Have you ever noticed that little plate on the dashboard of your car? The one on the driver’s side with all those seemingly random numbers and letters? That is the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN).
Each one of those digits actually has a purpose. It’s like a fingerprint for your car, a unique code used to identify it in many situations.
1. A Little Bit of History
Vehicle Identification Numbers date back to 1954 in the United States, but they didn’t go global until the 1980s, after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration made the VIN mandatory on every car and truck manufactured in the United States.
At that time, it was always stamped only onto the engine block, but in 1987 the Department of Transportation’s Motor Vehicle Theft Prevention Standard made it a requirement to have the number placed in multiple other areas of the car including on the hood, often the inside of the driver’s side door, as well as on other parts of the car.
2. What do all those numbers mean?
The VIN is made up of 17 digits which can include any numbers or letters excluding I, O and Q. These numbers were left out because they are easily mistaken for the numbers 1 and 0.
3. How do you decipher the VIN?
The VIN is broken up into three sections. The first section is called the Wold Manufacturer Identifier (WMI) and is made up of three digits which indicate the manufacturer. These are assigned by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) in the U.S.
The first digit of the WMI identifies the country or region where the car was assembled. That means that even if parts of the vehicle were manufactured in different countries, the VIN will indicate only the country where all those parts were put together. For example, if the vehicle was made in Canada the digit would be 2. If it was made in China it would be an L. Some countries, like the United States, have more than one digit. A vehicle made in the United States could be identified by a 1, 4 or 5 depending on the region it comes from.
The second digit indicates the manufacturer of the vehicle. For example, General Motors would be identified by a G and Ford would be identified by an F.
The third digit of the WMI can indicate a subsidiary of the manufacturer indicated in the previous digit, the type of vehicle it is, or both. Chevrolet is a subsidiary of General Motors, so the entire WMI for a Chevrolet truck made in the U.S. would be 1GC.
4. What other information can you access?
Digits 4 to 8 of the VIN identify the specifics about the parts that were used to build your car. These numbers indicate the model, body type, transmission and engine type. Digit 8 most commonly indicates the engine type. Most manufacturers use digit 9 of the VIN as a check number. Using this number and a mathematical equation, it is possible to figure out if the VIN is valid or falsified.
Digits 10 to 17 is the Vehicle Identifier Section. This is the part that will be completely unique to your car. In North America the last five numbers have to be numbers.
5. So, what’s the point?
The VIN is used by almost anybody that might deal with your car. That could mean your mechanic, insurance companies, law enforcement, or someone you might be selling your car to.
The VIN decode provides valuable information like what systems and parts were used in its manufacturing, if it has ever been in any major accidents, how many people have owned it previously, who those people were, and it can even help identify your car if it is ever stolen.
Even though you may not be able to fully understand exactly what your car’s VIN code says, those 17 little digits hold a ton of information.