How to Track a Car Build by VIN Number

by Ashton Daigle

A vehicle identification number, or VIN number, is a 17-character sequence of numbers and letters used to identify a specific car, truck, van or station wagon. A VIN number can be thought of as a vehicle's fingerprint, as it pinpoints such attributes as make, model, year, plant code and manufacturer information. Services like Carfax use VIN numbers to help potential buyers of used cars to know a specific vehicle's history, for example, whether the vehicle has ever been in an accident.

Write down the VIN number of the vehicle you want to track. The VIN number will contain a sequence of 17 numbers and letters. Each number and letter has a particular purpose or value.

Examine the first digit of the VIN number. The first digit represents the country in which the vehicle was manufactured. If the vehicle was manufactured in the United States, the first digit of the VIN number will begin with either a 1 or a 4.

Look at the second and third characters of the VIN number. The second character of a VIN number will identify the manufacturer of a specific vehicle. For example, Chevrolet (1); Dodge (B); Ford (F); General Motors (G) or Honda (H). The third number will identify the vehicle type or manufacturing division

Look at the fourth through the eighth characters of the VIN number. This five-character string is referred to as the Vehicle Descriptor Section. It is used by the manufacturer to identify attributes of the vehicle, such as body style, engine type, make and model.

Match the vehicle descriptor characters to the manufacturer. The five-digit vehicle descriptor characters (the fourth through eighth digits of the VIN number) are not universal. In other words, the vehicle descriptor characters have to be matched to a specific manufacturer in order to determine the body type of a vehicle. Each manufacturer will have its own tables for translating the descriptor characters.

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About the Author

Ashton Daigle, a New Orleans native, graduated from Southeastern Louisiana University in 1998 and went straight to work as a journalist. In 2005 he tackled the biggest news story of his life - Hurricane Katrina. Daigle is writing a collection of essays: What It Means to be a Saints Fan.

Photo Credits

  • photo_camera Car dashboard image by Andrejs Pidjass from Fotolia.com