How to Reference Car Serial Numbers

by Contributor

Vehicle identification numbers, also known as VINs, are used to identify an individual car from similar models. The VIN, which is often marked on a small plate on the dashboard and other locations, can be used to reference the history of the vehicle, identify the owners and reduce the chance of vehicle fraud or theft.

Write down the VIN serial number in question, which should consist of 17 characters, or sections. Each section of the VIN number can be used to reference the manufacturer of the car, the country of origin, the type or body style of the car and its sequence in the manufacturing process. You may want to use a straight-edge or ruler to divide the car serial numbers into manageable sections.

Look at the first 3 characters of the VIN serial numbers, which reference the actual manufacturer of the car. Known as the World Manufacturer Identifier, or WMI, this code also states whether the manufacturer produces more than 500 cars per year. In the case of General Motors, for instance, "1G1" is a reference to Chevrolet passenger cars, "1G2" refers to Pontiac passenger cars and "1GC" applies to a Chevy truck.

Move on to the fourth through eighth digits, which constitute the Vehicle Descriptor Section, or VDS, which is a reference to the type, model and style of the car. This section of VIN serial numbers will give you specific information on the body type of the car (such as station wagon, SUV or coupe), the engine type (such as V-8, turbo-charged V-6 or hybrid) and even options installed on the vehicle.

Note that the ninth digit is merely a check digit used to validate the VIN number, which can be used to determine whether the serial numbers have been altered.

Use the tenth digit of the VIN serial numbers to identify the model year of the vehicle you need to reference. For example, a 2008 car will have an "8" as the tenth character of the VIN.

Identify the remaining digits of the 17-character VIN as the manufacturer's sequence or coding system. These numbers usually reference the car's place in the manufacturing process, and merely serve to differentiate a particular vehicle as unique.


  • check The VIN system was not standardized until 1980, so vehicles manufactured before this time may not conform to ISO requirements.

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