Vehicle Identification Numbers (VIN) have been used by automobile manufacturers since the 1950s, but they were not standardized until 1980. Before 1980 each manufacturer used its own system and numbers could vary in length and meaning. It also meant that there was the possibility that numbers could be repeated. In the United States, the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration (NHTSA) regulates VIN’s. Each car manufacturer has some leeway in different sections of the VIN, but here are the basics of what a VIN can tell you.
Where was my vehicle made?
The first digit of the VIN identifies the vehicle’s country of origin. This is usually the country where the vehicle was assembled, but in the European Union it is sometimes the country where the regional headquarters of the manufacturer is located. For example, all GM vehicles built in Europe have a VIN that begins with a W because GM’s regional headquarters are in Germany. The vehicles may actually be assembled in Germany, Spain, Belgium, Poland or the United Kingdom.
Who made my vehicle?
Each manufacturer is assigned a letter or number. This lets you know who really built the vehicle. Vehicles built by one manufacturer, but marketed by another will have a VIN from the company that actually built the vehicle.
What brand or section does my vehicle belong to?
Within large automotive manufacturers there are often many divisions and/or brands. The third digit in the VIN number is used to identify the specific brand or division that the vehicle belongs to.
Model, platform, body style, engine & other major components.
The 4th through 9th digits of the VIN number give information about the original equipment of the vehicle, including model, platform, body style, engine, transmission and other major components. This information can tell you if a major change has been made after the vehicle went to market.
The 10th digit is standardized worldwide and represents the model year. Keep in mind the model year may not be the same year that the vehicle was built (many model year vehicles are actually made the year before, for example).
In North America, the 11th digit is a code for the assembly plant where the vehicle was made. This will follow a different system for each manufacturer and though not compulsory in other countries is often used in European vehicles as well.
The last 6 digits of the VIN are your individual production number which identifies the individual vehicle. These are often in some order as determined by the manufacturer.