How to Read a VIN Number

Brian Eugen
By Brian Eugen 9 Min Read
9 Min Read

What do we use to identify humans? Well, there is a name, but it could be identical to somebody else. That is where you require identification papers such as the passport, ID, and SSN, among other things.

The same applies to cars. There are many cars with the same model and series. So, instead of referring to the name, you could depend on the number plate or the VIN for precise identification. Here, we will focus on the latter since it can tell you about the prior and more.

Decoding a VIN is essential for various reasons. You may want to know more about a used car before buying or find the right parts during repair and maintenance. Here, we will discuss the VIN and how you can read and interpret the characters.

The VIN Overview 

For purposes of clarity, we need to look at what the VIN means and entails. It’s an acronym for Vehicle Identification Number, and it refers to the 17 characters used to describe the vehicle in question.

The process of decoding the VIN is what brings out the information. Some will call it the VIN Number, although the letter N stands for the word ‘Number.’ Should it be 17 digits in total? Yes, because that is what standardization dictates, and it has been that way since 1981.

As long as you are driving on mother earth, every vehicle’s VIN is different. So, you can compare it to the fingerprints or that social security number. Car insurance companies, dealerships, authorities, and those dealing with spare parts heavily use the VIN.

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For what purpose exactly? If that’s the code that will tell everything about your car, it’s necessary to use it as the base when collecting vital details.  A VIN will also tell you more about the car’s history, such as the repairs and the accidents involved.

You need a VIN lookup online service to get the information since it’s quicker than visiting the government offices. Before you head to a reputable website, you first need to know where to get the 17 characters and verify if they match different sources.

Where Do You Find the VIN?

There are various places to check and collect the number. They involve the following:

On the Car 

The vehicle carries the numbers, and you can find them on:

  • The bottom dashboard area on the driver’s side. You can easily view it while outside
  • The engine block
  • The driver’s door pillar. There is a sticker there, and sometimes it’s on the passenger door too.
  • The fender for newer models or under the hood
  • The electronic parts of the vehicle. Recent models are adopting this move due to security reasons.

The Vehicle Papers 

Once you look for the VIN on your car, you can compare it with what you find in:

  • The insurance cards
  • The car’s title registration

The Need for an Online Decoder 

It’s possible to know what the characters mean, but digging into the specifics will require help. For example, you may know that the first three digits signify the WMI (World Manufacturer Identification).

However, you need to know who the specific manufacturer is and the actual country of origin. That is where a decoder comes to the rescue. You can opt to use the manufacturer’s site or application, but not all offer the service.

That is why people rush to Google and other search engines to get a quick online lookup website to decode in seconds. Depending on the one you are using, you may get basic or detailed information.

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You may have to pay the required fee to get the report for the ones with more details. There are popular decoding websites, but you should consider where you live, where the car came from, and what you need from the results.

You don’t need to use a Canadian-based decoder to look up a car destined for the US. Do you get the point?

Reading and Interpreting the VIN 

Before checking on what the decoder is telling you, it’s much better to have a general idea of what the character should show. That is relatively easy to grasp. Here is what the characters will signify when you decode:

The Car’s Origin 

The first character will tell you where the car came from, reflecting on the geographical area. Here are a few examples to give you an idea:

  • 1, 4, or 5 – North America (mainly the US)
  • 6 or 7 – Australia or New Zealand
  • 8 or 9 – South America
  • A to H – Africa
  • J to R – Asia (There is no O or Q)
  • S to Z – Europe (In England, for example, you get an S)

The Vehicle’s Manufacturer and Division 

The second and third characters are responsible for identifying the manufacturer. Here are some specific numbers and letters for the re-known car makers:

  • C – Chrysler
  • J – Jeep
  • T – Toyota
  • 1 – Chevy
  • 6 – Cadillac

The above will go second on the VIN. The third character is what signifies division. For example, G represents General Motors.

The Vehicle’s Description 

From the fourth to the eighth character, you get the car’s model, type, transmission, and other specifics that describe the car’s nature. You also get the engine type and size. The characters here are manufacturer-defined, and that’s why you need to know what they exactly mean.

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Is the VIN Valid?

The rest of the characters will always mean something. That means even a fake VIN will still deliver the results. On the other hand, how do you know if the VIN is legit? That’s the work of the ninth digit.

It contains a complex mathematical formula with a stepwise procedure to determine whether the VIN is fake.

The Manufacturing Year 

You get the year from the tenth digit. The characters that represent the year have been changing after periods.  Between the years 1980 and 2000, the tenth character had the letters. A was for 1980 while The 2000 models took Y.

Between 2001 and 2009, cars had numbers 1 to 9. The letters came back in 2010, and they will be in use until 2030.

The Plant Assembly 

To know which plant the car was assembled from, you need the 11th character. It’s a unique digit since every manufacturer has its assembly plants or stations.

The Vehicle’s Serial Number 

Lastly, there are 12th to 17th characters, and they represent the car’s serial number. To understand it, it’s simply the number that the vehicle received while on the assembly line. It’s also unique to every car regardless of the number of similar models.


Reading a VIN is easy if you have all the vitals. They include knowing what it means, where to find it and how to interpret the characters. Getting the specifics will, however, need the expertise deployed on online lookup platforms.

You also know that every VIN is unique. So, getting an identical VIN on another car means there is a fraud case. What’s remaining for you is to utilize the information above as you read what your car’s VIN entails and what else you may find out based on its history.

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Brian Eugen is a tech-savvy wordsmith with a knack for captivating readers through his expertly crafted tech blog articles. His passion lies in dissecting the intricacies of technology, particularly in the realms of Android, Windows, internet, social media, gadgets, and reviews. With a deep understanding of the latest trends and a talent for simplifying complex concepts, His articles offer readers valuable insights and up-to-date information. His expertise in writing and genuine love for all things tech make him a trusted source in the digital landscape.
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