What do all the digits on your VIN mean?


car with vin numbers


Just 70 years ago, every time someone buys a car from a manufacturer, they'll always ask, "what do the digits in a VIN mean?" This is because, back then, different manufacturers used different formats for vehicle identification numbers (VIN). It was messy!

VINs were first used in the US back in 1954. But it was only in 1981 that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration of the United States standardized the VIN format. If the NHTSA didn't regularize the format, looking for a vehicle's registration, warranty, and history would be hella harder.

A VIN is a unique code that contains a combination of digits and letters. It acts as a vehicle's fingerprint as there are no two VINs. As a dealer, you must know each character's meaning in a VIN. So in this article, let's go over:

What do the digits in a VIN mean?

The VIN is divided into three sections and is composed of 17 characters. What each digit means in a VIN depends on which section it is written in. 

Section one of the VIN is the first three characters. The first section is called the world manufacturer identifier (WMI).

The first character represents where the vehicle was built. It can be written as a number or a letter with the following representations:

  • 1, 4, 5 - means the vehicle was made in the United States. Consecutively…
  • 2 - Made in Canada
  • 3 - Made in Mexico
  • 6, 7 - Made in Oceania
  • 8, 9 - Made in South America
  • A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H - Made in Africa
  • J, K, L, M, N, P, R - Made in Asia
  • S, T, U, V, W, X, Y, Z - Made in Europe.

The 2nd and 3rd characters define which manufacturer made the vehicle. Here are some of the common examples of the VIN number meaning:

  • Starts with a B, C, or D: Chrysler/Dodge
  • FA, FB, FC, FD, EM, ET: Ford
  • Starts with a G: General Motors
  • J4: Jeep
  • Starts with a L: Lincoln USA
  • ME: Mercury USA
  • P3: Plymouth USA
  • YV: Mazda USA (Auto Alliance)
  • ZV: Ford (AutoAlliance)

Section two makes the vehicle descriptor section (VDS). It is divided into two parts. Manufacturers have their own system for these sections, but it's composed of 6 characters.

The first part of the VDS is composed of the 4th to 8th characters of the VIN. It represents the vehicle's brand, engine size, and type. 

The second part of the VDS is the VIN's 9th character which represents the security code. This code identifies the VIN as being authorized by the manufacturer.

Section three is the vehicle identifier section (VIS). It comprises the unique serial number that allows the manufacturer to identify the specific car. It is subdivided into three parts.

The first part is the 10th character of the VIN. It defines the model year of the car.

The second part is the VIN's 11th character, representing the vehicle's assembly plant. Vehicle manufacturers each have unique codes indicating which facility the car, truck, or SUV is made.

The third part of the VIS is composed of the last six characters of the VIN. It is the serial number of the vehicle.

What do the digits on VIN mean


Now that you know what each digit means in a VIN let's look at…

Where to find the VIN?

For standard passenger vehicles, here's where to look.

You can look at the dashboard on the driver's side of the car to find the VIN. The easiest way to see your VIN is to stand outside the car and look at the dashboard corner where it meets the windshield. If somehow it's not there, then you can look at these other areas:

- Open the hood of your car. The VIN should be found in front of the engine block on most gasoline cars.

- The Vehicle Identification Number may also be located on the driver's side door post (The part where the door latches when it's closed).

- If you have an older car, you may find the VIN in the front end of the car's frame.

The VIN is usually placed below the handlebars on the steering neck for motorcycles. But sometimes, it's on the frame near the motor or the motor itself.

A trailer's VIN is displayed on the left front side of the trailer. This is because it must be positioned so that users can read outside the trailer without moving its components.

Generally, suppose you can't find the VIN anywhere on the vehicle. In that case, you can look for it on your insurance card/insurance policy or the vehicle's title.

where to find the vin 

Importance of VIN

VIN is vital for a variety of reasons. For owners, VIN is essential for titling their vehicles. Mechanics need it to get the right parts for your car when repairs are done. This is why they are experts in knowing what each digit means in a VIN. Automakers themselves use VIN when sending out recall notices. Dealers must be familiar with the VIN number meaning since a VIN is used for inventory and tracing whether the vehicle doesn't have an unwanted history (like accident, theft, etc). You also use a VIN to check if the vehicle's warranty is still applicable.

How to check a VIN?

There are free tools that may help you trace a car's VIN. Some free can be found here. 

But if you tried these tools and didn't find what you were looking for, you can check out our reliable VIN lookup tool here. All you need to do is create a Can-Am account so that we can give you full access to our VIN lookup tool for free. There's a lot of fun stuff for dealers here too, so click here and create your account now!

Conclusion or Takeaway

Knowing what each digit means in a VIN gives you a deeper understanding of the cars you're selling. Dealership managers are experts at this, and if you are one, you must be at least familiar with it.

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