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Automobiles Auctions   >   Articles   >   Understanding the VIN


Understanding the VIN

VINs, also known as vehicle identification numbers are alphanumeric codes that uniquely identify every different individual motor vehicle. The VIN can be found both the vehicle itself, and on many documents associated with the vehicle such as registration documents, insurance documents, etc.

VINs were first introduced in 1954, and for many years there was no common format used by all manufacturers of vehicles. Different manufacturers encoded different information in their VINs, and the length of the VIN varied between 11 and 17 characters depending on the manufacturer.

However, since 1981, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration of the United States has mandated a standard 17 character format (now known as "FMVSS 115, Part 565"), which is now used for all vehicles in the United States and Canada. (Please note however that other countries use slightly different 17 character formats for their VINs).

VINs consist of a combination of 17 characters, and may include both numeric digits and letters. However the letters I, O, and Q are not used, since these could easily be mistaken for the digits 1 or 0. Additionally, certain additional characters can appear in some positions (example: the 10th character can be U or Z).

Here is how the VINs are encoded are according to the North American standard, FMVSS 115, Part 565:
  • 1st, 2nd and 3rd Characters:

    The first three characters on the VIN identify the manufacturer ("World Manufacturer Identifier") based on codes assigned to each manufacturer by the Society of Automotive Engineers).

    • All US manufacturers have World Manufacturer Identifiers beginning with a 1, 4 or 5.

    • Other North American manufacturers have World Manufacturer Identifiers beginning with a 2 (Canada) or 3 (Mexico and the Cayman Islands).

    • Vehicles that have VINs indicating that they were made outside the US or Canada will generally still have 17 digit VINs, but the information in the rest of the VIN may not follow US/Canadian norms.

    Some larger manufacturers may use the third character as a code to identify the category of vehicle (e.g. bus, truck, automobile, etc.), the manufacturing division, or both. For example, VINs for General Motors vehicles always begin with 1G, but 1G1 is used for Chevrolet passenger cars, 1G2 for Pontiac passenger cars, and 1GC for Chevrolet trucks.

    Small vehicle manufacturers (producing less than 500 vehicles per year) will use 1st and 2nd characters, as well as the 12th, 13th and 14th characters (see below), to identify themselves. In this, the 3rd character will always be a 9.

    Here is a list of the most common beginning characters (indicating manufacturer) for VINs in the United States and Canada:

    • 1C - Chrysler (USA)

    • 1F - Ford (USA)

    • 1G - General Motors (USA) - including:
      • 1G1 - Chevrolet cars
      • 1G2 - Pontiac cars
      • 1G3 - Oldsmobile
      • 1GC - Chevrolet trucks
      • 1GM - Pontiac

    • 1H - Honda (USA)

    • 1L - Lincoln (USA)

    • 1M - Mercury (USA)

    • 1N - Nissan (USA)

    • 1VW - Volkswagen (USA)

    • 1YV - Mazda (USA)

    • 2F - Ford (Canada)

    • 2G - General Motors (Canada) - including:
      • 2G1 - Chevrolet
      • 2G2 - Pontiac

    • 2H - Honda (Canada)

    • 2HM - Hyundai (Canada)

    • 2M - Mercury (Mercury)

    • 4F - Mazda (USA)

    • 4M - Mercury (USA)

    • 4S - Subaru (USA)

    • 4T - Toyota (USA)

    • 4US - BMW (USA)

    • 5F - Honda (USA)

    • 5L - Lincoln (USA)

  • 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th Characters:

    These characters contain information about the general characteristics of the vehicle, such as brand, engine size and type.

    By looking at the 8th character in combination with the 2nd and 3rd character, it is generally possible to identify flexible fuel vehicles.

  • 9th Character:

    This character is what is known as a "check digit" or "security code". It is a character that is calculated based on the other characters, and is used to verify that the VIN as a whole is one that has been correct authorized by the manufacturer.

  • 10th Character:

    This character indicates the year of manufacture according to the following scheme:

    • A = 1980 or 2010
    • B = 1981 or 2011
    • C = 1982 or 2012
    • D = 1983 or 2013
    • E = 1984 or 2014
    • F = 1985 or 2015
    • G = 1986 or 2016
    • H = 1987 or 2017
    • J = 1988 or 2018
    • K = 1989 or 2019
    • L = 1990 or 2020
    • M = 1991 or 2021
    • N = 1992 or 2022
    • P = 1993 or 2023
    • R = 1994 or 2024
    • S = 1995 or 2025
    • T = 1996 or 2026
    • V = 1997 or 2027
    • W = 1998 or 2028
    • X = 1999 or 2029
    • Y = 2000 or 2030
    • 1 = 2001 or 2031
    • 2 = 2002 or 2032
    • 3 = 2003 or 2033
    • 4 = 2004 or 2034
    • 5 = 2005 or 2035
    • 6 = 2006 or 2036
    • 7 = 2007 or 2037
    • 8 = 2008 or 2038
    • 9 = 2009 or 2039

  • 11th Character:

    This character indicates the plant where the vehicle was assembled.

  • 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th and 17th Characters:

    For larger manufacturers (producing more than 500 vehicles per year), this is a serial number of the vehicle.

    For small manufacturers (producing less than 500 vehicles per year), the 12th, 13th and 14th characters are part of the identification of the manufacturer, and 15th, 16th and 17th characters are a manufacturer-specific serial number.

Related Links

Here are some related links and websites:
  • Check Your VIN
    Offers vehicle history reports complete with over 60+ problem checks for a one-time fee of $12.99 per report.

  • How To Buy Cars At Auctions
    With The Present Economic Crisis Theres Never Been A Better Time To Buy Cars At Auctions! This Website Will Provide You With The All Tools You Need To Benefit From The Thousands Of Vehicles Being Sold At Rock Bottom Prices At Auctions.

  • Inspect Before You Buy
    ASE Certified Automotive Technician Teaches You How To Properly Inspect A Used Vehicle.
Here are some related pages on this website:

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