VIN Numbers on Classic Cars

Locate the VIN on the car by searching a specialized database. Log onto ClassicCarDatabase.com, enter the year and make of the vehicle then press the "Search" button. Or, go to GreatOldCars.com, press the "VIN Decoding" link in the top yellow bar, press the "Order VIN Decoding Now!" link in the middle of the page and follow the instructions.

Decode a VIN online by using various online databases. For example, search the databases at ClassicCarDatabase.com or GreatOldCars.com, both of which decode VINs. VehicleIdentificationNumber.com provides a list of websites for classic cars, some of which also offer VIN decoding information.

Join a classic car forum. If you're having difficulty decoding a classic car VIN, a classic car forum offers help from other car enthusiasts and experts. For example, you can register for free with the Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA.org). ClassicCarDatabase.com lists several dozen clubs, along with their addresses and specialties.

 How to Decode the VIN Number for Chrysler Cars

Look at the first number in the VIN. This indicates the country of origin. Chrysler vehicles are manufactured in the United States (1, 4 or 5), Canada (2) and Mexico (3). The first digit will tell you where your Chrysler was manufactured.

Locate the second digit of the VIN. Chrysler vehicles will have a "C" for the second digit. This displays the name of the manufacturer, in this case, Chrysler.

Find the third digit in the VIN. This displays the model of the vehicle. A Chrysler Sebring, for example, has a model code of "3." The third digit in the VIN will be 3.

Find digits 4 through 9. These digits represent unique model features, such as engine options and trim packages specific to the vehicle. Safety features and vehicle color are also encoded within these digits.

Locate the 10th digit. This digit tells you what year model the vehicle is. Starting in the year 2001, vehicles used numbers in sequence for VIN codes. The number 1 refers to 2001. The number 2 refers to 2002. Before 2001, the alphabet was used. 2000 year models have a "Y." 1999 models have an "X." Starting for the 2010 year model, manufacturers start at the beginning of the alphabet.

Find the 11th digit of the VIN. This displays the factory code where the vehicle was assembled. As of August 2009, Chrysler has nine factories worldwide that assemble vehicles. The Bramalea (H) and Toluka (T) factories build many popular Chrysler vehicles.

Look at the last six digits. These numbers indicate the build sequence for this particular vehicle. "000001" would indicate the vehicle was the first one assembled with the particular options. The sequence only records vehicles based on similar features.

 How to Decode the VIN Number on a Pre-1980 Mercedes

Identify the first six numbers. This is the chassis type.

Locate the seventh number. If it is a "1," your Mercedes is made for left-hand driving. A "2" means it is for right-hand driving, which are vehicles primarily shipped to the United Kingdom and other countries where the driver sits on the right side of the car and drives on the left side of the road.

Identify the eighth number. A "0" represents a standard transmission, a "1" is a hydraulic clutch and a "2" is a manual transmission.

Look at numbers nine through 14. These final numbers represent the construction serial number, which is a number unique to each Mercedes.

 How to Decode a VIN for a KIA

Locate your KIA’s VIN through the lower-right corner of the windshield, if you’re looking at it from the outside. It’s etched on a metal plate bolted to the dash.

Interpret the first digit, which will be a K, as the country of manufacture, Korea.

Interpret the second digit, which will be an N, as the indicator that the car is a KIA.

Interpret the third digit as the vehicle type. For 2008 models, the cars all have letter A, for “passenger car.” D stands for “multi-purpose vehicle.”

Interpret the fourth digit as the model. For 2008 models, D=Rio, F=Spectra or Rondo, G=Optima, L=Amanti, J=Sportage or Sorento, and M=Sedona.

Interpret the fifth digit as the series. For the 2008 model year, B in a Sedona means 4x2. D in an Amanti means front-wheel drive, front engine. E in an Optima, Rio, Rio5, Spectra or Spectra5 means front-wheel drive, front engine. G in a Rondo means front-wheel drive, front engine. C in a Sorento means 4-by-4. D in a Sorento means 4x2. E in a Sportage means 4x4. F in a Sportage means 4x2.

