Vehicle identification numbers (VINs) were first used by auto manufacturers in 1954. Between 1954 and 1981, there was no standard format and VINs varied considerably between manufacturers. Under standards set by the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration (NHTSA), every car and light truck model year 1981 or later has a unique 17-digit VIN in a fixed format.
Why was this standardization necessary? It was done to ensure that no car was ever mistaken for another. Digits in a car VIN tell specific information, including the vehicle's year, make, model, country of origin, assembly plant, and more. The VIN also enables you to run the CARFAX Vehicle History Report.
The information that can be found from a VIN decode is very important to check before buying a used car. Thieves will often replace the VIN of a stolen car with the VIN of a similar vehicle that is legally registered. Make sure that you use our VIN decoder chart below to verify the car VIN information matches up with what's in the title documents and service records. You can also find VIN clone alerts in a CARFAX Vehicle History Report.
Note: The letters I, O and Q never appear in a modern VIN.
The first three digits of the VIN make up the World Manufacturer Identifier (WMI) number. However, if a automaker builds fewer than 500 vehicles per year, 9 will be the third digit and 12, 13, 14th postion (part of the production number) will make up the second part of the manufacturer's WMI.
The first digit in the VIN indicates the vehicle's country of origin, or final point of assembly. Usually this is the country where the car was made, but in some European countries, it may be the country where the manufacturer is headquartered. Here are some examples:
The second digit in the VIN indicates the manufacturer. Some manufacturers are listed below:
The third digit indicates the vehicle's type or manufacturing division
Digits 4 through 8 identify the vehicle's model, body style, engine type, transmission, and more. Service shops commonly use this information to identify systems installed by the manufacturer so that they can properly service a car.
The ninth digit, or check digit, is used to detect invalid VINs based on a mathematical formula that was developed by the Department of Transportation.
The eleventh digit identifies the manufacturing plant in which the vehicle was assembled. Each manufacturer has its own set of plant codes.
Digits 12 through 17 indicate the production or serial number. This number could indicate the sequence in which a vehicle came off the assembly line. Since there is no fixed standard for this number, each manufacturer may use this number differently.
Featured image by Rafael Anderson Gonzales Mendoza