Interpret the sixth and seventh digits as the body type. For the 2008 model year, 12 is a sedan four-door. 16 is a hatchback four-door. 52 is a wagon. 13 is a short wheelbase, four-door van. 23 is a long wheelbase four-door van. For the trucks, the sixth digit is 7, for “four-door SUV.” The seventh digit for trucks breaks down as follows: & has no meaning, 2 means the truck weighs between 4,006 and 4,994 pounds, and 3 means it weighs 4,995 to 5,984 pounds.

Interpret the eighth digit as the engine type. For model year 2008, the cars all have active seat belts with dual air bags (front and side) and dual head curtain airbags for both front and back passengers. A 1 and 2 mean 4-cylinder, 2.0 liter. A 3 means 4-cylinder, 1.6L. A 4 means 6-cylinder 2.7L. A 5 means 4-cylinder 2.4L or 6-cylinder 3.8L. A 6 means 6-cylinder 2.7L. In the Sedona, the code is 3, and translates to 6-cylinder, 3.8L without air bags. In the Sorento and Sportage, 3, 5 and 6 are 6-cylinder engines. A 4 is a 4-cylinder. A 3 and 4 have dual air bags. a 5 and 6 don’t have air bags. A 3 means 2.7L. A 4 means 2.0L. A 5 means 3.3L. A 6 means 3.8L.

Ignore the ninth digit. This is merely a check code internal to KIA.

Interpret the 10th digit as the model year. A stands for 1980, B stands for 1981 and so on. Because I, O, Q, U and Z look like numbers, they aren’t used for model year. Therefore, Y stands for 2000 and 1 stands for 2001. 9 stands for 2009 and A stands for 2010, starting the alphabet all over.

Interpret the 11th digit as the assembly plant location. There are five plant locations, not including the new West Point, Georgia, plant. A 1 is the Hwaseong plant in Hwaseong, S. Korea, and 2 is the Kwang-Ju plant in Gwangju, S. Korea. A 3 is the Sohari plant in Gwangmyeong, S. Korea, and 4 is the Seosan plant in Seosan, S. Korea. A 5 is the Slovakian plant.

Interpret the last six characters as a count of the vehicles rolling off the assembly line. These ensure the VIN is unique to each car.

 How to Decode a VIN for Early Bronco Specifications

Find the VIN on your Bronco. It might be in one of four places, and some vehicles have it in all four places. The easiest location is inside the door of the glove compartment. Unfortunately, there have been cases where these doors have been switched to make a Bronco appear newer (or older). The second-easier VIN location to find is the driver side door jam - -the chassis side, not the door side. This one is often hard to read or has come off. There is another location that is also often missing --the driver side kick panel. The kick panel is the lower door where the driver is most likely to accidentally kick getting in or out of the car. The most permanent place to find the VIN is under the hood and high on the firewall, directly in front of the driver. This one may be dirty but can usually be cleaned off enough to read.

Count the digits in the VIN. If there are 11 digits, the car was built in 1966 or 1967 and you have an early Bronco. If you have a newer Bronco, the VIN will be 17 digits. The first three digits of the VIN indicate the body style. The fourth digit of the VIN indicates the engine type. The fifth character of the VIN is always L. Digits 6-11 are sequential and uniquely identify your vehicle.

Look at the first three digits of the VIN to see the body style. This is most interesting if you have the U-100 body style. If you have other body styles, you automatically know what type of Bronco you have. If you do have the U-100 body style, the first three digits indicate the body style -- U13 for a roadster, U14 for a half-cab and U15 for a wagon. The fourth digit indicates the engine type. The code is A for the 124 cubic inch displacement (cid) six cylinder engine, F for the 170 cid six cylinder, T for the 200 cid six cylinder, N for the 289 eight cylinder and G for the 302 cid eight cylinder.